Isolation: One Big Thing We CAN Do To Stop COVID19, But Aren’t

New York Has Natural Ways To Quarantine The Sick, We’ve Used Them Before, Why Aren’t We Using Them Now?
I suggested converting Governor Island in New York Harbor to a centralized quarantine zone in March. It remained closed to the public all Spring only to reopen in the summer

New York City has been down to under 500 new cases a day since the middle of June, and though that success seems shaky the last week or so as cases rise elsewhere in the country, generally speaking, we’re doing ok.

But much of the city is still shut down. No bars, no nightlife, no indoor dining; shopping malls closed, museums still closed, no theaters. The reason, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is that the rest of the country has seen a spike because of opening these things. I think this indefinite shutdown of some of New York’s most important business is bad for the city, and contributing to some of the crime we are seeing. So the question is, how do we get COVID-19’s infection rate down even further so we can start opening up that part of the economy?

As we see the few hundred new cases each day, my mind wonders: where are these infected people going? Are they self-isolating? Are they quarantining? Is anyone watching them? Or are we just leaving it up to the honor system and hoping they don’t go out and infect other people? Did the 350 cases a month ago go on to infect the 350 who tested positive yesterday and are we just in a never ending spin cycle that will continue until we’re all vaccinated?

When we talk about what other countries have been doing successfully, we talk about lockdowns and contact tracing and mask wearing, but one thing that is being done, especially in Asia, that has shown much success is centralized quarantining.

South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are all enforcing central quarantining measures to citizens or foreigners who test positive, providing a place for them to go and isolate away from others until they’ve recovered and are no longer contagious.

The mistake that we have been making – AND ARE STILL making – is not isolating the sick. We’re still sending them home to isolate where it just isn’t possible to do so. I don’t know if we can legally do forced quarantine, but that is the only way.

New York City has long utilized its unique geography to control infectious diseases.

As studies now show, the primary place people get infected is inside the home, and in New York City and other places around the country, household size has been an indicator of how bad an outbreak can be, probably for the reason that the virus is being transmitted within households. And we’re still letting it happen.

New York City is offering hotel rooms to isolate as an option, but early indication is only a handful of people are taking them up on the offer. Mandatory isolation is perhaps not Constitutionally possible, just as other mitigation efforts like closing state borders isn’t, but if it were, it would be extremely effective.

And there is a precedence for this. Obviously Typhoid Mary is the most well-known. She was quarantined on North Brother Island – a small island in between The Bronx and Queens – for years due to her being an asymptomatic career of typhoid. Now Mary Mallone’s situation was quite different as her quarantine was indefinite and she refused to cooperate with authorities, but to forcibly quarantine someone for two weeks should be something we’re able to do.

New York City did build hospitals for cholera and smallpox on islands in order to isolate the sick from the general population, The ruins of a former smallpox hospital can still be seen on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. Hart Island in the Long Island Sound off The Bronx because infamous early in the pandemic for the mass burials of COVID-19 victims there. The island itself was actually used to quarantine infected New Yorkers during a yellow fever epidemic in 1870.

In March, I suggested transforming Governors Island, which can comfortably house 5,000 people, into a quarantine zone. New York’s geography allows us to utilize islands, which can put infected people in a place where they are physically distanced from the rest of the population until the time they are contagious has passed. Governors Island is large enough to provide accommodations for:

  • very sick in buildings repurposed as hospitals
  • mildly-ill in buildings repurposed as convalscent homes.
  • asymptomatic in buildings repurposed as “hotels”

The seclusion of the island also allows for those who are symptom-free or recovering time to walk around outside and get fresh air and sunlight rather than be completely isolated and essentially imprisoned – one fo the concerns many have about centralized quarantine. (Even in Korea, you are banned from even leaving your hotel room for two weeks). Converting North and South Brother Island and perhaps Fort Totten and Fort Wadsworth – old out of commission forts in Queens and Staten Island respectively – into overflow quarantine space would allow us to further contain and manage an outbreak in the city without resorting to shutdowns.

A vlog from South Korea by a man who flew to Korea and documented the two week government quarantine there. Video Courtesy Sarah Jun TV – Take a look at her Coronavirus series on her YouTube Channe

But I think not having a plan to isolate the sick – and continuing to not have a plan for a long term – is wrongheaded. New York City has long utilized its unique geography to control infectious diseases. It’s odd that we’re not doing it now. If this pandemic is truly going to last more than a year, we need to have a real plan on how we will isolate infectious people going forward, so the rest of us can actually move on with our lives.

Unless, of course, officials and experts don’t expect it to last quite that long, which is a theory I’ll explore in another post soon.

The Offensive Joke Wasn’t Funny in 1989, And It Isn’t Funny Now

‘Cancel Culture’ and ‘Political Correctness’ Battles Are About Protecting Privilege And Superiority

Who is the bigger snowflake? The people who nicely suggested to Trader Joe’s that its branding of cultural items pushes racist stereotypes and maybe they should think about changing it – or the white people who never even thought about the subject until someone spoke out, now acting like civilization will collapse because Trader Joe’s is no longer marketing its Spring Rolls as Trader Mings?

Photo by Jeffrey Czum on Pexels.com

It’s a rhetorical question of course, but if we treated it like a real question, what are the odds there would be great disagreement?

Ever since Fox News figured out the “War On Christmas” was crack for scared white people, and they could ride that cash cow right to the bank, “political correctness” has become a semi-regular social debate in our society. It goes a little something like this:

Person A says something offensive; Person B notes that it is offensive and explains why and asks for an apology; Person A feels attacked, explains that it isn’t offensive, everyone says it, s/he offends everyone and its just a joke, don’t take it too seriously; Person B is angered by this response and seeks out retribution in some form; Person A suffers the consequences and apologies and says s/he never meant to offend anyone and has learned his/her lesson and thinks the punishment is too severe and rallies society toward believing Person B is the wrong one, the “snowflake,” for asking for repercussions.

It’s unfair; it’s a mistake, what about due process? And so on and so forth.

Being offensive is about one thing – Power. Once you have to apologize and do better, you have lost that power. You are no longer superior. You are not longer dominate. That’s what “political correctness” threatens. If you accept the comment, you are protecting their power.

There always seems to be one line of defense the “anti-PC” crowd uses; Why now? We have always been using this word, this phrase, this stereotype. Everyone found it funny before? What happened? “My black friend doesn’t seem to have a problem with it!”

Here’s the thing. He or she almost certainly did not find it funny, but did not find it prudent to fight you on it. I can tell you this as a queer person that there were blatantly offensive gay jokes I heard for years. Stuff like:

  • Don’t give him the cucumber, he’ll sit on it
  • Something about tucking my penis in my legs so it looks like I have a vagina
  • A generous serving of the words “f*gg*t” and “s*ssy”
  • Male friends acting frightened at the idea of sharing a bedroom or bathroom
  • “Maybe he has a crush on you!” everybody whenever I get too close to a male friend.

I just smiled and laughed at, or rolled my eyes – being sure the smile while doing it, or just walked away. Did the joke offend me? Yes, very much so. Were they worth fighting a losing battle? No. Even if I lost the battle, would I lose an ally? Allies are hard to come by for the marginalized.

Or worse, would it lead to me getting beat? The fear of repercussions are real.

An exchange on social media that triggered my thoughts on this topic.

While some things, like jokes or racially insensitive branding, might seem harmless, what they do is give license to go even farther. It also desensitizes us to offensive characterizations. How many of us grew up thinking Mexicans were lazy and slept a lot because Speedy Gonzalez enjoyed siestas often? Did you also think, like me, the reason so many Mexicans avoided immigration was that they were small and fast like the Looney Tunes character?

A lot of this could be remedied if children were taught to recognize bigotry and reject it, and to their credit, there are plenty of parents who do this. My aunt was the one who told me Speedy Gonzalez was “not what Mexican people are like, it’s what bad people think they’re like.” But bigots, well, they’ll test to see how far they can go. First its Trader Mings, then its using racial slurs for Asians, until finally it’s accusing them of carrying deadly viruses and beating them in the streets.

Go ahead, roll your eyes. I know what you’re thinking, that’s a big jump from a store brand to hate crime, but its not. Once the lines are blurred, it’s like a runaway freight train that will eventually crash at high speed.

Are there people in marginalized groups who aren’t “offended” by racist, sexist and bigoted things? Sure. Candace Owens may be a grifter, but I think there are black people who think responding to racism only gives it power, which is a big part of her message.

There are plenty of people who also just shake it off because; why bother? If you say something, you just get a lecture on political correctness anyway – or worse, violence. They’re just going to let it not consume them. There will also be folks who feel it’s just a minor nuisance and a distraction from the real problems. But they’re also likely to be welcome and open to change, or at the very least not be bothered by it.

This is also an issue for good-intention white progressives – you know, the “woke” crowd. If a black person or Hispanic person isn’t offended by something, there’s often a push to get them to be offended. This is primarily because bigots will use the lack of offense as an excuse to push the envelope further. Having grown up around racists, I can tell you this is true. There are people who look to offend (This is why Trump keeps calling COVID-19 the “China Virus.” He knows it’s offensive and he wants to get a rise. If he doesn’t get it, he will pull out something worse).

It’s not that society has become more offended by things, it is that we now feel safe telling you things are offensive and have always been.

So why this battle over political correctness now? Or at least since Fox News started its annual jihad on Happy Holidays about 15 years ago? Well, as we become a more diverse, multicultural and accepting society, it has allowed marginalized communities the space to be able to step forward and say what has been on their minds for generations. The things you claim weren’t offensive 25 years ago, they were, its just the offended didn’t feel comfortable telling you. Archie Bunker was never a lovable bigot, he was always an example of what NOT to be. You weren’t supposed to idolize him, and yet people still look at him as an example of who they wish they could be. Al Bundy’s misogyny wasn’t something to admire – he’s a shoe salesman whose life peaked at 17 for crying out loud. His own children mock him.

It’s not that society has become more offended by things, it is that we now feel safe telling you things are offensive and have always been.

The truth is, the “anti-PC people” know that, and that’s what this crusade is so important. Whenever you see the meme about how it use to be “ok to be funny,” what they mean is “when it ok to intimidate people in letting me be offensive.”

Because that makes them feel superior…and powerful.

Election Update: July 20, 2020

15 Weeks Until The 2020 Presidential Election. Biden Up Big

With the presidential election only 15 weeks away from tomorrow, I’m going to take the time on my blog every Monday do what I’ve been doing every four years since 2000 – predict elections and give some analysis of what is going on.

Below is the consensus Electoral Map according to Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard, whose blog I’ve been regularly following since, oh, about 2006.

2020 electoral vote map

So a lot to unpack here. First of all, you’ve probably noticed Texas is one big tossup on the map. Taegan’s map is the consensus of five electoral forecasts; Inside Elections; CNN’s Harry Enten; Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball; Cook Political Report and the Bitecofer Model, the latter of which hasn’t been updated since pre-pandemic. Some of them have been influenced by recent polls to shift Texas into tossup territory, and COVID-19 slamming the state this summer has also provided some context into how bad Trump’s numbers are or may get there.

I’m not just I’m ready to buy a Blue Texas just yet, but I’m warming up to it. As 2018 showed us, the state’s suburbs, once a bastion of conservatism, are moving left fast. In 2018, Democrats picked up two suburban House seats; the 32nd District outside of Dallas and the 7th District in Houston, and came close in several others. Democrats are seeking to pickup several competitive GOP-held House seats in the Lone Star State this year, including in the vast 23rd District, which spans the Rio Grande Valley from El Paso to San Antonio; the 22nd District (and former Tom DeLay stomping grounds) in suburban Houston; the 24th District in suburban Dallas/Fort Worth and the two badly gerrymandered Austin-based seats, the 21st and 10th. Democrats will be pouring money into the state downballot, let’s see if Biden follows.

The other consensus tossup states are Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa. I think that’s right, although I’m still skeptical about Ohio and Iowa considering how far right they moved in 2016, but Iowa snapped back in 2018 and there’s a marquee Senate race there between Republican incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. I also think that while tossup may be the right call here, Arizona might have already slid into the Biden column, though perhaps not by much. COVID-19 may be what sinks Trump there as well, as the Grand Canyon State is struggling with one of the biggest epidemics right now. Also, incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally is running well behind her Democratic challenger, Astronaut Mark Kelly (who is also the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who survived an assassination attempt in 2011). Also, Arizona’s election will be overseen by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat.

I’m not buying Florida anywhere left of Tossup at this point, although the COVID-19 and an unpopular GOP governor may be enough for Biden to win there.

One consideration I’m taking is who is running elections in these states. Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Texas will all have Republicans overseeing the voting, and we saw how that worked out in Georgia in 2018.

The good news for Democrats is that it seems Biden has opened up a stable lead in the Obama-Trump Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that eluded Hillary in 2016. All three saw Democratic sweeps in 2018 in statewide offices, so there’s very little chance of GOP shenanigans there. (Or in North Carolina, where Democrat Elaine Marshall is Secretary of State).

I also think if the election was held today, Biden would carry Nebraska’s 2nd District and its Electoral Vote. Nebraska and Maine allocate their electoral votes by Congressional district and two are given to the statewide winner. In 2008, Barack Obama won Nebraska’s 2nd District, which is based in Omaha. Democrats are contesting the seat in the House and the Omaha market also reaches competitive Iowa and the Des Moines/Council Bluffs-based Iowa 3rd Congressional District, a Democratic pickup in 2008 the party is defending. In 2016, Trump won Maine’s 2nd District, which includes almost all of Northern and Central Maine. As of now, I see Biden squeaking out a win in Maine’s 2nd District thanks to the coattails of freshman Democratic Congressman Jared Golden, Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon and the general depression of Trump’s numbers in the Northeast.

Alaska, Montana, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina and Indiana are solid red states that some of these forecasters have moved into a slightly more competitive category. If the election slips further from Trump, except these to be states to watch. All but Missouri and Indiana have Senate races this year where Democratic candidates (or in Alaska’s case, an Independent) have raised a lot of money.

For Democrats, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico and Maine’s two statewide Electoral Votes are safely in Biden’s column for now (Maine’s 1st District Electoral Vote was never in play for Republicans). Nevada, Minnesota and New Hampshire are also sitting deep in Biden territory but could become competitive if the election starts to move Trump’s way. He came within three points of winning them all in 2016.

When Weeks Turned To Months Turned To Years, America Tuned Out

We Asked Americans To Sacrifice “For Weeks” And Then Changed The Rules, So They Quit The Game

The one thing that I have noticed in the ongoing “we need to keep social distancing and mask wearing” narrative is that everyone involved can separated into two groups:

  • Those who think this is now a permanent way of life or will be for years.
  • Those who think it will be over by early next year with a vaccine or drug.
Hundreds gathered on the streets of Astoria, Queens in New York City on Thursday night, violating social distancing rules and causing concern about a possible second wave in NYC.

Almost exclusively, the former group is more likely to say “it’s time to get our lives back to normal and live with the virus,” and it’s the latter who thinks we need to keep stringent measures in place long term or perhaps go back into a hard lockdown. After all, it’s only for a little while longer.

And as we see social distancing break down across the country, including now in New York City itself – a place praised for its dedication to COVID-19 mitigation – we’re left to wonder, what is the timeline and what are the metrics for reclaiming normal life?

The truth is, we don’t know how long we might have to do this, and that is what is draining people. As I mentioned in my piece yesterday about my ferry ride, we are mentally- and emotionally-trained to think of life as short and that we should seize every moment, so the idea that we need to put it on hold – not for a war, but for a virus that 99 percent of people survive – seems counterintuitive. What if this lasts so long, we don’t make it to the other side? There are going to be people who won’t see relatives again or won’t see another summer or holiday, because they’ll be dead of non-pandemic issues before the pandemic is over. There are going to be events that bring joy to people that they’re being told “don’t worry you’ll get to do it when this is over,” and they will never get to do it. There will be weddings that will never be had and birthdays that will never be celebrated. There are people who will never see their parents again.

The story of the Canadian woman separated from her fiancee in the UK since March, having to postpone their wedding and then getting a cancer diagnosis keeps circling in my head. This situation is cruel and pretending its just a matter of discipline is ignoring the very real social, mental and emotional damage all this is all causing to people. I had someone who spent 18 months in prison tell me that this felt like being in prison all over again. In some ways it would be easier if it were a war, because there would be a actual battles and we’d know what specific metrics we would need to meet in order to end it (i.e. the defeat of the enemy), but instead we’re fighting an enemy who may never truly be “defeated.”

Andy Slavitt, a former healthcare advisor to former President Barack Obama has been warning the pandemic could last for “years” even beyond a vaccine, but such warnings may be hurting people’s dedication to social distancing and isolation

In an article early in the pandemic, journalist Helen Branswell interviewed experts who warned people that we were deluding everyone by saying it would just be weeks, it will be longer, and some aspects of “normal life” might have to wait until a vaccine – or longer. But nevertheless, we had a lot of people still holding on to the idea that it would be “weeks,” or at worst, “months.” We kept sharing models that showed the pandemic would be over by June, with just a few cases.

I don’t know what happens next year if we have treatments and a vaccine and are still being told we can’t go back to normal. I don’t know what those who think we should keep everything closed until then will say then. I really think it would erode trust in science even further. A hypothetical President Biden is going to have a real hard time with that and Democrats are going to be heavily pushed to begin a return to normalcy.

Progressives think simply paying people to stay home will keep them home. I think paying people a salary during lockdown was an important thing to do and it was a mistake that we didn’t do it, but that’s for economic reasons. It wouldn’t have guarantee people stay home. Missing from this discussion was how the countries that paid people to stay home also instituted authoritarian responses in order to force them home – martial law and tough restrictions. I guarantee everyone on Steinway Street Thursday night were getting paid. They weren’t out partying because they have no income. They were out partying because they did have money to spend and because they wanted to go out. I can’t imagine the “abolish police” crowd feel good about instituting the type of police state China, Italy, France, Spain, Peru or Vietnam instituted to crush the curve. You thought George Floyd was bad, wait until you see how the police enforce tough lockdown measures in communities of color.

The assumption is that if you pay people to stay home, restaurants and bars will close, but the same people arguing for this also claim restaurants will stay open for delivery and takeout, and believe nannies and other services should still be open.

So basically everyone but essential workers stay home, which is exactly what we had in the Spring, which didn’t help bring cases down anywhere except the hard-hit areas like New York City.

The problem is no one has given us a metric in which normalcy can return – a number of cases to shoot for, for example. Oh there’s been some; we’re told 5 percent positive test rates is good, but New York has been there for two months. City Councilman Mark Levine of Manhattan, chairman of the body’s Health Committee, said the city could handle contact tracing at under 500 new cases a day. It’s been there since mid-June. We were quick to make a point during lockdown that it “wasn’t until a vaccine,” so now since we can’t give them metrics to shoot for, everyone has decided to make that determination for themselves. People are social animals, and we kept New Yorkers home for months and asked them to sacrifice and they did. Now they’re told they have to keep doing it indefinitely. It feels like a bait and switch. People have moved on.

And across the rest of the country, they gave you their 2-4 weeks. They’re done.

In March, when states were beginning their lockdowns, folks encouraging social distancing shared this video of Dr. Emily Porter, a Texas doctor who is the sister of U.S. Rep. Katie Porter of California, a progressive favorite. In the video, Porter argues the lockdowns would be “just 2-4 weeks”

How Labeling COVID19 A ‘New York Disease’ Doomed America

The Pandemic Is Made Worse By Americans’ Dismissive Attitude Toward Major Cities Like New York

California and Florida will likely pass New York in terms of number of infections next week, and now would be a good time to talk about how part of the national fuckup was dismissing #COVID as a “New York disease” by blaming density for the Spring epidemic.

Blaming New York City’s density for its COVID19 outbreak left the rest of the country with a false sense of security that helped lead to the current outbreak in the South and West. Photo by Nick Rafter

Certainly New York’s dense population didn’t help the situation – and by the way, the same experts we trust now originally blamed “density” for New York’s outbreak, but here’s the thing; the experts were wrong to primarily blame density or in failing to recognize the same density issue exist across the country. It wasn’t *just* the subways or crowded office spaces that led to the spread – in fact, it might not have been that primarily at all – it was also crowded households, where large families live amongst each other without a way to isolate, and this a common problem across the America, and across the world.

New York’s hardest hit county, per capita (cases by 1,000 people) was Rockland – a suburban/exurban county. Density wasn’t the issue there. In fact, of the top five counties with the highest infection rate per capita, three were suburban (Rockland, Westchester, Nassau), a fourth was Staten Island, the lease dense of the five boroughs that make up New York City.

Only The Bronx was among the top 5 hardest hit counties per capita. The most densely populated county in the ENTIRE country – Manhattan – was 11th behind…Sullivan County in the Catskills, with a population density 1/5000th that of Manhattan.

The issue isn’t density so much as living conditions. Rockland is home to large population of Hasidic Jewish (which could also explain some of the issues in Israel, currently gripped by a second wave) and Hispanic residents, who live in big multi-generational households. This caused tremendous amounts of family spread. Similar problems ocurred in The Bronx and Nassau County.

There is nothing wrong with living in multigenerational households – both my parents grew up in one – and they’re especially common in Rockland and Westchester and Nassau, where houses tend to be large. Thanks to them though, thousands upon thousands got sick simply by staying home. The Bronx and Northern Queens, both hard hit areas with ~50% seropositive rates (percentage who had antibodies), are populated with families, especially immigrant families, who live in crowded living conditions due to the cost of living in New York State. It is impossible to self-isolate in these conditions.

In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Rockland County has the largest average household size in the state after rural and sparsely populated Hamilton County in the Adirondacks (population only 5,000 people). With an average household size of 3.14 people, more people on average live under the same roof that all of New York City’s five boroughs.

New York Counties with
highest infection rates
Cases per 1,000Average Size of HouseholdPop Density
(per sq mi)
Rockland4,0903.14 persons 1,895
Westchester3,5092.74 persons 2,109
Bronx3,2422.78 persons 35,000
Nassau 3,0153.00 persons 4,766
Richmond (Staten Island)2,8812.78 persons 8,164
Queens2,7942.80 persons20,465
Orange2,7312.85 persons 444
Suffolk2,7312.96 persons 1,637
Kings (Brooklyn)2,2312.75 persons 36,732
Sullivan1,6982.50 persons 14
New York (Manhattan)1,6692.00 persons 66,940
Rockland County, New York, despite being a suburban county with a dramatically lower population density than New York City and other suburban counties, had the largest COVID19 case load per capita, proving “density” wasn’t the issue with New York’s epidemic and leading the rest of the country into a false sense of security. Stats from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimates

But those conditions don’t just exist in New York State. They exist in communities all across the country, especially low-income and immigrant communities where depressed wages force families to live together in conditions that are impossible for effective quarantine. They exist among meat-packing plant workers and agricultural workers in South Dakota, Iowa, South Texas and California. It exists in South and Central Florida, which has some of the most densely-populated communities outside of the Northeast. It exists in rural communities in Mormon Utah and Native American tribes. In fact, one reason Manhattan and San Francisco hasn’t been hit so hard is there despite being densely-populated, there are many small households, single people or couples who live in studios or one bedrooms, making household isolation of the sick workable.

BoroughAverage Household SizePop Density
(per sq mi)
CountyAverage Household SizePop Density
(per sq mi)
Queens2.8020,465Hildago, TX (McAllen)3.55363
Bronx2.7835,000Imperial, Calif.3.3334
Staten Island2.788,164Miami-Dade, Fla.3.073,639
Brooklyn2.5036,732Maricopa, AZ (Phoenix)3.001,357
Manhattan2.0066,940Yakima, WA2.963,385
The average size of households in the five boroughs of New York City, left, compared with the average household size for current COVID19 hotspots, right. These counties, thought far less densely populated, have larger household sizes on average than any of New York City’s five boroughs and many suburbs. Stats from U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimates
CountyAverage Household SizePop Density (per sq mi)
Ada, ID (Boise)2.60447
Marion, AL2.57298
Lavaca, TX2.4420
Lee, FL (Fort Myers)2.35943
Hot Springs, AR2.12992
Some more rural “conservative” counties that are now currently COVID19 hotspots have household sizes on par with New York City – and larger than Manhattan – despite much lower density.

Americans have always treated New York like it was another country, culturally disconnected from the whole of America. Its problems were unique. Terrorism was a “New York problem” because of its status as a global financial and political center. Crime was a “New York problem” because there’s poverty and immigrants and minorities and “bleeding-heart liberals.” Poverty was a “New York problem” because of the cost of living. Disease was a “New York problems” because of squalor in subways and apartments. Cultural depictions of New York as dirty, grimy, rat-infested and crowded place allowed America to dismiss COVID-19 as a problem that could only inflict that city and nowhere else.

My take is that it comes from the fact that so much of America is populated by people who once lived in New York, and when they left thought they had left whatever cultural and sociological attributes they assigned to New York City life behind. They rationalize their leaving New York by creating this caricature as a dystopian hellhole that has turned into a delusion, and it left them naive about how big a risk a virus like COVID-19 was to every community, including theirs. New York City was not the only place hit hard in the Spring; New Orleans; Detroit; suburban Boston; Albany, Georgia and Vail, Colorado were all non-dense places that had big outbreaks in March and April.

Cultural depictions of New York as dirty, grimy, rat-infested and crowded place allowed America to dismiss COVID-19 as a problem that could only inflict that city and nowhere else

In August, 2015, I was vacationing in Key West, Florida where I met a family with the surname Sutphin who were from Alabama. The patriarch of the family, upon hearing I was from Queens, New York, noted that his family originally came from there and there was a street named for their ancestors – Sutphin Boulevard – which is a major street in Jamaica, Queens and the main subway station connecting to JFK Airport. He added that his family had long left New York and that now it what “like going to a foreign country” to go New York City.

“The rest of the country doesn’t live like you guys,” he said to me. I was mildly offended, but I smiled and walked away.

Yet this is the attitude many Americans had about COVID-19 while it raged in New York. A dirty, filthy, rat-infested city of immigrants and minorities; of course this virus thrives there. It won’t thrive here, we’re not New York. Indeed that was the sentiment a friend of mine, a nurse at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, who went to Alabama and Arizona in June to help fight COVID-19 there, heard often. “This won’t happen here, it won’t get worse, this is not New York.”

Racism played a role here too. A significant number of Americans believe that disease ran rampant among “foreigners,” a view even the man who holds the presidency adheres to, Early in the pandemic, Asian-Americans, especially Chinese-Americans, faced a large amount of hate from other Americans because of fears that they were trafficking the virus, and that continued even though neighborhoods in NYC with a large Chinese-American population like Chinatown in Manhattan; Flushing in Queens and Sunset Park in Brooklyn saw lower infection rates than the city average. Americans outside New York definitely felt their lack of contact with foreigners and their perception of living in a more sanitized, rigid and culturally homogenous environment would protect them from COVID-19.

Now the chickens have come home to roost for the rest of America. Maybe if this pandemic had hit Florida or Texas first, we’d be in a far different position as a nation. We always learn the hard way, and it always feels like New Yorkers are the ones who stand by, shake their heads and say “we told you so.”

I Took A Ferry to New Jersey

Notes After My First Leisurely Day Trip During The COVID19 Pandemic

When the COVID-19 Pandemic began raging in New York City, I hunkered down. For 53 days (March 22-May 14), I did not venture more than 100 feet from home and mostly stayed inside. It was mentally and emotionally draining, but I found ways to cope; one of which is thinking about the fun things I’d get to do in the summer when this was over.

Every summer, I have sort of a New York City To-Do List; some of my favorite things to do in the city during the summer months. Most involve being on a boat; a tour cruise around Manhattan Island, a dinner cruise, ferry hopping. It’s nice to be outside in the summer, its even better to be on the water.

Last summer, my mother and I were waiting for a ferry to Rockaway, Queens from Wall Street and across the dock, we saw a Seastreak ferry boarding for New Jersey. The Seastreak ferries are much larger, more luxurious commuter ferries that take commuters from the suburban towns along Raritan Bay near Sandy Hook to Manhattan. They also run summer weekend ferries to Martha’s Vineyard from Midtown Manhattan.

My mother wanted to take the ferry to wherever it lands in New Jersey and do some exploring, so we did. Mom and I went on the first cool, cloudy day in late August to Highland, New Jersey and got off, with no plans on where to go. We walked around, found a nice little restaurant called the Inlet Cafe, had lunch and some drinks, walked back to the ferry and went home, vowing to do it again next summer on a nicer day.

Then a pandemic happened.

While under lockdown, Mom and I kept telling ourselves that when summer came and it was over, we’d do our ferry rides and our day trips on my days off. But as lockdown dragged into May and early June, it became clear that maybe, we might not get to do our fun summer day trips after all. It was disappointing, but not earth-shattering for her, but for me, it left me extremely depressed.

Some people labeled it entitlement, selfishness, weakness; that I wouldn’t be able to sacrifice some of my fun summer adventures with my mother to protect lives and help stop a virus. Obviously not taking a ferry trip to New Jersey is a minor inconvenience, but it left me sad and angry nevertheless.

In my life, I’ve seen how fast parents can be taken from people. Friends who have lost their moms and dads in a matter of months to a late-stage cancer diagnosis or illness. I just lost one of my favorite teachers that way. So sometimes I think to myself – is the last year I have with my mom or dad or cousin or aunt? And if it is, how would I feel if I didn’t get to enjoy it with them; if I didn’t get to everything I can with them. We can’t take it for granted that our lives will just stay on hold until after the pandemic; many of us may not make it to the other side of this. The desire to socialize and do things like go to a restaurant or take a trip are not about selfishness or weakness, its about the human recognition that life is short and we need to cherish every moment and “indefinitely” is a long time.

We can’t take it for granted that our lives will just stay on hold until after the pandemic.

In any event, Inlet Cafe opened for outdoor dining and the ferries were sailing, so on Thursday we masked up and took the trip. There was a little anxiety to it. It was the first time I’ve been around large groups of strangers since March, and while I was able to keep a distance most of the time, and spent almost every moment of the trip outdoors, you were still left to wonder – who has it?

I felt a tinge of guilt – that the ferry workers, the wait staff and others were at work instead of somewhere safe just to satisfy my needs, but the reality is, they’d be working anyway. They are essential services. And living is essential as well, we just have to find a way to do it safely and securely. Certainly EVERYTHING can’t happened right now – concerts are off, nightclubs are out, cruise trip are indefinitely delayed – but some stuff can happen safely. This is why I don’t understand the opposition to wearing masks – it is a low effort way toward gaining our lives back and enjoy life. It was perfectly acceptable to me that in order to enjoy a day trip with my mom doing one of our favorite things, I’d have to just put on a damn mask.

I’m certain I did not contract COVID-19 from my outing Thursday, the infection rate in the New York area being as low as it is, but my concern is always there. It’ll be several weeks before I take my next leisurely outing, conditions pending, but it felt good to at least get some of my life back.

It’s Not About Erasing History, It’s About Holding It Accountable.

I’ve been to Germany.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the first thing I wanted to do when I got there was find some Nazi Museum. I’m a history buff and I’m especially keen on European history, but I didn’t want to see anything related to the Holy Roman Empire or Charlemagne or Martin Luther or anything else in German history. For me, German history = Nazis.

I know its probably unfair to the good people of Germany, but there it is.

However, in December 2014, when I arrived in Cologne – Germany’s fourth largest city and the only place in Germany that never supported the Nazi Party (a fact that they are quite proud of) – I found no statues of Hitler erected during the Third Reich or no Nazi regalia on medieval gates. Nothing that the Nazis might have put up during their twelve years in power to instigate or intimidate the opposition in Cologne, that the people of Germany kept in place after they fell from power as a reminder of what was.

Oh they existed. During the Third Reich, the Nazis built statues and monuments and littered Cologne with them, as a reminder to the people who was in charge. But when Hitler fell, the citizens of Cologne tour down the statues and burned Nazi flags and propaganda in the streets. (Cut to 6:13 and 8:30 in the video below to see it happen)

Citizens of Cologne, Germany destroy Nazi monuments and propaganda after the city falls to the Allies in 1945.

Why did they hate their history so much? Obviously, because the citizens of Cologne did this no one remembers the Nazis now. Right? Because that’s what we’re told will happen if we keep tearing down Confederate statues.

They do remember, and they don’t need status to do it. Because statues and monuments are not how we *remember* history, it is how we *CELEBRATE* it. The statues of Confederate leaders and generals did not go up in town squares in the South so that Southerns can look at them and lament about how wrong they were. They were not put off as a reminder that the values the Confederacy fought for were inhumane and wrong. They put the up as a reminder to others, especially blacks, that even though they technically lost the war, they still believed in the cause and would, when the time is right, take up the fight again. They are a reminder to blacks that they could be enslaved again, and a reminder to Northerners – this isn’t over.

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Austin, Texas, was removed in 2017. It had been erected in 1919, over half a century after the Civil War.

Taking down the statues now, and removing their names from honorable places, would be America finally saying…it’s over. It’s the last battle of the Civil War, fought more than 150 years too late.

So with the statues down, how do we remember our history? We get rid of the monuments and the statues and the honors and regulate the history to museums, and we tell the truth about who or what they are or were. Why don’t we just put a plaque in front of the state explaining it? Well that was a compromise people were open to decades ago, but the time for compromise has passed. Imagine generations from now, someone walking up to a statue of General Robert E. Lee and a plaque that says “General Lee fought on the side of slavers to defend the institution.” Those future generations are going to ask themselves – if he did such a terrible thing, why is there a statue of him here? And they’d be right.

But the other question to this…how far do we go with this? Confederate generals and leaders are easy, but does it include Columbus, Washington, Jefferson? Are all our Founding Fathers tainted?

Well, yes, and that’s the problem. Our country was founded on principals it never successfully followed through on. Human beings are, by nature, flawed. It is possible to celebrate someone who did good (Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence) but you have to be honest about the bad (slavery). This isn’t what we did when we built monuments and statues – we built them to celebrate these men, without any recognition of the things they did that weren’t so good, and often did so in arrogant ways. Take Mount Rushmore, build on the Six Grandfathers, a sacred mountain to the Lakota tribe. We stole the land from them and then built a monument to our leaders (after reneging on a promise to build a monument to theirs.) I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but I’m told its beautiful and majestic and honors some flawed men who laid the foundations for great things. But it was built out of arrogance. How else can you describe a situation where land was literally stolen and a monument to the thieves heroes is built on it?

It’s the last battle of the Civil War, fought more than 150 years too late.

But, yes, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton; they are our founders. There has to be a way to recognize our past, but also be honest about it. We should also focus on more contemporary leaders, who aren’t tainted by sins of the past that were considered normal at the time (i.e. slavery).

This is also what makes Christopher Columbus complicated. He really has no tangible connection to the United States and his entire reason for being celebrated is that he pioneered the root cause of white supremacy in America; colonialism. Was his exploring “good?” Was anything he did truly “good?” He never really “discovered America.” You can make an argument that he helped develop modern navigation and trade, but he’s hardly the only one, or even the best one. Columbus enriched European monarchs and a corrupt Church at the expense of not only the Taino and Caribe and other Native people in the Western Hemisphere and the Muslims and Jews who were expelled from Spain; but also the poor Europeans whose living conditions never changed simply because they were born poor. Some of them are the same Europeans who are the ancestors to the Americans who are idolizing Columbus today. Being the first European to explore the Americas (he wasn’t even that) isn’t really much to celebrate when you think of what happened for centuries later.

Back to Germany. How does the country that forced upon the world the greatest atrocities in the past several centuries remember the Nazis? By remembering the Germans who suffered under them. On the sidewalks of Cologne, you will find little gold squares in front of buildings. These gold squares each bear the name of a Jewish person who died in the Holocaust and are placed on the sidewalk in front of where they lived.

Gold plates in the sidewalk in Cologne honor Jewish residents of the city who died in the Holocaust. They are placed in front of where they last lived before being sent to concentration camps.

While walking through Cologne with my cousins, my younger cousin stopped in her tracks and gasped. Looking down she spotted 12 gold squares – an entire family lost in the genocide. We also visited the former Nazi jail, kept almost intact with prisoner graffiti in the cells. All around were photos and even some pieces of monuments and Nazi insigne that was once in public places around Cologne.

We could honor the Civil War with memorials and monuments to Union leaders and freed slaves. We should honor Southern culture with some of the great artists and thinkers who cam from the region – Helen Keller, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, MLK

Times change, people change, what society considers acceptable changes. Taking down monuments and statues and renaming bases is not erasing history, it is recognizing it as something to remember, but not honor.

And now the tea: The problem is, for many people, the argument “we can’t erase history” is pure gaslighting. They want to statues to say up because WANT to honor it. They are proud of it. They support it. This entire conversation avoids that reality. Those who protect Confederate monuments and honors do so because they actually support the cause and believe in and perhaps hope the statues and monuments will inspire a future generation to reclaim that back, and, to paraphase a bad campaign slogan, make the country great again.

Feel The City Breakin’ And Everybody’s Shaking

Remembering The 1977 Blackout And How It Relates To Another Tough Summer In New York City

Forty-three years ago today, on a hot July 14 in 1977, New York City faced one of its darkest days – literally and figuratively. Shortly after 9:30 p.m. the night before, lightning struck two substations in Westchester County and within an hour, the entire city (minus the Rockaways) and northern suburbs were plunged into darkness.

The Mets were in the middle of a game at Shea Stadium. My 11th grade teacher was there with friends. At first everyone thought it was a stadium problem, but she noticed something was awry when the 7 train over Roosevelt Avenue didn’t move for several minutes. My mother stayed with a friend in Co-Op City in the Bronx. Mayoral candidate and future governor Mario Cuomo was giving a speech when the lights went out.

The blackout only lasted about 12-18 hours, but the scars it left can still be seen in the city to this day. The “Blackout of 1977” entered city folklore and citywide power outages became sort of an endemic symbol of NYC. (In 1994, NBC’s Thursday night lineup shows – Mad About You, Friends, Seinfield – all featured a story arc dealing with a New York City blackout).

In the midst of a financial crisis, white flight, crime concerns circling around the infamous Son of Sam, a sweltering heat wave and civil unrest, the city was at a breaking point in 1977. When the lights went out, the city raged. Looters struck shuttered storefronts in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick in Brooklyn. The latter neighborhood was especially hit hard.

In fact, the tough year of 1977 is referenced in the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive,” released at the end of the year as the theme from the movie: Saturday Night Fever, which took place in New York City that year.

Feel the city breakin’/And everybody shakin’/stayin’ alive/stayin’ alive

If this all sounds awfully familiar, its because 1977 was a time similar to now – when New York City was enduring one seemingly unending crisis after another. It was, as my mom, described “the year the city almost broke”

That same year, the city was engulfed in the throes of a mayoral election. Embattled incumbent Abe Beame was fighting for his political life against a wide array of candidates; Besides Beame and Cuomo, then the state Secretary of State, other Democrats included Congressman Ed Koch of Manhattan, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton and Congressman Herman Badillo of The Bronx.

The early polls had Beame and Abzug favored to go to a runoff that Beame would likely win. Republicans ran State Senator Roy Goodman, a moderate from Manhattan, excited as the prospect of facing either the unpopular Beame or polarizing Abzug, who was sort of the AOC of her day. (Conservative firebrand, talk show host and Abzug adversary Barry Farber nearly threw a wrench in Goodman’s campaign by running a losing competitive GOP primary race). The blackout, riots and their aftermath changed the nexus of city politics. Cuomo was already running to the right, on law and order issues and Koch refocused his campaign on those issues as well, but with a slight progressive tinge. He went so far as to blame the POLICE themselves for not adequately doing their jobs. Journalist, writer and fellow Native New York Ross Barkan has a whole piece discussing Koch’s 1977 campaign here and his focus on fighting the police union.

In the end Koch and Cuomo advanced to the primary, but all the major candidates finished within a few points of each other. (About 5 points separated Koch, in first, and Sutton in fifth). Koch later defeated Cuomo and began a 12-year stint as mayor at the end of the year.

The city did recover from 1977. If you drive or walk up Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick today between Gates and Myrtle avenues, you will notice the difference in the architecture on the north side of the street versus the south side. The south side is where the brunt of the fires took place on July 14, 1977, leaving a huge scar in the neighborhood that went for as many as 12 blocks south to the intersection of Evergreen Avenue and Palmetto Street and west to Central Avenue and Himrod Street. Today, garden apartments, green space, the 83rd Precinct, a firehouse, a school and some new developments cover the scars of 1977.

It’s still too early to know what scars New York will face during this crisis – if any – but Bushwick tells a cautionary tale of how long and how tough coming back from a crisis can be. Bushwick still looked like Beirut for years afterwards, well into the 1980s. It wasn’t until the 1990s that investment came back into the community, in the form of new residential buildings and parks were developed on the site of the burned-out rubble.

We don’t have burned-out neighborhoods and with luck, we never will, but the city is reeling from a crisis that seems to be never ending. Hopefully that is where the similarities to 1977 end.

What My Intuition Is Telling Me About The COVID-19 Pandemic And 2021

It’ll End Sooner Than We Think, But With Dire Sociopolitical Consequences.

It’s January 20, 2021 and Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has just taken office as the 46th President of the United States after winning over 400 electoral votes. In his Inauguration Speech, he speaks eloquently, if not with the occasional gaffe, of a new reborn America, a vision of innovation and equality in the 21st Century, emerging from its greatest national challenge in more than seven decades.

In 2021, Joe Biden is President, vaccines bring an end to the pandemic and normal life comes back even as COVID-19 is still killing, and the country remains as divided as ever. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)..

It is the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A few months earlier, the FDA approved emergency use of two vaccines, one tested by Oxford University and manufactured through AstraZeneca and another by Moderna that both showed 50%-70% efficacy in Phase III trials toward protecting from COVID-19. Both have been rolled out to the military and healthcare and frontline workers in hot spots during the Fall wave of the pandemic and Biden announces a plan to vaccinate 200 million Americans by April and 300 million by June 30. The vaccine should provide enough immunity that if enough people get it, it will be contained.

The FDA also approved several treatment options, including a monoclonal antibody drug that shows great promise to reducing severe illness and death. Though still a nasty illness, experts agree these medical interventions will make COVID-19 a manageable disease. Plans are made to lift all remaining restrictions. Our long national nightmare is over.

In his first speech as president, Biden charts a course for vaccinating America, ending the pandemic and bolstering the economic recovery. He praises science, for their hard work during the worst days of the pandemic and for their ingenuity in bringing vaccines and treatments to market quickly and efficiently. He promises to rejoin the WHO and help stamp out COVID-19 or at least help turn it into a minor annoyance rather than a terrifying plague. America is on the upswing! Our darkest days are behind us!

With that, life begins to return back to normal. Sports returns, first with limited fans and then with full arenas. Major League Baseball returns with great fanfare. Parades and festivals go on as scheduled. New York City holds its promised ticket-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes for healthcare workers and essential workers. Liberals, who once preached the need to to stay home, indefinitely, and shut up and like it, now preach coming out of our homes and rejoining society, going on trips and to restaurants and living again! Leftists still hold out hope the virus will trigger the long-awaited toppling of the Capitalist system, so they still argue for staying at home and lament liberals now supporting “killing grandma for the Dow.” It’s Dems in Disarray.

Because even as the pandemic quietly dissipates from the headlines, and the recovery and political infighting becomes the ongoing story, the virus is still infecting people, sickening people and, yes, killing people. Only now, it’s not out of control, overwhelming hospitals, and drugs and vaccines are the method of response, not mask mandates and distancing. 100,000 will die of the virus in 2021, 80,000 in 2022, and 50,000 in 2023, but compared to the 250,000 we lost in 2020, this all seems like tolerable improvements. Progress!

The economy struggles because people still feel skittish about going out in crowds. Masks are still the norm, at least for the rest of the winter and people aren’t quick to go back to bars and other crowded venues. Acquiescing to the demands of progressives in Congress, President Biden signs a robust economic recovery package that helps bolster the economy and invested in infrastructure, small business and states/city aid. Leftists hate it.

And Trumpers seethe.

See, the timing of the vaccines/treatments is suspicious. It is all proof that they were right all along – the pandemic was overblown in a successful attempt to derail a strong economy and defeat Donald Trump. After all, it came right after impeachment failed, and miraculously vaccines came just as he was losing the election. Fox News goes all out on the conspiracies. The vaccine existed a year ago, but scientists waited until it couldn’t help Trump to release it; or it doesn’t work because the virus never truly existed in the first place. By the millions, they refuse to get vaccinated, or seek medical treatment until it’s too late. This seeds outbreaks all across the country, stressing hospitals and leading to questions about whether or not we need to institute restrictions back.

The timing of the approval of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments will spark conspiracy theories that will further erode trust in science. Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Now people are mad.

Liberals: “We may have to cancel baseball because right wingers won’t get vaccinated!”

Right Wingers: “You see, they never had any intention of normal life coming back, this is about controlling you. You can’t live until you take their vaccine!”

Bill Gates, 5G, yada yada yada. Governors realize they can’t reimpose restrictions after promising a vaccine would be the end to them – and with medicine able to respond with, well, medicine, they don’t have to. But the case loads still go up and people still die and that scares enough people out of taking trips or eating out or going to movies that the economy is not able to recovery at the same speed as other countries.

Republicans, sensing a repeat of 2009 when a slow economy recovery paid dividends to them politically, spin the narrative that liberals are hypocrites; the virus meant having to stay home and not go to work when Trump was president, but now, even as people are still dying, “medicine” that coincidentally appeared just as they won an election, means its safe to go outside.

Every post-vaccine COVID-19 death is breaking news on Fox, proof the Democrats are hypocrites. They find someone who dies even AFTER getting the vaccine, proving it doesn’t work and Democrats never cared and it was all about beating Trump. And even though social distancing and mask-wearing is no longer mandated, the country remains as hopelessly divided as ever.

But at least there’ll be baseball.

From Lockdown, A Letter To My 11-Year Old Self About Witnessing History

Me, age 11, in Bar Harbor, Maine holding a copy of The Bar Harbor Times, at the age I was when I wrote in a journal that I wished I could be part of a major historical event. 25 years later, I’ve been part of a lifetime’s worth.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of history, and fate intervened to give me what I wanted, good and hard.

When I was a child, I would watch and read the news and see all the historical events happening around the world and wish I was there. In fact, I got my start as a writer by doing just that; opening up a Composition notebook and writing stories about being in the middle of some of these events; wars, natural disasters, celebrations.

On April 9, at the height of New York’s COVID-19 Epidemic, when ambulance sirens blared outside my window, I wrote a letter to my 11-year-old self, warning him that his wish to be in the middle of historical, life-changing events will soon be granted – multiple times – and boy, it would suck. Here’s the letter:

Dear Domenick,

I see you. 

Sitting there in your room in 1994. writing in a black and white Composition notebook; an alternate history you wish was happening now. Hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, World War III; and you, the common thread, surviving and witnessing them all.

I know it seems to you like historical, once-in-a-lifetime events are happening far from you; that earthquake in Los Angeles, Hurricane Andrew, the war in Yugoslavia. A wall came down in Berlin and you weren’t there; SCUD missiles darted across the skies over Israel and Kuwait – and you weren’t there. There was a volcano eruption in the Philippines, a tsunami in Papua New Guinea, and a tornado wiped a Kansas town off the map – and you weren’t there. I know it seems to you that all the life changing historical moments are in the past. Your grandparents tell you stories about the Depression and World War II. Your mom remembers when Kennedy was assassinated. And your young life has been filled with, what? Some pitiful snowstorms and couple of Giants Super Bowl wins? Hmph.

Well, I’ve come from a quarter century in the future to tell you; You will be front and center to major historical events, and you’ll wish you weren’t.

Go upstairs to the attic and look out the front window. That’s your favorite place in the house. You know why; because you can see the World Trade Center, the “twin towers.” Go look at it now, they’ll only be there for a few more years.

On your second full day of college, you won’t ever make it to class. You will watch those buildings implode, full of people, in front of your eyes after terrorists hijack passenger planes and fly them, loaded with people and fuel, into each building. Thousands will die. You will know what anxiety and fear really feels like. Your mother was supposed to be shopping in the mall under the towers that day and your father works less than a mile away. 

Don’t worry, they’ll be fine, but in the days and weeks after, you’ll be too afraid to go to school, lest you never make it back home, too afraid to go to restaurants or ride the subway or do anything that attracts a crowd of people. Christmas will be bleak that year. Your first semester GPA will be below 2.0, because you’ll be too unfocused and anxious about when the next attack was coming. “9/11,” as it will be called because it will happen on September 11th, 2001, will become everyone’s obsession and you will be unable to escape it. It will come to define the city and the experience will be the first thing anyone asks about when you say you’re from New York. You will take a class in college, called Sociology of Terrorism, only because the professor will tell you the best times to take public transit or be in crowded spaces. You’ll find out terrorists don’t attack public transit on Thursday and Fridays, because it does more social and economic damage to do it earlier in the week. That’s something you’d never think of considering before. This is how you live now. 

Smoke rising from Ground Zero as seen from the attic of my childhood home in Queens, New York on the evening of September 11, 2001. 9/11 was my first experience being thrust into a global life-altering event, right at my doorstep. It wasn’t my last.

Remember those stories your mom told you about the blackout in 1977 that made you lock yourself in your bedroom late at night, shut all the lights and imagine you were in one? You’ll get the chance. A blackout will trap you at work all night. You will wonder how you will ever get home or when the lights will come back on. You won’t be able to reach your family, the phones are out. You will have to drive all the way home in the pitch dark, unable to see except for your headlights and hint of dawn. It will happen in August, it will be hot out. You’ll swelter in the heat in your bedroom with no A/C. 

The lights will come back on though, but you’ll be left with some rational and irrational fears about it. You’ll walk around with multiple cellular phone chargers, and panic whenever you cell phone battery goes below 50 percent. You will feel anxiety when your laptop isn’t plugged into a power source. You will never again let your gas tank go below half full. 

Remember when your grandmother told you about then bread lines and encampments in Central Park during the Great Depression? What it must to have been like to live through an economic crisis like that? You’ll experience it…perhaps twice as of this writing. You’ll lost your job, along with 750,000 others in the United States, in January 2009. It will eat up your savings and you will lie awake at night wondering if you will ever get a job. You will, but you will work for a decade for low pay and few benefits and no retirement account. 

It will happen again, out of nowhere, eleven years later. More on that later. 

You’ll never get the nerve to be a storm chaser like you see on TV, but you will see a tornado. It will scare the living crap out of you. You will be in your car, on the Long Island Expressway, and you will see the funnel stretch from the sky. It will look like it’s coming for you but it will pass to your left. The wind and rain will then hide the tornado and you will not know where it is or if its about to hit you. With traffic stopped, you will close your eyes and bargain with God to get you out of this safely. The ensuing chaos will force you to abandon your car and walk miles home, avoiding fallen trees and light poles and shattered glass from apartment windows. For years after, you will be afraid to leave the house when severe weather is in the forecast. 

You will live through four of the five worst blizzards in New York history. One of them will trap you at home for weeks, with roads unplowed. Supply lines will get cut and you’ll wonder if supermarkets will remain stocked and food will go into short supply. You will have a job, but you will have to climb over 20-foot snow drifts to get to it. Thankfully snow does melt though…eventually. 

Oh there will be hurricanes too. Hurricane Irene will keep you up all night, as the winds batter your bedroom and you wonder if that tree behind your house will come crashing into your window. You will do the stupid thing of going outside in the eye and get caught walking over a mile into the backside of the storm. You will catch a bad cold from it. The next year will be even more crazy. Hurricane Sandy will do the things you wondered if hurricanes would do if they hit New York – it will flood coastal areas, destroy your beloved boardwalk in Rockaway, and knock power out for many of your friends and family for weeks. There will be gas lines. You will sit on one for over an hour one day. There will be massive power outages that will leave New Yorkers searching the garbage for food. Subway and road tunnels will be flooded, and will take the better part of the next decade to fully repair. The anxiety that came during the blackout nine years earlier will come roaring back and you will become obsessed with making sure your phone, your computer, even your remote control is charged and batteries are plentiful. You will buy them by the dozens, you will hoard candles, twenty or thirty, stocked away in the basement…just in case. 

There will even be an earthquake. It won’t be bad, but it will be scarier than you think. You will run out of your office screaming because you’ll remember you’re in New York and nothing is built to be earthquake proof. You won’t want to be in another one. 

That story there about another Spanish flu-type outbreak, you know the one you stopped writing because you considered it too out of this world to be true? I almost hate to tell you this, but I’m writing this letter to you in quarantine. Don’t worry, it’s not a deadly illness like in the movies, but it will cause economic and social disruption you can’t even consider right now. You will be told to stay home, and not go anywhere. Restaurants and bars will be closed, stores will be closed, you will be trapped in your home.  It will actually be ILLEGAL to see your family and friends. The worst part is you will find a partner, someone you are madly in love with, and you will not be able to see him for perhaps months. You will be forced to face your worst fear – isolation and loneliness – and it will be harder than anything else you’ve ever done. As the crisis develops, the anxiety will be so bad, your middle and index fingers on your left hand will go numb at the tips. You will have nightmares, crazy ones that will make you afraid to go to sleep. 

Millions will lose their jobs and your job will grind to a halt. Again, your savings will get eaten up. The prospect for your financial future is grim. 

I can’t tell you yet how it ends, maybe that’s another letter. But I want to let you know, you will utter these words in partial jest:

“I am tired of living through historical events”

I don’t want to leave you hopeless. There will be good times too. A lot of them. 

You will live to see the millennium, a New Year’s Eve that will be so celebratory, you’ll have no use for any more in the future. A newspaper article will start “the world has seen itself as its best.” The Eiffel Tower will erupt in celebratory fireworks in a way you’ll remember always. You’ll still be searching for videos of it 20 years later just to make you smile. 

“I am tired of living through historical events”

Nick Rafter, march 22, 2020

You know that list you made of places you want to see before you die? You will see many of them before you’re 40. You will see a volcano erupt – sort of – in the form of rivers of lava flowing into the Pacific Ocean on the island of Hawaii. You will visit Pompeii and stare at the majestic Mount Vesuvius and you will go to Martinique and see the ruins of Saint Pierre and the mountain that destroyed it – Mount Pelee. You will look down into the waters of Pearl Harbor and see the rusted remains of the U.S.S. Arizona. It will still be leaking oil sixty years later. 

You will ride a gondola in Venice and you will touch a column in the ruins of the Parthenon in Athens. You will stand on the spot in the Tower of London where Anne Boleyn was beheaded and you will transit the entire Panama Canal – in a small boat too, which will make the effect of the locks even more awesome. That war in Yugoslavia you’re watching, you will see the damage firsthand in the buildings of Dubrovnik, Croatia. You will return to Croatia years later and stay on an old-world island with a friend.

You will stand on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the British House of Commons, and you will see in the inside of the Supreme Court where no cameras are allowed, and you will not only ride a boat into Niagara Falls, you will get the see the wonder from a cave behind it. You will travel to countries you can’t even fathom you’d visit like Colombia, Turkey and Trinidad and Tobago. You remember that weird looking atom-shaped structure in Brussels that you’re curious about what it looks like inside? It is a gallery space for art installations and you’ll get to go inside.

You will stroll through Amsterdam’s Red Light District; drive across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys – in a thunderstorm even; play slot machines in Las Vegas, nap on a beach in Barbados and do it again in Aruba and you will walk through the Colosseum in Rome, and you will do it twice. 

So my advice to you, from 25 years in the future, is to put down that notebook and enjoy your boring life. It won’t be boring for long. I can’t tell you when the next forty years from where I am will look like, hopefully more like the latter part of this letter and not the former part. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to create historical events in a fantasy world for you to live though, you will, as they say, live in interesting times. 

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