Sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself, something that someone from New York City is not supposed to feel.
This is the city that never sleeps. The place that invented hustle and bustle; the borough I’ve wanted to live in since 1968 when I was in 4th grade and declared the Bronx “boring” compared to Manhattan. (I had this epiphany after my first visit.)
And now I feel like I’m back where I started — emotionally, anyway.
From the start of the pandemic, I’ve been one of the #NewYorkOrNowhere holdouts and I’m encouraged by the report on the website of Comptroller Brad Lander: “Since July 2021, USPS data has shown an estimated net gain of 6,332 permanent movers, indicating a gradual return to New York City.”
Things have changed, though and I don’t think there’ll be a “return to normal” as we once believed back in the beginning of 2020, when we were told that if we wore masks and social distanced it would take two weeks to stop the spread.
I heard a news commentator say that the whole country is exhausted. It’s the existential kind of tiredness, and not just from having to wear a mask or show proof of vaccination.
It’s hard to walk down block after block and get nostalgic for what was. Sometimes my wistfulness goes back further than two years ago.
“The Gilded Age”
Recently, out of ennui, I binged “Mad Men.” I found myself laughing out loud at times, like when ad exec Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy buy a two-bed on Madison and 83rd for 30K and Trudy’s parents are upset at the location because “it falls off after 79th.” I’ve also started watching HBO Max’s “The Gilded Age” where 61st and Fifth is considered the outskirts and old money shuns the recently wealthy, because old money was, what? Greener?
Part of the enjoyment of both the 60s and late 1900s Manhattan depicted in these shows was the glamour. Now everyone dresses down because many still work from home and those who don’t no longer have a dress code to adhere to; employers are lucky they can get people to go into the office at all.
I got a glimmer of hope that not everyone has gone the way of “casual is the new black” when I was invited to an afternoon performance at The Metropolitan Opera. There was a young woman with an up-do in a gold, floor-length skirt, and (faux?) fur shrug. Another was in a head-to-toe combo of Chanel and Prada.
Since it had been snowing outside, I’d dressed for the weather and regretted it. But I felt good to be out and about. I felt even better about what I’d gotten my husband, Neil, for Christmas: memberships to the major museums. It was a way to not only give support to NYC cultural institutions that suffered during the height of the pandemic but to motivate us to become part of the scene again. We also make a point of going out to dinner a couple of times a week for the same reasons. I confess, that even though society is no longer sheltering in place, after doing so for so long, staying home became accepted and easier than getting dressed and going anywhere.
I realize that younger people have found their way “out there” already. It’s a little different for the older crowd. We’re more susceptible to whatever strains are about and comfortable to fall back on the “did it, done it, seen it, been there” excuse to stay home because as we learned from Isaac Newton, “An object at rest stays at rest.”
I’ve been around long enough to know that wishing for the past (in this case NYC) to once again become the present is a waste of time. I’m trying to think of what’s happening now, not as the new normal, but as the transition awaiting what’s to come: the new New York.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the upcoming novel “The Last Single Woman in New York City,” to be published by Heliotrope Books in spring 2022.