In a long and lonely pandemic, New York can still cure what ails you.
It started at 6am. I looked at my calendar for the day, and after more than a year of waiting — for a vaccine, for some hope, for the sun to set — I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t swallow one more day of the drag that is waiting for real life to resume. A coffee date with a friend wasn’t scheduled until noon, and I knew I’d never make it that far. I showered, got dressed, and left the house at 8am with something resembling a plan Scotch taped together in my mind.
I double bagged my masks and got on the A train in Brooklyn with what I assume passes for rush hour rider volume these days. The number of human beings who think your nose goes above the mask will never cease to astound me and contribute to jaw pain in my sleep. Google had assured me I could get off at 72nd Street but because I’ve lived here eight years now I know to double check, and confirmed once en route that if I didn’t get off at 59th, I’d be fucked. I walked along the park to 72nd already regretting my outerwear choice. Spring in New York is an undressable season. Just wear anything, because everything is wrong. Accept this and you’ll experience just as much discomfort, but less frustration.
In an effort to avoid giving the establishment publicity, I’m not going to tell you where the bad bagel came from. Just know it was an everything bagel with cream cheese and I hated it. The texture was off, the seasoning was barely there. They should have just given me the cream cheese on the side because it oozed out with such enthusiasm that the two naked halves of the bagel reconnected as though they’d never been sliced apart.
When you get a bad bagel in New York, you hate more than the taste. You hate the fact that it happened. Thank goodness I had the sense to walk into Central Park and eat it in a place of beauty, or things could have really gone aflame. But for a few influencers engaging in photo shoots that I assume were very important in their eyes, the park was empty. I appreciated this. Two little birds eyed my breakfast and I assured them they could do better for their efforts.
Following my bad bagel, I crossed the park to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, where I paid the suggested $25 admission fee and felt very smug about it. They need a bathroom closer to the entrance because I saw half of Egypt on my way to the facilities and that’s really no way to take in culture. Don’t ever go to a museum with me, I am the worst. I skip everything you want to see and wander around the European paintings seven times before retreating to the gift shop where I’ll browse for half an hour. I will always make you feel like you’re taking too long and if you rush me from anything I want to observe I will poke you with a shiv I’ve fashioned from the paper map. It’s best that I’m left alone in these places, regardless of the quality of my breakfast.
I only ever want to see Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and the like. I am every bit basic in this way and frankly I couldn’t give a crumb for your thoughts on the matter. Appreciating art while wearing a face mask is an experience I’ll not soon forget, but what it lacked in normalcy, it made up for in an absence of humans. I mostly had the place to myself. Odd, considering I’d left the house that day in revolt against a year of isolation. But if you can find something that actually has made sense in the last year I’ll buy it from you at full price.
If you’re going to fill a day with a subway ride, a bagel, Central Park, and a museum, you really need to get your book proposal rejected by a major publisher to round out the New York City experience. I mean without it, you’ve barely been here. I unlocked my phone with my passcode because it can’t see my fucking face anymore, read the email, put my phone back in my pocket, and stared at the parquet. It’s the 9th such rejection within the current year, but standing where I was, in the city where I was, after a year that threatened to destroy everything and still somehow hadn’t managed it, I decided that if New York could press on, so could I.
There are worst places to be when you get terrible news, I’ll say that. In fact I’ll be taking all of my calls from the American Wing from now on, just in case. Renoir expressed his sympathies and I left in search of a Pollock.
Google informed me that it would be a 45 minute walk or a 20 minute bus ride to meet my friend for coffee, so after 50 minutes on the M4 I arrived and found her sitting in a park. Just as I sat my bag down on a bench to go and procure a coffee of my own, she handed me an everything bagel, flawless, frozen in a Ziplock bag. It was from her local, impressively gluten free bakery, she vouched for it. That’s New York. It never gives you a bad bagel without correcting its mistake.
After our coffee, the idea of heading home seemed nothing short of abhorrent, as I felt I’d had enough of that place for two lifetimes. My friend departed for what I assume was her 400th Zoom call since this shitstorm began, and I walked back over to the park.
I am very good at getting lost in parks. And museums, now that I think about it. I have no sense of direction and I’m freelance, there’s very little point in getting upset. Approximately 15 steps into the park I could have been on Neptune for all I knew. I wandered around, trying to keep a tall apartment building on the West Side in view as a concrete North Star, and decided to see how this mishegas played out. There are very private parts of Central Park and I passed by more than one location I would invite someone to if I wished to do them great physical harm.
I don’t know how I managed to work my way out of the forresty wormhole, but I exited somewhere in the 80s. Hopping on the subway at that point would have been wise and certainly would have resulted in fewer blisters, but again, home? In this economy? You must be kidding.
I walked back down to 59th where I reluctantly boarded a steel intestinal vessel bound for Brooklyn. If times were different I’d have torn into the black & white cookie I’d stashed in my bag. If you can walk around this town without snacks that’s your problem. However, the pandemic being unfriendly to public consumption, I donned my traditional vacant subway eyes staring at nothing, and rode the 14 stops home.
New York is still there. I needed that reminder. After a year spent so indoors that I’ve never actually had a COVID test, to allow myself a moment out of the cage was at once terrifying and restorative. I’d forced myself to forget everything I can do in New York because the shock of everything I suddenly couldn’t do had been rippling through me ever since. It was nice, for a moment, to remember.
Remember that your city didn’t go anywhere. Remember that its institutions still stand and take your money. Remember that its pubic transit is in charge, not you. Remember that it can slap your dreams out of your hands in one motion, and nourish your soul in the next. And if you need the reminder, bad news, and bad bagels, are still easily solved in New York.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.