The Old Normal

How one writer tries to to un-pandemic-fy herself as COVID restrictions lift in NYC

| 30 Jun 2021 | 10:46

“I know that there is pain, but you hold on for one more day and you break free from the chains.” As a child of the ‘90s, I am blown away that Wilson Phillips somehow foretold the conundrum COVID put us through the past year, and, as Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the lifting of most keep-everyone-apart restrictions this month, that we are so ready to bust out and get back to living again. “Hold On” could be an anthem for the way we cling onto hope that if we just put up with the isolation and loneliness that is upon us now, one day, it will all be over.

So have the chains really unshackled? Last week, I walked into H&M on Fifth Avenue and jumped for joy to see the fitting rooms were open again. The closure of most changing rooms over the past year was a massive hindrance for me, not being a stick insect who looks good in just about anything. So now, thankfully, no more blindly buying clothes, trying them on at home and then joining massive queues at the cash register to return them; no more shamelessly stripping down to a base layer in the middle of Zara to try on outerwear, which made the hallowed halls of the fast fashion retailer feel more like a flea market.

I foresee a return to the good old days, that I experienced firsthand at Mango today — long lines at the fitting rooms, feel-good and delusion-kicking moments of truth while trying on clothes, and unplanned draining of my bank accounts. As I exited the changing rooms, I went past a shopper fervently cleaning every surface and wall of the room with a sanitizing wipe, and couldn’t help but think — oh darn.

After leaving Mango, my friend and I considered either attending a jazz festival I was invited to at Washington Square Park, or Opera Italiana in the Air, an open-air performance of Italian opera classics that returned to Central Park for a one-night-only fête. The concert was aptly titled “Rebirth!” as a celebration of music and concerts returning to the city. The notion that many outdoor music events were happening on one night infused a warm feeling of the city really coming back to life post-COVID.

But then, hesitation — being squished amongst a motley crew of people seemed almost strange and scary, having gotten used to avoiding such situations. The recent discontent at Washington Square Park, that Our Town Downtown recently reported on, added more pause — what if there is violent backlash from park-goers who are rejecting the enforcement of an earlier closing time?

My shopping buddy, a semi-hypochondriac, born-and-bred New Yorker, ended the uncertainty with one bellow: “30% not vaccinated. How few have had second shots? Are you suicidal?”

Okay, cancel that.

Dinner Idea

As I sit here, writing in my room that I’ve gotten so used to hibernating in, my boyfriend texts a dinner idea: “Patsy’s Italian for two?” He explains that the famed Midtown eatery has just reopened after a pandemic hiatus, suggesting we devour the lobster, spinach and mushroom ravioli trio he used to eat there every week, with a side of Clams Oreganata and Sauvignon Blanc Prosecco. Now that, is something the neurotic worrywart in me can jump right into.

The restaurant’s website boasts a newly installed air purification system that inspires another layer of safety and assurance. There are also hand-sanitizing stations placed throughout the restaurant. And there are table partitions, but perhaps if you squint and pretend they aren’t there, it would feel so much like going back to the regularity of pre-pandemic days. Comebacks like this abate fears that New York’s finest eateries would irreparably disappear due to the COVID slump.

I’m planning other things-to-do in Manhattan that are reviving after the year-long COVID interlude: Smorgasburg, a weekly open-air food market that The New York Times deemed “The Woodstock of Eating,” is back with a vengeance, having just reopened in Williamsburg and at the World Trade Center in mid-May. Vendors like Mao’s Bao and Carlito’s Barbecue Taqueria make it so worthy to pop in and grab some grub. The famous, well-curated, artisanal Grand Bazaar NYC on Columbus Avenue and 77th Street also reopened on June 6, an amazing way to savor the diversity and eccentricity of New York culture.

Further yonder, I can’t wait for when Broadway reopens in September. Then there’s the upcoming New York Fashion Week, from September 8 through 12, that will have full-fledged in-person runway shows, leading up to the Met Gala on September 13 that was A.W.O.L. last year due to COVID restrictions. In August, an epic NYC reopening concert is coming to Central Park — but, again, exchanging sweat with a massive crowd throws up a cautionary flag.

Did the state government lift the restrictions too early? Should they have waited for 70% to have had their second vaccination? And what about the Delta variant that floored India, now spreading in the state — is this going to be like the ending of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where just when you think the monster is dead, someone gets viciously sucked into a tiny window?

I considered quitting wearing face masks on a permanent basis — just carrying one in my bag for locations that require it — as another way of returning to normalcy, sans fogged-up glasses and ragged breathing. But a little voice inside me says to not rush into the mad need to restore everything we took for granted pre-COVID. I’m holding on for one more day.