Embrace The Face Mask As A Cultural Symbol Of 2020

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It has become nemesis of Karens across America during this pandemic – the face mask: a piece of cloth covering your nose and mouth that at the very least can cut down the number of respiratory droplets you expel, and in turn dramatically cut down the chance of transmission of viruses like COVID-19.

Seems like a simple, not very disruptive thing everyone can do to stop the spread? No?

Apparently not. Conspiracy minded-Americans, civil libertarians, professional contrarians, Floridians and other generally annoying people are having meltdowns over mandates to wear masks in public. They have intensified as mandates to wear masks have been popping up all over America since the second wave of infections began last month – or is the second half of the first wave? I don’t even know anymore. We’e seen them all over social media; men and women throwing literal tantrums over being asked to put on a mask in a store. One woman in Arizona even filmed herself tearing apart the facemask display at Target, before predictably saying something racist to the store’s employees.

In lieu of just forcing everyone to stay indoors until the very last COVID case is recovered, and perhaps for two weeks thereafter, there is no way to really control the virus in a sustainable way. But mask wearing helps significantly. It allows us to feel safer doing everyday things like shopping and going to the doctor, and it opens up the possibility of socializing or doing stuff that would otherwise be considered risky like visiting a museum or taking a tour. COVID-19 would still infect some, but the numbers would be much smaller and the spread would move slower, giving time for contact tracers to catch up and health professionals to find treatments or a vaccine.

But they become less helpful, though, if people won’t wear them. In order to be effective, they must really be worn primarily by people who ARE infected. The risk to those not infected goes down if an infected person without a mask is close by, but by less than it would if only the infected person is masked and much, much less than if both parties are wearing a mask. (see chart below). They must also cover both the mouth AND nose.

A common PSA flyers explaining the reduced risk of transmission of COVID-19 with mask-wearing.

So how do we get people to embrace wearing a mask? It is difficult. Opposition to wearing masks is not new. When they were mandated during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, entire groups were formed to oppose the ordinances. In San Francisco, the Anti-Mask League grew powerful enough to push the city to (prematurely) lift the mask mandate, which led to a small second wave in early 1919.

Mask wearing in New York has not been terribly controversial. Most people wear them and social pressure is immense, even in conservative parts of the city and state. In Staten Island last month, a crowd actually kicked a woman out of a supermarket for not wearing a mask. Stark difference that we’ve seen in the Sun Belt and Midwest. I think it helps a lot that we’re moving beyond just the standard blue and white disposable surgical masks into more designer and fashionable masks. Though nothing works better than the N95 type, regular face masks provided some protecting, perhaps enough to keep COVID-19 manageable while we wait for a vaccine. They also provide an opportunity to turn masks in a cultural and fashion symbol – a new accessory.

While keeping a diary during lockdown that I hope to one day show young people too young to remember this pandemic, I realized that the mask might be to them what my grandmother’s World War II ration card was to me – a tangible symbol of the era. When someone asks about the pandemic, I will pull out my masks and talk about the experience of having to wear them. What if we made face masks to 2020 what bell bottoms were to 1976? or poodle skirts were to 1958? Or snap bracelets were to 1990? And what better way to encourage people to wear them than to let them pick out one or make one that represents who they are; a favorite color, the logo of a sports team, their school, whatever.

On Tuesday, in response to commentator Chris Hayes saying on Twitter that he had a hard time coming to terms with how long the pandemic might last, someone said the potential length of it hit him or her “when I noticed places were advertising personalized face masks.” I found that odd. When this started, we were all told it would be *at least* 12-18 months. We’re in month four or six, depending on who you ask, that means we could be as little as 6 to 8 more months or as long as 14 months or more from the pandemic ending and all public health measures lifting. Why not get a face masks that represents you, even if you only have to wear it for another 6-14 more months?

I got myself a Game of Thrones themed one (what do we say to the God of Death?), another that has the NYC flag on it, and I bought myself a set of four face masks from the Taylor Jay Collection, a boutique women’s fashion company based in Oakland, Calif. Check out their line of face coverings – and other fashion options – here. Last night, I put my mask collection a Command hook in my room to display them and have them in a place where I can grab them easily.

Embracing the mask as part of the pandemic new normal was helpful for me. Should I decided to do some of my favorite summer activities this year – whale watching, ferry hoping, visiting the zoo, or taking my favorite tour cruise around Manhattan – the mask allows me to do it with a high level of peace of mind. I have less of a chance of getting COVID-19 and less of a chance of giving it to somebody else if I happened to be infected, but asymptomatic.

My masks hanging by my desk, ready for use in the coming months.

There is one concern about wearing masks that I won’t dismiss however. I know some who have trauma related to sexual abuse and their PTSD is triggered by mask-wearing. I know at least two people who have expressed this and I’m not going to pass judgement or dismiss those concerns. My good friend and Reiki healer Rev. Joanne Angel Barry Colon has an article concerning this subject at her blog and is exploring more information from experts about it. You can read her essay here.

What happens the pandemic ends and its safe to go outside maskless? Well, I keep them – for when its cold and I want to cover my mouth and nose, or when I have a cold or the flu and need to go to the doctor, or for when its flu seasons and the virus is widespread and I want to avoid catching it. Might this be part of our new normal? Perhaps. It worked for East Asia.

But most of all, I’ll keep them for when future generations search for a tangible symbol of this era, and I can put it on and tell them how I wore it to help prevent myself and others from catching COVID-19.

Let’s all embrace it as our social symbol for this era and let’s keep our masks as a reminder of what we went through and what, and who, we lost.

The COVID Testing Debacle Shows America Isn’t Great Again, It’s Flailing

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Last week, my uncle went to the hospital. He tested positive for COVID-19 after having had the virus in March and recovering. He had no symptoms and we assumed it was just a false positive or one of those “we picked up the remnants of virus” situations that we’ve been hearing about.

It was. He has since tested negative twice and has left isolation.

My uncle’s positive result, however, forced several members of my family to get tested as they had been in contact with him in the previous week. It was just a precaution because we are in New York City and we are going out of way to prevent another epidemic like we had in the spring. But a week later, they are still waiting for their results. Because of this, neither my dad nor my cousin can go back to work until they get a negative test…or two weeks have past since they were last exposed to the person who tested positive. Whichever comes first.

At this rate, the latter may happen first.

Now, we see this is happening all over the country. When I get tested in New York City on May 31, I got a result later that same day. Now, 7-10 day waiting times are the norm in the city, and in hotspots like Texas and Arizona, patients are being told it could be three weeks, or they aren’t able to get a test at all.

This is unsustainable. How can we get our economy moving again if workers have to go into quarantine every couple of weeks waiting for test results? What happens if my father goes back to work, only to have been exposed again, and now has to get a test and wait another week? We’re going to have situations where this is happening constantly and people are spending more time in quarantine than at work or school.

And we’re not alone here. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, who recently announced she had COVID-19, said she waited eight days for the results of her test, which may have led multiple people in her household to get infected when they were negative at the time of the test. The mayor of a major city cannot sit in isolation for a week while she waits for test results. How can our government function? The Houston Astros and several other baseball teams, preparing to play a shortened season starting later this month, called off training camp because the test turnout took too long. You want sports back? Get us timely test results.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom said it took her over a week to get a positive COVID test result back.

Other countries manage to turn around results in less than 24 hours; South Korea, Germany, Australia. In Korea, some tests take as little as 15 minutes. In Iceland, two hours. They are COVID-free and open for business.

It is an absolute disgrace that six months into this pandemic, it is still taking a week to get back a test for a severely infectious disease, or that in hotspots, there are still not enough tests. It was enough of a disgrace that it happened in March, but this is July!

The tests are useless if you can’t get one and get a result in a timely manner. You may infected someone in the time since the test. Either you’ve been in total isolation since the test as a precaution, meaning you’re not even going out to buy essentials, let alone going to work, or you did go out and might have infected someone, or someone in your household. Even more concerning, what if you were negative at the time of the test and got infected SINCE and now you’re positive? At lot a good a negative test result from a week ago does in that scenario. It is inconceivable that in the United States in 2020 people have to sit in isolation because there’s a backup in test results.

This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world; the richest country in the world. We put a man on the Moon, but we can’t get people a timely test result for COVID.

In the meantime, the creature occupying the Oval Office, badly playing the role as president, joked? that he told his aids to slow down testing, right in the middle of an epidemic in several key election states. Has that contributed to the backlog of testing? Perhaps. Or perhaps his lack of urgency in controlling the epidemic lead to massive outbreaks in other states that pushed us beyond our capacity. In March, it was New York having a big outbreak with smaller ones in Detroit, Boston and New Orleans. Now, it’s the three largest states and Arizona with smaller ones in Nevada, the Carolinas, Georgia and the Bible Belt.

What is he doing?

As a New Yorker, especially one who works in real estate, we all know stories about Donald Trump and how he operates. There is one characteristic of his that keeps churning in my mind. His pettiness. Donald Trump commonly seeks to get “proactive revenge” from people he feels, or knows, will spurn him. Not just the ones who do, but also the ones that he expects will, or are told will. Trump knows he’s losing and he’s being told the election may very well be hopeless. What damage is he or will he do the country in his final six months in office to a population that’s on the verge of rejecting him in embarrassing fashion. The same kind of thing he would do to a landlord who went with another offer. Its terrifying to ponder.

I don’t know who the bigger problem is: Our federal government for being so plainly incompetent at managing a (predictable) crisis, or the American people for putting up with it?

Relax, The Black Death Isn’t Returning


Since the mid–20th century, plague in the United States has typically occurred in the rural West. The case shown in Illinois was lab-associated. (Map courtesy of the CDC)

You’ve probably seen the screaming headlines by now, joining the ranks of “murder hornets” and “new pig flu” among the proverbial second shoes that will drop this year. An outbreak of the bubonic plague was reported in Northern China, leading to a strong government response.

Here are a list of things that you should worry about more than the plague:

  • COVID-19
  • Donald Trump
  • The security of our elections
  • The Flu
  • NeoNazis
  • Women named Karen who won’t wear masks at Target
  • Brian-Eating Amoebas in Florida
  • Pretty much anyone in the State of Florida

This isn’t 1347, and the plague isn’t going to ravage us like it did Europe in that era. The bubonic plague is a bacterial infection, not viral, and is treatable with antibiotics and though can still cause serious illness, does occur naturally already, even in the United States and cases are rare. In 2015, more than a dozen cases of the plague were reported in the US, almost entirely in the Southwest. In 2018, plague was reported in Idaho. No one has died of the plague in the United States in five years.

It can be transferred from person to person via respiratory droplets, but that is not common. It is usually transmitted through flea bites – fleas that bite a rodent with the plague bacteria, carry it and infect a human when they bite the human.

According to the Center for Disease Control:

Plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Once a patient is diagnosed with suspected plague they should be hospitalized and, in the case of pneumonic plague, medically isolated. Laboratory tests should be done, including blood cultures for plague bacteria and microscopic examination of lymph node, blood, and sputum samples. Antibiotic treatment should begin as soon as possible after laboratory specimens are taken. To prevent a high risk of death in patients with pneumonic plague, antibiotics should be given as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

So don’t get too crazy with “EEK! THE PLAGUE!” headlines. COVID-19 is enough to worry about already.

Besides, social media will find another thing to freak out about in due time.

How The NYPD Manipulates The Media Into Backing Off Accountability

In 2009, I got hired to my first newspaper reporting job at the Queens Tribune. Part of my job included putting together the weekly police blotter. It was a fairly easy task. You just gather all the email releases from the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, or DCPI, the New York City Police Department’s press office, related to incidents in Queens – they would send them typically by precinct – and format them for the paper.

“On Tuesday, September 1 at such and such time, police responded to a call of a man shot at 123 Main Street. Upon arrival they found the victim dead at the scene with gunshot wounds to his torso. An investigation is ongoing.”

It didn’t require any follow up, and if the story was considered big enough, it jumped from the Blotter to a regular news story, but most of the time, it was just in the blotter. There was no need to fact check anything. Why? Were the cops going to lie about these things?

Then came the story of a teenager who ran in front of a police car, was hit and died.

The Queens Tribune police blotter, which I was in charge of from 2009 to 2012

I coped, pasted, formatted and sent it on its way to production. Seemed pretty cut and paste. The kid was caught trying to break into a home, he was chased, cops tried to box him in and he jumped out in front of the car, causing them to hit him accidentally and he died. Tragic accident. Right?

Maybe not.

A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a lawyer. He was working with the mother of the kid who had died and believed that despite what the cops said, her son’s death was no accident.

They had two witnesses, one who was on the street and one who watched from an apartment window, who both claimed the same thing. The cops had stopped the kid, who was sitting on the front stoop of the building waiting for a friend, because someone had called them to report the teenager had been “breaking into the building.” (He wasn’t). The witnesses both agreed that the kid, after explaining that he was waiting for a friend and refusing to submit to an arrest, walked away from cops, who rushed back to their car and rode down the street as he walked away. The kid got annoyed and decided the cross the street, at which time the cops turned the patrol car around and rammed the kid, causing him to fly over the windshield and then roll back onto the ground. The cops got out of the car, and stood by the kid for over 10 minutes before calling for help. An ambulance came 30 minutes later.

There having been no video or no more eye witnesses, I did the best I could to investigate what happened. I tried to get 911 tapes or transcripts and succeeded in discovering the ambulance call came at 1:55 a.m., which is at least 20 minutes earlier than both witnesses claimed, though the witnesses claimed the incident happened much earlier than the 1:35 a.m. time DCPI sent out. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death blunt trauma from being hit by the car, which hinted that the police car was going quite fast, not what you’d expect if they were slowly making a U-turn to pursue him. I followed the story for months, carrying it over to a new paper that I got hired at, until I was called into a meeting with my publisher. I was told to drop the story:

  • Our paper didn’t distribute in the area, so it was pointless to waste so much time on the story
  • We needed to stay in good standing with the NYPD, as they control our press badges and can make access a bitch
  • There was really no evidence the cops did anything wrong except circumstantial witness accounts that couldn’t be corroborated.

I even got a call directly from the commanding officer of the precinct. He asked: “please don’t pursue this any further. The situation has been dealt with. It was an accident, but the cops involved have been dealt with. We’re really trying hard to repair relations with the community, they’re strained, we know. This can’t help.”

Before long the lawyer stop taking my calls, one witness was arrested for drug possession and the other moved out of state. The mother of the victim also relocated to Georgia. The story died. Years later, I heard from a local source that the mother received a payout from the city as one of the many settlements that totaled over $1 billion.

In the wake of what happened with Philando Castile and George Floyd and all the other black men and women who were killed by cops on camera, I often wondered what really happened back in 2010 and had someone had a smartphone camera at the time and filmed it, would it have ended differently?

The NYPD issues press credentials for New York City reporters in a process that is often politicized.

After Floyd’s death, Minneapolis Police sent out a press release stating that he had died after having a “medical condition” during an arrest and cops called for help. No mention of the knee; instead it presented the cops are doing the right thing in seeking help. If not for the amateur videos, its entirely probable Minneapolis reporters would have just ran with the police account and not asked any further questions and Derek Chauvin would still be out patrolling with a badge and gun.

It was never our policy to question information we get from the police. Their word was treated as the gold standard. It’s obvious now that isn’t and hasn’t be true.

Further, our relationship with the police was a really toxic one. We often were pressured to bury unflattering stories about cops, with a mix of intimidation tactics and payoffs danged in front of us like sticks and carrots.

Whether it was the story about cops in Flushing taking bribes from “massage parlors;” or police arresting the wrong suspect TWICE while the real suspect, a cop’s brother, fled to Poland; or a police officer who grabbed a woman’s breasts; one who harassed a homeless man with his gun, threatening to shoot him and laughing about it or another who joked about sodomizing gay men at a protest if they get too close to him, we buried it. We trusted the department would deal with the problems internally and felt it was important to not use our voice to chip away at public trust of law enforcement over “minor issues” that are best handled out of the public eye. It was necessary, we were told, to have a police department with strong public support in order to keep crime low and maintain the successes in crime reduction we had seen.

And we did it. Partially out of necessity – we needed to keep our jobs – but also because we believed it. We believed that a functioning police department that had the trust of the people was necessary to keep law and order.

I was even told to spike a POSITIVE story about a cop – an officer who instead of arresting a homeless man who was panhandling on a Queens street, he helped him find a job. “What we don’t want is every homeless person in the city flooding the precincts looking for handouts,” my DCPI contact said.

In December 2013, after Bill de Blasio won his mayoral election, I was assigned to write an article about “stop and frisk,” which I had been writing about much the previous year. And earlier article of mine from the previous October, linked here, was focused on the Community Safety Act, which sought to restrict the use of stop and frisk and provide more transparency in its usage. The gist of the new article was to get the “police side of the story” and I was to sit down with then-outgoing City Councilman Peter Vallone of Astoria, a staunch supporter of “Stop and Frisk.” In an editorial meeting, the publisher and the editor both agreed “we have to do something to stop [de Blasio] from curtailing police powers,” and figure the best way to do it was to run a story favorable to the policy and critical of reform. We even coordinated the story with DCPI.

Feeling uncomfortable, I asked to be taken off the story. I said I had included this perspective in my earlier article and there was no need to do it again and an editorial would suffice. The response I got from my editor – “The last article didn’t work. He won.” The assignment was instead given to an intern. I’d like to say this is an isolated incident, but it wasn’t. I was once told to promote Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson on the cover of the pre-primary edition in September 2013 to try to try to prevent a de Blasio victory. It didn’t work. Repeatedly, we were pushed to blow up crime stories, especially in black and brown neighborhoods, out of proportion to spin a pro-police agenda. They would supplement an editorial calling for more cops or more money for law enforcement. It happened several times during my time as a reporter, especially during budget negotiation season in May and June.

We believed that a functioning police department, that had the trust of the people, was necessary to keep law and order.

The NYPD also gives us our press badges, which we need to cross police lines at murder scenes or fires or protests or even mayoral press conferences. They have a strict requirement to get one. You have to go down in person to 1 Police Plaza, and go through levels of security that make Tel Aviv Airport look like a state fair. You have to present three clips of “a city sponsored event” that you covered (of course you can’t actually cover them until you get the badge, but I digress) and they have to approve them. The first time I tried to get a press badge, I was declined because one of my clips was not acceptable to them as a “city sponsored event.” (It was a press conference held by a City Councilman). Another one of my clips, a fire at a Maspeth, Queens bar where the owner let me behind police lines, was accepted, but I was scolded and threatened by the woman at DCPI for going behind police lines without a badge. “If we catch you doing that again, you could be subject to arrest.”

The NYPD used tactics of intimidation, but also flattery, to keep the press from straying from them. I had a great working relationship with the commanding officer of one of the local precincts. He would invite me to the precinct house for coffee, give me (off the record) updates on what was going on in the community. It was helpful and I got a lot of scoops from him, but it came at a cost. When his officers arrested the wrong man for a sex crime, I was asked to bury it. When a teenage girl filed a complaint against an officer at the precinct, accusing him of sexual harassment, I was asked to bury it. And because I did, I got access most reporters would only dream of. A sit down with the borough commander; an escort behind police lines at a crime scene; scoops on arrests and investigations.

And we all knew that if we didn’t play their game, someone else would. If we didn’t get the scoop, I was told once, the cops “have a [New York] Post reporter on speed dial who will get it.” We were all chasing Murdoch. And we did this, even though cops would still openly say “the media is against us.” That’s how they kept it going, by gaslighting us into thinking we STILL weren’t friendly enough to them. We needed to do more of their bidding, and more, and more.

But now, with all that has transpired, I’m left wondering; how many people suffered under the weight of brutal cops who knew the media was “taken care of,” and felt lawless with no accountability? Did any George Floyds go unnoticed because I was led to believe there was no reason to question what DCPI sent to us? Did I really do my job as a journalist? Does any NYC reporter if they don’t vet the police the same way they question politicians or other sources?

The fear, the intimidation and the access have allowed the NYPD to escape scrutiny for years. and now its all come to a head. They’ve lost the trust of the city, and so has the media who did their bidding. We may all end up the worse for it.

Facing Your Phobias in Quarantine:

I have a paralyzing fear of isolation and loneliness, this was my worst nightmare.

Back in March, on day two of our lockdown in New York City, and after several days of anxiety attacks and feelings of panicking, I wrote about how the impending lengthy (at the time, open-ended) quarantine and social isolation was forcing me to face my worst fears; fears of loneliness and social isolation. Here is a piece I wrote that night about how frightened I felt and how it was comforting to know it was an experience the entire world was sharing together at the same time:

On March 24, 2019, I was in Cartagena, Colombia. I stepped off a cruise ship and strolled around the Old City with a crowd of tourists, buying souvenirs from locals, eyeing emeralds with my relatives, sitting in a pew with natives at the cathedral. I had rarely felt less alone. 

Photo by Felipe Cespedes on Pexels.com

Exactly one year later, that city is on lockdown;

And so is Brussels, and Rome, and Honolulu, and Las Vegas. All other places I’ve been. And so was I, at home in New York. I never felt more alone. 

But that’s also the thing that is most comforting about this – it’s the first time in most of our lifetimes, we are sharing a harrowing experience together as a species. The whole world is effected. We all have the same enemy. 

This pandemic and the social distancing we have had to endure to save the lives of those at greatest risk, has unearthed a yingyang of feelings around one of my greatest fears – isolation and loneliness. It has both exacerbated it, but also relieved it. 

These past couple of weeks, I’ve been waking up each morning wondering if this was all a bad dream. If my anxiety was playing tricks on me. I am isolated – separated from the things that ease that fear – for an undetermined amount of time. I’ve been obsessively refreshing Twitter, feeling pangs of anxiety and confusion at any suggestion from officials that this situation might lead me to be forced to stay inside, disallowing me at least the right to see my partner, if nothing else, and have at least a few hours a week where I’m not crippled by loneliness. I hear stories about people in quarantine in Europe – a woman who stepped outside her house to find out what the tapping on her roof was, only to be shooed back in by police. People being fined on the street in Austria and Spain, just for walking a few blocks to see a friend. 

For a while now, I’ve managed my loneliness by going back and forth between my home to my partner’s apartment. That freedom to move is something I dearly miss, and something I’ve long feared, a fear that was considered irrational a month ago, would be taken away, because it was a huge factor in fighting my crippling fear of isolation. 

And a fear it is. 

In college, I worked at my school radio station and unlike most of my friends, I didn’t live on campus. I drove everyday from New York City to Long Island. Oftentimes, I’d hang around campus after class to wait for traffic to die down, but on Fridays the campus was different. The last class let out at 3 p.m. and the campus cleared out; the parking lots were quiet, so quiet that you could hear the clock in the quad tick. 

I would often have nightmares about being stuck at the radio station after our news program ended at 5 p.m. on Fridays – alone. I’d be stuck there for an indefinite amount of time, the only person keeping the station running, by myself in a quiet building. I’d look out the window to see if anybody was out there, anyone driving by, but no one was there. I was alone. I would often wake up covered in sweat. 

I don’t know exactly when it started. My earliest memory of being afraid of isolation, when I was ten years old, and I would dread nighttime because it meant my parents would go to sleep and I’d be alone. It was ok if I could fall asleep, and up until that point, I have no problem going to sleep at the same time as my parents, but suddenly I couldn’t fall asleep at 10:30 p.m. after the weather segment of the 10 o’clock news. Suddenly I was awake for 30 more minutes, then 45, then an hour. Before I knew it, it was 11:30 p..m., and I was staring at the ceiling in the quiet of my room. 

For a time, maybe a year or so, I slept on the couch because it was closer to my parents bedroom than my bedroom. For a time I made my mother stay up with me until I fell asleep. It created strain in my parents’ marriage. One night I ran into my parents bedroom crying because I had woken up in my bedroom alone. My dad must have carried me in there. 

The fears were irrational. My bedroom was in the back of the house, so I felt isolated from where everyone else was – where the cars drove by and people walked by. I thought my parents would abandon me while I slept – they would pack up the house and move out leaving me behind. If i slept on the couch, it meant they couldn’t get out of the house without passing me and making a noise that would waken me. That was my tortured logic. 

Eventually, I found my way back into my bedroom; puberty helped. But as I got older, the nights got longer. I would walk around the house looking for lights in neighbors’ windows, seeing who was awake. I knew some of my neighbors nightly routines. The man who lived across the street would watch TV in his front room until 1 a.m. Another neighbor would always turned the bathroom light on at 12:15 a.m., probably to brush his teeth before bed I assumed. 

I would count how many windows were illuminated, a sign someone was awake. If I saw no lights on in any windows, anxiety would set in. I was alone.

The nights were long. One o’clock meant it would be another four hours before my father would get up for work. Four hours alone! It seems so weird now that I once had panic attacks about the nighttime being too long and nowadays I often wish it were longer. 

I became obsessed with CBS News Up To The Minute, an overnight news show that aired on CBS from 3 to 6 a.m. It was the only thing on that wasn’t informercials. Sharyl Attkisson became my best friend. Her daily updates of the OJ Simpson case and the Oslo Accords helped ease my loneliness until I dozed off to sleep. 

When I was 14, my aunt took me along to a business trip to Italy. For one night, we had to sleep in separate hotel rooms, but I wouldn’t let her leave. I even called home crying that I wanted to go home. I actually thought my aunt would abandon me in a foreign country. I actually had convinced myself of that. 

Which brings us to college and the nightmares about being stuck in the radio station. I felt it even long after. When I worked for PBS on Long Island, I often let the fear of being stuck at the office past five o’clock, when everyone else would have gone home, get in the way of my work. I would have a meltdown whenever a live taping went awry because it increased the chance I’d have to “fix it in post” – TV lingo for staying after filming and editing it to make it look like the mess up didn’t happen – editing alone. 

It’s the first time in most of our lifetimes, we are sharing a harrowing experience together as a species.

People often ask why I cannot put down my phone, because I feel lonely if I do. These past few weeks, I’ve thought about how lucky we are that this pandemic and these lockdowns are happening in a time of the internet. 

But it’s also a reminder to me of how important physical presence is. It was Marilyn Monroe who allegedly said: “It’s often just enough to be with someone. I don’t need to touch them. Not even talk. A feeling passes between you both. You’re not alone.” 

FaceTime, Skype and Zoom are good in that you can see and hear someone you miss, but nothing beats the physical presence of someone, especially someone you love. Nothing can fully replicate that. I fear losing that and losing it for an extended period of time.

If you had asked me before this year my nightmare scenarios, I would list a few things; being on a plane with no landing gear is one; trapped in an elevator with no cell service is another, but certainly on that list would be “a lockdown where I can’t leave the house or see my partner or my friends for an indefinite amount of time.” I have a feeling people would have laughed at me, that such a thing isn’t possible in the Untied States.

But here we are.

And so here I am, facing my nightmare. I’m lucky though. I’m not home alone, my parents are here; my aunt and uncle are upstairs in their apartment, my neighbors are within view and I have a big backyard and a lot of food. But I’m incomplete. I’m still isolated. The human contact that keeps my fears of isolation and loneliness away have been taken from me. Worse yet, it had to be, because it might kill me. 

And yet as much as this experience is testing the limits of my phobias, in some ironic way, it helps in knowing that it isn’t an isolating experience. I was in New York on September 11th and during Hurricane Sandy, and in both occasions, I wished I was somewhere else – anywhere else. I remember wishing I was in Australia during 9/11, far, far away. Boy, the weather in California was nice during Hurricane Sandy. 

Well this is different. Colombia, Italy, Belgium, Hawaii are all experiencing it too. We can’t experience it together, in the same room, but we are all experiencing it. There is some comfort in that. 

It reminds me of Independence Day, when humanity is forced to unite to save its planet from aliens. This is similar, though obviously not as dire. All the anxiety and stress and economic and financial pain, we’re all feeling it.

Somehow one of the loneliest experiences of my life, is the one experience I have in common with everyone else. And perhaps at the end of this, when the danger passes, we can experience that together, in person. And I would have faced one of my worst fears, and won. 

Fireworks And The Full Moon On The Fourth of July

The skies over New York City were illuminated like a Christmas tree last night with fireworks celebrating the Fourth of July. Also last night, we got a sneak peak at the July Full Moon. The two phenomena embraced in a delightful dance that I captured on camera. Enjoy the slideshow!

Musings On A Muted July 4th

It’s fitting I think that we are unable to celebrate Independence Day this year in ways we would usually, and that doing so would put our lives and the lives of everyone else at risk. The universe is telling us something.

There is nothing to celebrate this year.

No matter how many of America’s Karens come out in their cheap Made In China patriotic motif shirts and wipe their mouths with the Stars and Bars while complaining about athletes “disrespecting the flag,” America is not in a place to celebrate anything at the moment.

Perhaps never in our post-Civil War history has America had less to be proud of. We are the pariahs of the world, banned from traveling overseas, our land borders with Canada and Mexico closed.

While most of the world has brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the United States continues to post over 50,000 new cases a day. The situation in the South and West is exploding, and here in New York, nearly everyone is concerned about, perhaps resigned to, a second wave.

Meanwhile, our president is holding rallies around the country, rejecting health experts’ suggestions on how to reduce the threat; wearing masks and social distancing; and, ripe with delusion, predicting the virus would just “go away,” like he did five months ago, when it didn’t go away.

Hospitals in Houston, Miami and Phoenix are overflowing, replicating the problems that plagued New York City just a few months ago. We still have massive unemployment and because of our ridiculous system or tying healthcare to jobs, millions have lost their healthcare coverage because they cannot, out of concern for public safety, do the very think we require them to do in order to see a doctor – work. And as states register five-digit daily increase in cases, we can’t even convince a third of this country to put on a damn mask.

Meanwhile, this summer started with another brutal reminder that the promise of our nation has yet to be fulfilled. The nation watch George Floyd die under the knee of a cop who should have been fired years ago. What followed was weeks of outrage, which featured even more examples of police abusing their powers and attacking people of color.

Perhaps never in our post-Civil War history has America had less to be proud of.

And here we are, on our nation’s 244th birthday, with a government that has abdicated its responsibility to protect Americans in order to kick off Season Four of its pathetic reality show that even Bravo! would have cancelled years ago. And our last, best hope out of this mess? A 78-year old former Vice President who has been in government since my parents were in elementary school.

And maybe Biden will lead us out of it. Maybe we’ll get a COVID vaccine within a year, pass strong criminal justice reform legislation, strengthen our healthcare system and move away from tying it to employment, and move further to being a more perfect union.

And maybe the next Fourth of July will be one we can actually feel good about celebrating.


In the meantime, there will be fireworks and BBQs, and many of them will just make a bad situation even worse, and for the next six months at least, we’re stuck in a deadly cycle of virus, poverty and outrage that historians will one day study as a nadir of American history.

Growing up a New Yorker, COVID, Donald Trump, etc.

This past Tuesday, June 30, I joined Gayle Nicholson on her show Summer Spotlight to talk about New York City, the Coronavirus, Donald Trump, social distancing and all they all relate to each other.

I had an opportunity to discuss how New York is recovering, or living with, the COVID-19 Pandemic and a bit of the city’s history including some rough years that rival 2020 in the city, and how Trumpism is an extremely New York brand. Also, got to plug some of what I’m writing.

Take a watch this holiday weekend. Let me know what you think.

1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic: FACT vs. FICTION

A Navy field hospital in California during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic

The current COVID-19 pandemic has often been compared to the 1918-1919 pandemic of the H1N1 flu, known in history as the “Spanish Flu.” The pandemic killed 675,000 Americans and millions around the world, perhaps as many as 50 million, in three waves in 1918 and 1919. In the United States, social distancing regulations and “lockdowns” have been implemented, with similar rules during the 1918 pandemic pointed to as justification. 

But in the world of memes and fake news, its important to keep a tab on what is true and not true about the Spanish Flu as history is used, and often rewritten, to justify actions today. 

The Spanish Flu Pandemic lasted two years and came in three waves 


It actually lasted two and a half years, but the worst of the pandemic took place entirely within 12 months, between March 1918 and March 1919, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in October and November 1918. The flu remained an ongoing nuisance until the middle of 1920, but no more “waves” occurred after March 1919. 

The end of the pandemic may have come through herd immunity, in which the majority of the population in hard hit areas grew immune to the virus, making it hard to travel from host to host. It is also possible it mutated to a more mild form and settled into seasonal rotation.

The second wave was deadlier than the first wave because major cities lifted lockdowns too soon


The first wave of the Spanish Flu hit in March-May 1918, and was quite mild with a low death toll and low infection rate (though it did kill many people, among them President Donald Trump’s grandfather who died in New York in May 1918). Very few social restrictions, or “lockdowns” were put in place at the time. The second wave did not start until September 1918, three and a half months after the first wave, and it was then that “lockdowns” were introduced. Philadelphia, which has become a popular case study in support of social distancing, never had any restrictions on public life previous to the infamous September, 1918 parade – although there were public bans on coughing, sneezing and spitting enacted a week or so before. The city did not go into its first lockdown for a week after the parade. 

Seattle cops wear masks in December 1918, during the second wave of the pandemic

What is true is that cities like San Francisco. St. Louis and Seattle that instituted social distancing measures early, then eased them before the second wave had passed, did see a rise in deaths. However, this occurred during the second wave period, which lasted from late September 1918 until around New Years 1919, not the “third wave,” which struck in early 1919 and didn’t hit the United States as hard. 

Hard-hit Philadelphia, however, which lifted is lockdown after only four weeks when hospitalizations were still high, saw the second wave end quickly. By mid-November, when other cities were still at peak and St. Louis temporarily lifted their restrictions, the flu had disappeared from Philadelphia and never returned outside of isolated cases. 

The Spanish Flu’s second wave was deadlier because the virus mutated to a deadlier strain. 


Scientists are not really certain why this second wave was more deadlier than the first, but it is possible the virus mutated to a more deadly strain. However, it is widely accepted that the virus that caused the second wave was brought back to the United States from the battlefields in Europe in the waning days of World War I. Mitigating circumstances, such as the weakened state of soldiers returning from war, the lack of immunity from the milder earlier outbreak and an overuse of aspirin on patients that caused poisoning, all led to the second wave being the deadliest.

H1N1, the flu virus that caused the 1918 pandemic

Another factor was the second wave’s deadly effect on younger people. The first wave seemed to only effect the older population, many of whom self-isolated without any government order. The second wave however saw a huge uptick in the amount of young people who died. Aspirin poisoning and soldiers suffering war injuries and the tendency for young people to gather in big parties are seen as a major reason for this. 

Also, previous to the second wave, the first wave was mostly confined to the United States and was localized, as the First World War and expense of traveling far from home, made it hard for the flu to move around the country quickly and easier to confine locally. 

The Spanish Flu got its name because it came from Spain 


There are many theories about where the Spanish Flu began, but its accepted that it didn’t start in Spain. It is likely to have started in Kansas, as the United States was where the first reported cases in the first wave were located. 

Another theory suggest the flu existed for years before the pandemic in Europe and may have came from Britain, while a less likely hypothesis was that it came from China, then a mostly isolated society. This theory lies in the fact that China was not hard hit by the pandemic in 1918, despite it affecting colonial populations there, so the Chinese population may have developed immunity from an earlier outbreak that had been unknown to the outside world. 

The Spanish Flu got its name because Spain was hardest hit 


A Canadian newspaper reports on King Alfonso of Spain’s illness. The news that the monarch fell dangerously ill with the flu helped give the pandemic its name.

Another falsehood is that the flu got its name because Spain was the hardest hit country.

It is likely France was hardest hit country in the West, and tens of millions may have died in India, but the pandemic became historically linked to Spain because the country was neutral during World War I and the only hard-hit nation to report honestly about its statistics.

Other European countries hard hit, including France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium and the United Kingdom, suppressed the severity of the illness from the media to keep morale up during the war. Russia, which may have also been exceptionally hard hit, was in the midst of a civil war, making it hard to correctly gather data. 

The flu came to Spain from France and hit the Spanish capital of Madrid hard. Spain’s King Alfonso XIII, who was only 32 years old at the time, came down with a severe case, and became a key human face attached to the pandemic, further cementing the image that his country was hardest hit.

Cities that had extended lockdowns saw their economies bounce back faster than those who didn’t socially distance for as long. 


It has been often shared on social media that St. Louis, despite having suffered through months of lockdowns, bounced back better economically than Philadelphia, which was the hardest hit city in the United States. While this is true, there is little direct evidence the two things are correlated, and it is only a fact when you specifically compare those two cities. Other economic factors played a role. 

Philadelphia did take longer to bounce back then St. Louis or Seattle, but other hard hit cities like New Orleans, Baltimore and New York City did not – their economies were roaring again pretty quickly. One reason behind this is thought to be how hard the flu hit Philadelphia’s immigrant population, who worked in the dockyards and train yards, a key part of the city’s economy. Many of the survivors left the city, perhaps because of the flu or perhaps because of the end of the war, for jobs in places like New York, Baltimore and San Francisco – a city also exceptionally hard hit by the virus and one that also suffered a devastating second wave after easing social restrictions too early – that further saw its economy soar in the years after the virus. One aspect of St. Louis’ economic growth post-pandemic had to do with the end of World War I and the city becoming a hub of river and train traffic, due to its central location. As cross-country trips became more common, St. Louis became a popular place to meet (there was even a movie about it) and business, universities and industry began moving there, attracting recent war veterans from the East Coast. 

Other cities that “flattened the curve,” such as Cincinnati, which saw its place as Midwest commercial capital replaced by St. Louis, struggled just as much as Philadelphia. 

Hi Everybody! I’m Nick And I Have Thoughts!


My name is Nick Rafter and I was the kid in college who LOVED term papers! In fact, I changed my majors just so I can do more of them.

I know it sounds weird, but the research process gave me such a rush. Learning new information, connecting to stuff I already knew, was exciting to me. I am the answer to the question nobody asked. Everyone’s friend on Trivia Night. The guy who calls his cousin at 2 a.m. because he just learned she went to the same high school as Debbie Gibson.

That dovetailed into a career in journalism; first as a television producer at PBS, and later as a reporter and editor for local newspapers in Queens, New York. On the field, I got to know politicians, celebrities, civic leaders and other power brokers and prominent individuals who are still sources of mine today, even as journalism is no longer my full time job.

Today my day job is in the dog-eat-dog world of New York City real estate. And while that pays the bills, my true passion is in writing and telling stories.

And so I plan on sharing some of those thoughts and stories here. Politics, current events, entertainment and maybe sometime sports will be a topic of writing here. Soon, I hope to publish my first novel.

I hope you enjoy reading my work and please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email, let me know what you think. Good or bad.

Thank You for Reading!

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