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CHRONICLES OF COVID, episode 2007…setting free

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 As the city is opening up, I’m closing down. The over three months of virtually being a prisoner in my apartment has hit hard. I’m in a tiny space, filled to the brim with the world’s most important items (WMII) that cannot, on any terms, be let go of. Darling my pooch and I have taken to walking backwards from each other, when one of us has to pass through the narrow ravine called ‘the open space.’ My ass, too has become huge from sitting on the one area that isn’t covered in WMII and though I do have to walk up four flights every time I go out, it isn’t enough to keep me in shape. Exercise in the apartment, you ask? Yes, I could possibly do a bit of isometrics on the john…no space required.

But none of this is is my Biggest complaint?  People are. Some of my neighbors to be exact. What happened to all those kumbaya moments that our species is supposed to share during national crisis? Just watch any number of British WW2 films and the spirit of Keep Calm and Carry On shared by the citizens is inspiring. But here in New York, the real estate moguls have destroyed community by making the rents only affordable to Millennials/GenY/Zoomers. (apologies, not sure what’s what) Other people raised with a sense of neighborliness are extant. The new folks are cool, indifferent and undefinable. Not once during these three months did any of the newer tenants ask if I needed something, though I brought up their packages and kept an eye on general door security.

 My friend S. has observed that their generation is so entitled, that they can’t even imagine that a natural disaster will strike them down. Mummy and Daddy will intervene, make a call and they’ll be ok and if you’re not family, who cares? When I argue that I’ve seen many younger people, and white at that, show up at demonstrations, she insists that it’s a social outlet and as soon as bars and restaurants open up, their protest signs will be exchanged for mojitos. . I don’t want to believe that, but the number of selfies being taken at Union Square was indeed troubling. Another friend insists its simply ageism. “They just hate us”, he says. They don’t even want to look at us.”

I had my own version of this phenomena when my Covid 19 -exiled neighbors returned for a week in order to move out of New York for good. They had been sheltering with their families in North Carolina and so I had 3 months of peace.  They were so fresh to city life when they moved in that a water bug crossing through their kitchen, sent them into hysterics. They blamed it on me and my dog. I insisted that I didn’t manufacture such creatures and that they were lucky they didn’t have the mice that visit me. Still, they hated the idea that I lived here before them and probably resented me for paying less rent for my unrenovated space. Playing old school mafia, they dropped their wounded bug upside down at my front door.

When they told me in no uncertain terms that they were going to use the roof (I live right under it) during their week back, I decided not to make a fuss…after all, I’d been meditating for months and they were going to move soon anyway. That they had already broken an Appalachian chair and never made amends was beside the point. They were moving and I was going to go high no matter how low they ventured. Even when I sat on the roof with a masked friend sharing a beer and they came up with blanket, take out and expensive wine, sitting rather too near, I didn’t say a word.

On their final Saturday night, they had a bunch of friends over and were carousing above my head, celebrating their departure. Again, I didn’t say a word. Then at 230 in the morning, they started up their washing machine. My tenement building should not have a washer/dryer unit…the infrastructure doesn’t warrant it. Still, the landlord is greedy and put one in. I had always politely asked the new tenants to use it during legal times as it shakes my entire apartment to the point of knocking books off the shelves. By putting the machine on at such a late hour, they were showing me how unimportant I am to them and how much residual sadism they are capable of. I did not call the police… too much going on in that department to bring them in. Instead, I took a hit of pot, put on two sound machines and slept until 7 am when they started up a second wash before finally moving out.

What is wrong with people? Why are we invisible to each other and what makes for so little respect? I’m in the midst of finishing up a documentary on Woodstock and how much the conviviality and magic of that experience stayed with me. Those were young people…I was young people… despite the adage not to trust anyone over 30…that’s not how it was… there was respect. Maybe because parents were engaged in keeping their kids out of Vietnam… maybe drugs were opening up generational psyches? Maybe money wasn’t yet the God it’s become? Historians may have the answers …I don’t …only the feeling that this generational gap and its behaviors really hurt.

I have already eaten at an opened restaurant on the street and it was fun to see the owners making money and people enjoying the new freedom. But something is still far from open, beyond hair salons and drive- ins and bars.  Something that will take more than legislation to crack. Something that’s a thousand times more important than any US business… something that’s easier to break than to mend…something that’s been closed for way too long now… the U.S. heart.

Written by nancykoan

June 29, 2020 at 6:54 pm

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I’ve been taking bigger and bigger walks in preparation for an appointment with my pain management doctor whose office is far.  I realize that sounds contradictory, but I’m still holding off on taking public transport and I want to be pain-free. I dragged my pup along on this practice walk. She gets to ride side saddle so we make faster time, and then I let her walk back home with her own four feet.

It was a gorgeous day. The city grimness disappeared in the glorious weather and fine architecture of the West Village. Not like other areas these days that could easily serve as locales for the next zombie film. No, the West Village was alive, like Liz Taylor in Cat on the Hot Tin Roof. The hungry, and horny crowds were dancing around the outdoor barkeeps, who with their rolled-up sleeves, beckoned the thirsty cave dwellers, looking for respite with a real first professionally poured drink.

I haven’t been much of a drinker since hitting my head on a metal toilet paper dispenser a year ago.  I passed on the hard stuff and instead opted for a d scone. I liked the place, especially as there were two chairs available in front and my shoulder needed a break from carrying the pooch.

Inside, a young woman barista encouraged me to have a latte because they also had a bathroom. This is an important detail when you’re practicing walking and indeed it would take a long time to get home. While she was foaming the milk, I remarked on how cool it was that she wrote her name on her mask. That way people could say. Hello…Hello, who, because I couldn’t quite make out the writing where her chin made a crease across the letters. “Bayona, I asked.

She looked at me with wide eyes, like I was an idiot. Breonna, she said, Breonna, it’s for Breonna. Yes, yes, I knew who Breonna Taylor, the 26-year old medical technician who was shot by the Louisville police was, and told her so immediately. I also shared that I march, too, and wasn’t the white privileged coffee drinker with a poodle she might have mistaken me as.  Of course, she wasn’t thinking those things, but I left her a large tip just in case. After all, I have a reputation.

It had been a hard week, so strolling and pretending it was just a normal Sunday seemed to be the right thing to do. But it wasn’t easy. Boarded up shops were as sad as many of the worn-down faces. Of course, there were some happy people, probably tourists. I say tourists because they wore no mask and were laughing like they were in a Prince’s “1999” music video.

Shutting them out, my thoughts went to B-Sister, a member of my writers’ group. Lately, the group was meeting in a garden after months of zooming our sessions. ‘ This would be the first time B was making it to our session, coming in from Brooklyn.

B is hard to describe…fiercely intelligent, big E extroverted and makes delicious fun of herself in her outrageous one woman shows. B- never enters quiet but on this day, she was explosive. She had taken the subway for the first time, and right before had gotten into a tossup with someone over how to make collard greens. That, on top of corona, teaching science on zoom, the BLM movement and her own fine knowledge of black history, was just too much for her soul.  She was pissed. After a bit and some sherry, her rage settled into tears and we reassured her that it was ok to release the pain.  Certainly, each of us could relate; we all had felt versions of persecution, but B is Black and that’s the story of right now. Hell, I didn’t even realize until she shared, that Black people from the Islands think they are superior (must be the British education) to American Blacks from the South. It’s a deep wound, but certainly with her talents, she’ll be able to mine the material and have a new show by the time we can all go to theatres again.  

Leaving the cafe, pooch and me headed home across Washington Square Park. There sitting on a bench sans mask was Elliot, my one-time co-star in a movie. He was offering free readings of special cards he had created and a fake 100-dollar bill to take home. I hadn’t seen him in years; he looked well and apparently has been doing protest art, wearing gigantic masks of political people. The cards laid out, I picked one. “Oh, the duck…that means you’ll be up to your neck in water, and enjoying hydration.” I told him it didn’t seem likely as I didn’t even have a bathtub. “Ah, well then, it’s the other message… you must be careful to duck or you’ll hit your head.” Now that was prophetic.  A year late but still.

Written by nancykoan

June 21, 2020 at 3:31 am

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One of the new habits I’ve acquired over Covid Time, is succumbing to the IGOS syndrome, known by me and possibly thousands of other homebound folks, as Immediate Gratification Obsessional Shopping. Countless hours spent logging onto Facebook flushes the brain with things you can’t live without…items to awaken one’s deepest security needs rooted out by robots and marketed back to us during the hours better spent sleeping. My niche has been comfy accessories for the nest; anything for the dog (since we’re spending so much time together) and beautification techniques for worldly re-entry. These distractions provide a pleasant change from hospital updates and breaking news of any sort. Since shopping live has been truncated except for hardware and drugs, these little jewels of seduction have established the new fix.

My building has been basically empty for months, so when the delivery person arrives, it is my bell that is rung. I’ve received jars of zinc and vitamin C, an already mentioned Winky Dink kit, and a few books. But the larger items never seem to arrive late and because of theft in these tiny tenements, I’ve taken on the watch dog role. Still, what happened to my special band aids for removing annoying skin tags? I assumed without dermatological visits my back’s mole collection would grow as quickly as my hair, and why not learn to do the job myself?  I have no idea if they would be safe and effective because they never showed up. Then there was the very cheap and special comforter that can be used in the hottest weather and made of naturally breathable fibers. I postponed washing my old comforter in anticipation of the new one, but to my surprise, all I received from China was the world’s ugliest pillowcase, stars and stripes surrounding images of some of the world’s most iconic buildings. Who would want to rest their head on that? I think the design was so old it included the World Trade Towers. The lightweight dog coat bought in March may show up in December, along with the fluffy green summer carpet. But the special fan with a device to pour water into for that extra cool feeling, is lost somewhere between the Black Sea and the East River.

It’s understandable that those ‘third eye’ face masks being produced by indigenous folk for a women’s cooperative in Mexico are late, but where the hell is my copy of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?”

When confronting the sellers, I get the argument that they are very sorry but if I want to send it back (pillow case), I’ll have to pay a 20-dollar return fee.  PayPal hasn’t been so helpful with these things and I suppose the companies take full advantage of that. They are now offering me 20, then 30, then up to 50 per cent back refund on the undelivered order. I’m beginning to wonder if this is a new business model.

There is so much fall out from these times…little mom and pop’s closing all over… I bought a tiny xylophone from a stationary store that’s served the West Village for years… rent too high … and these people won’t retire, they have to look for other jobs.

On the ‘up’ side, there is plenty of free merch. Either people are cleaning out or moving On. I was able to juggle home a meta, pink outdoors chair for the roof. For the last few blocks I was kindly assisted by a newish resident from near Corpus Christie, Texas. He was sweet, strong and optimistic…”just think, if all the one percenters move away, and rents go down, then the artists can return and New York can be what it is stands for… diversity and creativity.”

 I couldn’t have dreamt it better.

Written by nancykoan

June 16, 2020 at 5:50 pm

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I didn’t think I’d have much to write about for a few days. There are so many planetary positions in retrograde, that I figured it could be quiet. And just when you think it’s safe to come out of the cave, the shadowy side of our collective psyches reminds, not just yet.

My upstate friend had invited me to join her group of artists Art2hrtSoho take 2 painting on the wooden planks used to protect homes and stores from pillaging rioters. Soho had definitely taken a hit and Stefanie was all about turning the violence and criminality into beauty and inspiration.

I had no visual plan in mind, but they supplied acrylics, brushes and boarded up buildings as canvases. So, it was up to me. I grabbed a few colors, something that looked like a sandwich wrapped in foil and went hunting for a space. I’m short so I needed one that I could paint an eye level story upon.

It was fun playing with only 3 colors and I ended up with a profile of a non-gender specific singer. An ice cream truck hovered in the street, playing great rock and roll and I found myself dancing on the step as I brought my painting to life.

Putting on the final touches, the door connected to the board I was working on started to open and I said, “oh please, wait.” I wanted to move the tubes of paint out of the way  A masked Caucasian woman of about 40 came out and started yelling at me…What am I doing there, what right do I have, can’t you see these were already painted, what nerve, out of my  way, and so forth. Firstly, I was so taken aback by her rudeness and dismissal of the good vibes we were all creating, that I stood dumbfounded. When I explained to her my purpose and that I was with a group, she dismissed it and continued to badger and threaten me. I had a mask on that may have slipped during my surprise and she accused me of not having social distance. She was the one unwilling to move and give me space to collect my paints.

I do not see myself as a threatening person. I also understand how the last four months have been emotionally tough on all of us and chose to share with her that, I, too, have been living in isolation and certainly didn’t mean to make her feel unsafe. I might as well have been speaking Latin, for she refused to hear and refused to try and understand. My foil wrapped sandwich also was part of my crime.” And you’re going to have a picnic, here, too? ” she screamed.

I bent down to put the caps tightly on all the paint tubes so I could carry my things back to the control area. The whole time she didn’t stop yelling.

After dropping off the supplies, I looked for an organizer. In general, I’m not a rule breaker and I don’t like confrontation. Perhaps I was in the wrong? NO said Miriam. She assured me that we were only painting on boards and they can be removed. I had actually forgotten that graffiti art ofttimes comes with the challenge of not being wanted. But what we were doing was beautiful –lightning up the neighborhood which had taken quite a hit.

I went back to my painting to take a few photos as was requested. In that short time, the tenant reappeared, and gave me a gift, my day’s Meaning. For at the moment when she started yelling and sticking her cell phone in my face, I was CHRIS COOPER and this was Central Park and she thought she was  vulnerable and I was the threatening African American bird watcher now in the form of a five ft one Jewish woman with a burrito wrapped in tin foil.

She may have said something about calling someone… How did this thing escalate from a picture of a cartoon singing to a frightened and angry woman sticking her camera in my face? If I had been Chris Cooper, I might have done the same to her with my phone…the duel, shoot out on an iPhone and Samsung Note8…  But really, all I wanted was to escape her negativity. As it is, I carried it all the way home, my once beautiful moment of togetherness thrown off my someone’s personal history and  lack of consciousness. Even if she hated my work, this is about something much bigger than her front door …our national  humanity and empathy are in real peril and shouldn’t we note  it, talk about it and change it?

 And besides, who  really knows I’m not Banksy?

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June 12, 2020 at 9:08 pm

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Chronicles of Covid,episode 49

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The weather is spectacular. No matter how much grief and rage are in the air, nature ‘does not betray the heart that loves her’ and this moment is spectacular. Perhaps even healing.

I saw friends this weekend I hadn’t seen for months and months and though we all carried the ‘just out of the bunker glaze’ they looked beautiful to me. We had a street cocktail and I felt the first steps of opening up…the city and my heart.

Earlier, I carefully stood at the circumference of a demonstration in Washington Square Park and felt the beginnings of a sense of community. My friends who had been to same demonstration later noticed that very few of the police people were wearing masks and my pal courageously asked one of the cops,” why not?” His response wasn’t very polite–it’s disappointing because I, too, have seen very few masks on men in blue. But beyond that hitch, it was peaceful. My neighborhood art center PS122, is set up with a protestor crib center, a place to refresh, get safety supplies, chat and eat. They are well organized and welcoming.

I hope that this re opening doesn’t lend itself to more infections. I can see that people and businesses are trying to be careful, but we just don’t know how this thing works. I said to a friend Rena that I believed that all my years of living with mice have given me an immunity to such things as Covid. In case it hasn’t, I went for the test, both for infection and anti-body and can only trust that their labs are good ones.

Deprivation gives you a real appreciation for the simple things and meeting up with friends and sitting outside is a wonderfully simple joy. I always like the Italian piazzas where people hang for the evening, meeting up for chats and a cafe. My city isn’t designed that way… we are grid like with fewer possibilities for piazzas…still, I believe this summer will see more people finding ways to hang and be.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

It’s hard to gauge how much emotion has been bottled up during these four months. But while watching America’s Got Talent, I found myself crying at almost every act. The tiny ten year old girl who sounded like Lady Gaga; the contortionist whose religious parents didn’t permit dancing, getting all four votes of Yes and a call to his mom from Simon Cowell; and even the three sisters whose dream it is to stand on top of each other in Las Vegas…they all had me weeping… weeping for the life force in all of us, the chi that pushes us through obstacle after obstacle, and our own belief that we may all  truly be here for a reason.

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June 8, 2020 at 10:07 pm

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Exhaustion is the word of the day. Last night I had only enough strength to watch a new version of To Tell the Truth. I was thrilled, despite a sleepy brain, to have correctly guessed contestant number 3, the real Ron Stallworth, the police officer hero in Spike Lee’s The Black Klansman on. I don’t know if it was his sincere face or humility but I did less well with the World ‘s Champion Yoyo expert.

Demonstrations for George Floyd took a back seat for a while once the call came in from the hospital. An older friend had been admitted with an infection, and as my name was top on the list, I had to say whether I thought more dramatic actions should take place if her health worsened. I am not the health care proxy, but gave my on the spot opinion, then sat in fear for her life.

One of the ways I’ve gotten myself through these times is with meditation zooms, Shaman meet ups and now breathwork. This process requires the participant to sit or lie down and do deep breathing to a highly evocative soundtrack. It sounds simple and like many simple things, is extremely powerful

After fifty minutes of this, my body is tired, but relaxed.  I had wept audibly for things I wasn’t even aware I was feeling and, of course, for these times and for my poor friend with Covid.

So, with this in mind, I went for the test today. I had only wanted to do the anti-body one, but the good doctor convinced me that the city needs the stats, so I subjected myself to the nasal thing. I know there’s a lot of messed up tests, but it seemed the right time to start opening up. After that I called my haircutter to see when he was opening up. I look like a Yeti by now, but it seems I’ll still have to wait a few weeks more, shaggy and ferocious.

Of course, I’ve seen a lot of news coverage of George Floyd’s murder, but a news show focusing on the sunglasses his killer was sporting stayed a long time on the shot and I kept thinking of Mr. Floyd’s face as he expired. I was at 9/11 and to this day thank the African American uniformed man who stopped me as I was racing towards the buildings where I would have had no choice but to see my fellow New Yorkers jumping to their death. He held me and sent me firmly in another direction. Of course, the television showed images later on, but because of his protection, I do not have that live, indelible moment in my brain. I’m so sorry for the gal who shot the video on her phone. She may never erase that memory.

A week ago, I passed by the lovely William Barnacle Tavern. They were advertising absinthe, made the real way, and though I had no taste for the drink at the moment, figured it would be a good idea to have it in my sheltering spot, just in case. It’s the weekend. It’s the full moon. It’s Absinthe time.

Written by nancykoan

June 6, 2020 at 1:18 am

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breathegirlIt’s relatively quiet. The droning helicopters have taken a rest and all that’s left is the chirping of birds. Quiet lasting only a minute. The phone rings with calls from relatives having spats that are historic in nature but exacerbated by the tensions surrounding and within us all. I try to pacify them while at the same time adhering to my code of tell ‘no lies.’ The moral ambiguities about what truth is necessary and what is protective aside, I try my best, most often failing on a huge scale. These days we have to be friends, shrinks, pacifiers and if possible, joke tellers. I’m sharpening my skills but have far to go.

My pooch cost me a wallet full what with being told she needed a harness and not a leash. She’s 13 and never used a harness. I felt like it was putting her into a corset. But now that she’s had so much of me 24/7, that she rules the roost and takes more than a slight tug when walking the New York streets, I must do something. Her fascination with everything disgusting on the ground has grown to such proportions that I am left with only one alternative to just saying NO– a slight yank of her beaded leash. She has also started to do ‘old man’s cough’ throughout the day, and so after getting a clean bill of heart health from the vet, Joe at Whiskers, convinced me that her trachea would benefit from getting off leash/collar. So, too many dollars later she is sporting a harness that isn’t an exact fit…her circumference changes dependent on fur growth and now that she’s looking like a chia plant, there is plenty of fuzz to fill out the harness.

As taxing as everyday life issues are, it’s a relief to take the mind off, even temporarily, the State of the Nation. I thought my mind couldn’t be boggled any more than it has been, but this week really takes the cake. Who could write a screenplay more surreal and horrific than this week in America?  Murder at the hands of police, peaceful demonstrators being hit with rubber bullets and a so-called leader taking photo op suggestions from the original clueless girl, his daughter. We are truly a nation at shame and yes, we must take the knee as well as realizing that we are brought to our knees by years of persecution and injustice of People of Color by government sanctions, privileged white men and perhaps, worse yet, our lesser human nature. The good thing is that all of this can change when we are willing to see it first, wake up second, and do something, third.

I started these thoughts with an image of the harness. It is time to take the emotional harness off of Black people who must have the right to speak of their pain, even if it makes others in this country uncomfortable. And it is time to put a harness on governmental unspoken and spoken strategies that continue to keep this country cruel, non-compassionate, unjust, imbalanced and not what we can be.

Here is a clip from the great Richie Havens.

richie havens

Written by nancykoan

June 3, 2020 at 6:54 pm

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