I was chatting on the phone with a friend while walking through SoHo one weekend last fall. We were about to meet for breakfast, and I warned her that I had just rolled out of bed.
During the pandemic, I had gotten into the habit of getting up early in the morning to walk my dog without showering or changing clothes.
“I haven’t even brushed my teeth,” I told my friend.
Just as I said it, a woman walked past me.
“Don’t worry, she cried, me neither!
We hugged and parted ways.
I was working at a cafe in Midtown near Grand Central Terminal in early March 2020. Late in the morning rush one day, I turned around from the counter to tend to some basic chores that had been overlooked in chaos.
When I turned around, I saw it: a single N95 mask, wrapped in plastic, on top of the pastry case.
I asked a man who was waiting for the cappuccino he ordered if it belonged to him.
He shook his head. Just like the other people in line.
Whoever left him was gone or didn’t want to be identified – a stranger who, in the midst of panic and confusion, saw me and chose to help me.
On the platform
It was September and I was in New York for the first time since the pandemic began.
I waited on the subway platform, masked and nervous. The room arrived and I went up. One stop, two, still nervous.
When the train arrived at the third stop, a well-dressed man who was seated to my right got off and walked to the platform for the express.
I noticed that he had left behind a bag that appeared to have his lunch inside.
I caught it.
“Hey!” I screamed.
The man who had left the bag didn’t turn around, but a tall man in overalls standing on the platform did. He saw the bag and motioned for me to give it to him.
I put it back on as the doors began to close behind me. The man in the coveralls ran towards the express.
“Blue Suit!” He shouted.
My train pulled away and I watched him hand his lunch bag to the man as the express doors closed.
Back to the Salon
Olivia and I met at college in New York. After leaving in 2019, we both returned two years later and quickly secured tickets to see Straight to Hell, a Clash cover band who are one of our favorites, play their annual tribute show Strummer’s birthday at the Knitting Factory.
As usual, the show was towards the end of summer, when the weather in New York begins to turn from sultry to balmy.
The band and the vibe were the same as always: loud, fiery and fun. But there were some differences, such as vaccination controls. There was also less moshing than usual.
The people in the crowd were also the same. Because Olivia and I had been coming for years, I recognized some of the faces: regulars and ardent Clash fans. I had never spoken with any of them. I wondered if they recognized me too.
The band’s set was diverse, deep favorites interspersed with upbeat songs and crowd pleasers.
“It’s great to have live music again,” the lead singer said at one point.
There were cheers, and then they sang the next song.
I walked into a big, empty elevator in Midtown on my way to a doctor’s appointment.
As the doors closed, one woman, then another, rushed to the elevator. I held the doors and the three of us, masked and standing six feet apart, nodded at each other.
There was a mirror in the elevator. I turned and looked at my reflection.
“Oh my God,” I blurted out. “My hair is so awful!” (I hadn’t colored it in 19 months and only cut it once during that time.)
The woman to my left spoke quietly.
“I’m so unhappy,” she said.
The woman on my right intervened.
“I need to see a psychiatrist,” she said.
We all started laughing. And when the doors to my floor opened, the three of us, intimate strangers now, said, “Have a nice day! almost in unison.