I got some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days

5 08 2020

My world, along with everyone else’s, dwindled as COVID spread; with the cancer diagnosis, it tilted.

Less than two months ago and I was wondering about fall teaching, how long New York would be shut down, the election—the election!—and trying to get back to sustained writing.

Well.

You know how a fish-eye lens distorts the view, bringing the center object in too close and pushing everything way far back? Yeah, that’s a cancer diagnosis. I’d guess that’s how it would be in normal-ish times, but in a pandemic, that contrast between fore- and back-ground is vertiginous.

Oddly, the pandemic has made my treatment. . . easier. That I’m teaching online gave me all kinds of flexibility for the many appointments I’ve had (and will have), and that clinics want to minimize contact means that I can fill out most of the “paperwork” online ahead of time. I’m not yet sure of my radiation treatment schedule (besides that it’ll be daily), but I won’t have to race up to/down from the Bronx before teaching my first/after teaching my last class to get that treatment.

And the trains are empty, which means I always get a seat coming home.

Cancer is terrible, and this pandemic is terrible, but their combination, for me, is somehow not twice as terrible, and may even be less terrible.

I don’t know if it’s that abrupt shift between the intimately personal and global, between the entire set of tasks I have to do to deal with my cancer and that feeling of helpless rage over the absolute and complete fuck-up that is the response of the US to this horrible virus that somehow lessens the impact on me.

Or maybe it’s recognition that before the diagnosis I was avoiding something that could make me very sick and perhaps even kill me, and now I’m dealing with something that could make me very sick and perhaps kill me—but probably won’t, because doctors have a better handle on my type of cancer than they do on this type of corona virus.

And while my anger at the cancer has pretty much dissipated, it has only increased at the response to the virus. I live in a city in which over 20,000 of us have died, lived through days in which hundreds and hundreds of people died. Both the mayor and governor made mistakes early on, mistakes which cost some portion of those lives, but they got better, and in the past 3 days zero deaths have been reported.

Other states, cities, could have learned from our mistakes, could have avoided the spike in cases, in suffering, in death, but too many of them didn’t. And even when politicians did the right thing, some portion of the public continues to insist on doing the wrong thing.

And the federal government and current occupant of the White House? My rage has gone supernova: I am blank.

There are no magic incantations against cancer, no magic incantations against this virus. The options are all unpleasant, and have a cost, but just as I as a cancer patient at least have options to avoid even more unpleasantness—and death—so too does the government and we as a society have those options.

Pity too many of us aren’t taking them.





We only come out at night

6 04 2020

The walking has become a thing.

I started the night-walks as a distraction from myself, thought I’d go out every once and awhile, but it’s been every night since that first night—with the exception of this past Saturday, when I day-walked.

Mistake.

It was sunny, and while I only hate the sun in July and most of August, it was all wrong. Too bright, too hard: everything was too distinct.

I was restless at home, and thought, what the hell, get my walk in now, maybe venture down some of the alleys I had spotted in Crown Heights.

Aside: Yes, alleys! I love alleys, but Brooklyn is not known for them, and I pretty much assumed you could only find them in a few, tv-famous areas of Manhattan, but one night-walk through CH and I spotted alley after alley after alley.

First thought: Am I going to go down there? Hell, yeah!

Second thought: It’s dark, and this is still New York.

So I waited until Saturday, and as I was making my way back through CH, I glimpsed down those alleys and thought: No.

We’re all mostly confined to our own patches, and for me to have strolled through that back patch would have felt like trespassing, like I was impinging upon what little private space those people had.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but that is the sense I had. We’re mostly tethered to those private spaces, but to have walked—in a public lane, to be sure—in the back of that space would have seemed a violation.

Anyway. Back to the main drag: Not only was everything too set apart in the day, it was also much more obvious that the city was shut down. Empty playgrounds on a sunny day are not normal, and all of the shops which should have been open were instead gated, some with signs saying Sorry. . . COVID-19. . . .

Those signs are still there at night, of course, but pulled-down gates at night are the norm.

Is that it? That night-walking allows some normalcy that the light strips away?

Eh, I don’t think so. My area of Brooklyn is a social place, and were it not for this virus people would be out on the corners or stoops just hanging out wherever; now, there are few of us out.

More likely is that that initial night-walk awakened the memory that this is something I can do; whatever else happens, this I can do.





And the beat goes on

30 03 2020

I am slowly going mad.

I like being alone. I like choosing to be alone. To be alone because I can be nothing else is. . . too much, not enough. Not nearly enough.

How are you?

~~~

I used to walk at night, when I was younger. I walked around Falls some, but this really took off when I lived in Madison. Over to Lake Mendota, out to Picnic Point, or back behind Breese Terrace, looping around the chancellor’s house, sitting on swings in dark parks in neighborhoods built for kid-kids, not college kids.

This continued in grad school, Minneapolis. Walks through Loring Park and the sculpture garden and down Nicollet and to the river, bridges over the river.

I wasn’t well, then, but I can’t fault the nighttime roaming. And my sorrows got some airing-out.

I still walk, of course, but in New York, the walking is always to and fro, from here to there. And almost always during the day.

~~~

But I am, as I said, slowly going mad. I have work—teaching at a distance and still the second job (also at a distance)—and we are not literally locked down. I go across the street for milk and yogurt, over to Flatbush for bagels.

We can still run. I still run.

Here to there, here to there, and home again.

~~~

So, tonight, a night stroll, just around, just to see.

I live near central Brooklyn’s hospital complex. I’m used to ambulances, so I can’t say if there are more; there are plenty, regardless.

East down my street. There were few of us out, some of us masked, some not. The closer to the hospital, the more scrubs, the more masks. Across the street from an ER, in one fast-food place, everyone, workers, customers, wore masks; in the other, none did.

Further east. It’s so quiet. Usually in a damp night sound carries, but tonight, the silence carried.

Turn north, past black women in blue scrubs, bonnets, masks; past the psychiatric buildings, high fences all around, light in every window.

There’s a school, half-lit and empty, classrooms above in a long slow curve around the side, like a weary spaceship waiting for its crew.

Down past the handball court, I notice the one-story railroad apartments. This is low Brooklyn, hidden behind the height of the hospitals and the arch new buildings for the nursing students and medical residents.

I pass a couple of men, one offering the other gloves. Nah, man, he says, holding up a roll of paper towels, I got this. I lose that thread as I notice a building that looks abandoned, but there’s a red blip for keyless entry.

Crabwise, west now. A man stepping off his stoop smiles and says “Make it home safe, mama.” I half-say “You, too,” before realizing he’s leaving his home. “Have a safe night,” I call instead.

Down Nostrand, the noise picks up. The usual ambulances, and the one alarm, a block away? that sounds like a whole building yelling out a London OO-EE! OO-EE!

The women waiting at the bus stop wear masks. I check the driver; he’s wearing a mask.

My laundromat, usually open, is closed, gates where windows would be. Gates up and down the street.

I forget to look up to the sky before heading in.

~~~

I have to remember, there is more than just me, more than the texts and the emails and the voices in the radio. We are not abstractions.

Brooklyn is right here, it’s all around me, a real place.

It’s easy to miss this, during the day, when it all seems like a backdrop, mere scenery on my way to somewhere else.

I forgot that I can see so much better at night.