Prologue

Monday, March 16, 2020

I am sitting in one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Salumeria Rosi.

I am checking my phone. One of my brothers is driving from the East Coast back to Nevada. I am tracking his progress in his rental car. Covid has shut down the university where he was taking a much anticipated sabbatical.

I am glad he is going home, but I am worried he could get trapped somewhere. A friend at the NYPD told me that Governor Cuomo almost cordoned off Westchester and New York City last weekend. I am worried that other mayors or governors might have similar ideas. I’m worried that my brother could hit road blocks.

I have ordered a takeout dinner. All restaurants have to shut down their in-restaurant dining by 8. So I’m picking up dinner for my daughter and myself.

Salumeria is transforming its business model in front of my eyes. As I sip my Sangiovese, I write my email on a tablet–they are starting a mailing list. Not just for take-out and delivery for dinners but for their groceries–salami, cheeses, sauces, pastas, anchovies, it’s an impressive list of gourmet foods.

And, the maitre ‘d tells me, they’ll deliver –either right to my apartment or outside the building.

I know this is playing out in restaurants and businesses everywhere. And the ones I can see are valiantly doing whatever they can think of. It’s breaking my heart.

I am texting one of my cousins, my older daughter, friends and family across the city and the nation. They’re all watching the same thing.

Days pass. I am doing a lot of takeout.

The USS Comfort is sailing toward New York. The Javits Center is being converted into a hospital. The city is building a massive hospital tent in Central Park. A man I met on Hinge works in a hospital in Manhattan.

“You cannot believe it,” he tells me over the phone. “I can’t even tell you.”

My older daughter calls from where she’s living out West. In her voice I can hear a tremor that she can’t quite quell.

“Is it safe for you to stay?” she says.

I am hearing more and more sirens.

I call the painter who was already scheduled to do a “white-wash for sale” job on my triplex.

He wants the work. I want the apartment painted.

“Let’s just do it,” I say.

“Done,” he says.

The paint store drops the paint at the curb. I bring it into the apartment. I haul a tall ladder from the fifth floor of our building into the apartment. I’ve bought drop cloths. I’ve pulled all the paintings off the walls, piled the furniture into the center of each room and covered it all.

The painter says he’ll bike up from his home downtown — his partner is staying home. But he says he can do it himself. All he has to do lock up his bike, walk in, pick up a paint brush and paint.

When I’ve finishing prepping the apartment, I grab my daughter and her dog. We throw whatever clothes we think we’ll need into a rental car.

I grab our passports. Just in case.

We’re driving out to my family’s empty cottage back home in Wisconsin.

“It’s just for two or three weeks,” I promise my daughter, who is a senior in high school. “Just until the curve flattens.”

I make her take a photo of the city as we drive across the GW Bridge.

We stay for five weeks.

And that’s when I start to watch Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conferences on YouTube.

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