Hi, I’m Mary, and this is my column no one asked for about things I like!
Well, here we are. Or here I am, at home, and there you are, in your home. Hello.
To say this is a strange time is an understatement. It’s bizarro, like that episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine finds out she’s the Elaine in another friend group composed of Jerry, Kramer and George clones. It’s like we’re all Elaines (some of us always have been, not to brag) who’ve stepped into an alternate world that looks identical and even behaves similarly to the one we know but has significantly less charisma.
It’s dystopian at the very least, and is beginning to feel increasingly apocalyptic. That may be too dramatic of a word, but the world is ending, in a sense, or rather the world we knew. It’s being replaced by a new one, which may look more or less the same but will surely, hopefully feel different. But haha, what if it doesn’t? Haha what if, a year from now, Trump is still president and people are still getting 95% of their validation from Instagram? Imagine. Funny, right? Haha.
I’d like to think things are changing, priorities are shifting, mine included, but when a video I posted on Instagram last week was removed for a copyright violation (there was music in the background), I spent most of the day trying to repost it. In my defense, I had nothing else to do.
This is the fourth week of self-quarantine in New York City, and it’s getting harder. In the beginning, I naively thought it would get easier once we adjusted to this new lifestyle, but it turns out the longer a person is in isolation, the harder it gets. Who knew! I miss my life, which was stripped away like a gust of wind blowing petals off a tulip. Only the pistil remains (that’s what the center of the bud is called. I had to google it). I miss the petals of my life — they added all the color, after all — but it turns out I can survive without them.
Our lives have been narrowed down to the absolute basics: eating sleeping, exercising, surviving. Working, if you’re lucky, but a lot of us aren’t. Any activities we once participated in, anything we did to create the illusion of productivity is no longer allowed. Friends — remember them? They live in your computer now. Wave hello. They’ll see it in five seconds. There’s a delay.
Over the course of the past few years, I’ve carefully constructed a life of errands. Almost everything I do during the day could reasonably be categorized as such, from swinging by the post office (I’m forever and always selling my old clothes) to walking other people’s dogs. I did this because I love errands. I love leaving the house with a destination and a sense of purpose, then returning with a feeling of accomplishment which, when phrased like that, is the normal cycle of a human day, I suppose.
My favorite errand is going to the grocery store. I consider it one of life’s greatest pleasures, which is why I usually go twice a week (I like to get particular items at certain stores). This past weekend, my sister and I went to Fairway in Red Hook (if you’re in Brooklyn and can get there, I recommend going since it’s much less crowded than other, more centrally-located stores and is relatively well-stocked), which is one of my favorite places on Earth. This, however, was not a pleasant experience. As we waited in the checkout line, I looked around at everyone in their face masks and panic rose in my chest. I took deep breaths through my own bandana. How did we get here? I wondered. How could this be real? Life suddenly feels like a movie, one in which Gwyneth Paltrow either dies of the plague or gets her head chopped off (don’t worry, Gwyneth is safe and healthy and focusing on the important things, like detoxing and how to fuck your husband good during a pandemic).
The next day, I biked into Manhattan, just to see what things are like on the other side of the bridge. I thought it would be a little adventure, or at least an interesting way to get some exercise, and the journey there felt safe but as soon as I touched down in the Lower East Side, I wanted to leave. I continued on, but not far. The East Village, always bustling, was completely abandoned, except for long lines outside both Trader Joe’s stores on 14th Street and, more ominously, Duane Reade. I turned around and headed back to Brooklyn, where the streets are eerie but feel less ghostly.
On that short ride, I passed so many places where I’ve done stand-up over the years. A club I performed at last month, a restaurant where I used to do open mics years ago, venues I performed at that were shut down, others that will surely close before this is all over. I haven’t done stand-up in a month — no one has. Without an audience, there’s no such thing as stand-up comedy. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking in amazement, “I do stand-up? I’m a stand-up comedian?” It seems incredible to me, unbelievable. I can’t imagine getting onstage right now to tell jokes. I feel so disconnected from that part of myself, which is a rather large part. One the biggest petals.
When life as you knew it is (temporarily) over, what remains?
The people you love, even if you can’t touch them. Food. Books. Trees and flowers, which are so mercifully in bloom right now. I’ve been running, walking, biking, all the while admiring the bursts of color popping up all over Brooklyn. I feel like I know certain flowering trees now, recognize them as if they’re old buddies, observe changes in them like I’d notice daily alterations to a friend’s appearance. Is that a new shirt, magnolia tree? I love your hair like that, weeping cherry. I never knew what a weeping cherry tree was until a few weeks ago. I’d seen them, of course, but had never admired one long enough to wonder what it was.
I feel like my senses are heightened, like I’m seeing the world in technicolor. Flowers have never looked so bright or so beautiful. The breeze has never felt so cool, smelled so fresh. The outside world is intense, spectacular, and I’m grateful every time I step into it, even if it’s scary. It’s getting harder to focus my attention on the trees when people are walking around in face masks, when everyone looks like a threat, but on certain days, when the sun is shining, the buds are bursting and there are few people around, my chest tightens with the sheer joy of being outside.
New York City, we keep hearing, is the epicenter of this crisis in America, which isn’t a surprise. We often joke about how filthy this city is, how cramped. We live on top of each other, the subway is a cesspool. It’s not hard to believe it’s spreading rapidly here, even though from the safety of my apartment, the news seems unbelievable, totally surreal, the constant blare of ambulance sirens the only evidence this is indeed our reality. Family members who watch too much MSNBC have started texting to check in on me simply because I live here. I’m OK. So far, at least, I’m fine, but my body feels like a ticking time bomb. I’m not sick, but could I make someone else sick? Will I get sick? When?
Earlier this week, I went for a run. It was a beautiful day, 60 degrees and sunny, and I wore shorts and a t-shirt. As I jogged through the empty streets, I felt an overwhelming gratitude for spring, that we’re seeing new life burst forth in a city that, according to the news, is dying. I like to run to Fort Greene Park, at the entrance of which stands a gigantic, magnificent magnolia tree, currently in full bloom. The other side of the park overlooks Brooklyn Hospital. A few weeks ago, I saw lines of people in masks standing outside the emergency room, waiting to get in. Now, there are no lines but there are refrigerated trucks parked outside. They’re full of dead bodies. I try to focus on the trees, but my eyes always end up searching for the trucks as I run past.
I’ve been running a lot, so much that I developed a gnarly blister on my toe that sidelined me for a few days. Now, I’m back at it, huffing in pollen, running and running until my whole body turns pink with exertion. I feel healthy. If you have your health, they say, you have everything. That’s never felt more true. My pistil is intact, my stem is sturdy. Petals will grow again — different than the ones I lost, but no less vibrant.
We’ve all been getting the same advice during this crisis: don’t touch your face, wear gloves, a mask, wash your hands, sanitize. Go outside but keep your distance, exercise, unplug, talk to friends, meditate, stay well.
Here’s my advice: have a dog. My little Bear is not only a source of love and joy, but a reason to go outside a few times a day and, perhaps even more importantly, a topic of conversation. With no new experiences to share, conversation with the people I’m in contact with has run pretty dry, but the dog is always worth talking about. He’s always doing something, whether it’s attacking the plants or simply being cute, that’s worth commenting on.
More advice: make these brownies. They’re pretty healthy but delicious, I swear, especially if you use real chocolate chips (which you should — you deserve it). And these great pantry pasta recipes. Make this Bolognese. It takes about six hours but you’ve got the time.
And finally, use this hand cream. If washing your hands relentlessly has your knuckles cracked and bleeding, this stuff will save them. I stockpile it every fall because it’s the only thing that keeps my hands moisturized in the winter, so I’m lucky enough to have some on hand (pun intended) right now. It says on the bottle that it’s like a protective glove for your hands, and that’s true! In fact, when I wash it off in the morning, I can feel the goo sliding off my hands, which is kind of gross but deeply satisfying. It appears the company (which is called either Deciem or The Abnormal Beauty or both — I can never quite figure it out) is still taking online orders, so place yours now. While you wait for it to ship, slather your hands in coconut oil before bed every night. It’s the next best thing.
I suppose that’s all I have to say for now. When I set out to write this, I wanted to really Say Something about the pandemic, but it turns out you can’t write a story with no ending. So I have nothing useful to say, nothing to offer aside from a hand cream recommendation, a few recipes and a really fucking cute photo of my dog. I’m just here, doing my best, surviving. I hope you are too.
One last word of advice: look at the flowering trees long enough to wonder what they are. Realize the answer doesn’t matter. Admire the petals, which soon will fall.
As always, I’d like to clarify that this is NOT a sponsored post. I received nothing for it and am pretty sure no one cares about my hands. Still, if anyone is reading and ever wants to give me literally anything for free, hand cream or not, I WILL TAKE IT!!!!!!
Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I’ll be back with more unsolicited recommendations soon!