One morning recently, I took a stroll down York Avenue, which is generally a New York avenue less traveled, making it ideal for those looking to be socially distant. You do have to pick up the pace a bit, though, when you get to the area where several hospitals are clustered together and you encounter all the health care workers dressed in scrubs of many colors. I saw lots of restaurants and shops that I’d really meant to visit before the pandemic but may never have the chance now, based on the letters posted in empty store windows saying farewell and thank you for your patronage.
While I still spend most of my time sheltering at home, I no longer feel that I’m under house arrest and venture out periodically, with my mask, my hat and my waxy film of SPF-75 sunscreen for protection. Still, my friends are concerned that I’m getting too comfortable at home. They’re afraid that when the pandemic is finally over, I’ll be wizened and crankier than usual and they’ll have to pry me loose from my 800 square foot apartment, as I grasp on to the door frame with bony, gnarled fingers. (The truth is, I’ll be out of here like a shot. Trust me).
I was particularly energized on that morning and felt as if I could just keep walking for miles and miles toward the end of Manhattan island. Then, all of a sudden, I had a clear vision of escape. If I walked long and far enough I would discover a magical passageway that would transport me to a New York of endless possibilities: a land full of ample employment, coveted restaurant reservations, an abundance of toilet paper, frozen pizzas, meaningful (and non-meaningful) human contact, and visits to the hair salon without fear. Destination: Noncovia - a land of many diverse languages, all intelligible, unmuffled by three-ply masks.
An invisible entryway led me to this Non-Covid Zone, a portal right there on the east side of York Avenue. In the Land of Noncovia people feel free to stand in the middle of the sidewalk scrutinizing their cell phones or accidentally brush up against you as they pass, or stand shoulder to shoulder while waiting in line to buy bagels. It’s a world that now seems inconceivable, a fading memory from long ago, like trolley cars, MS-DOS or in-person sessions at the therapist’s office.
In Noncovia, the air is fresh, birds circle above to provide shade, Hamilton is performed live, and neighbors invite you in for freshly baked scones. The smell of your favorite flower replaces the smell of New York garbage in summer. You can even enter a restaurant and sit down in a dark, romantic corner booth. You can once again live without a cursory understanding of air borne particulates or viral load.
As I stood, awash in this wonderful world, I passed a bustling multiplex and excitedly reached into my pocket for some cash to buy a ticket. Instead, my hand touched a piece of rigid paper. I pulled it out and read the small print. It was my pass into Noncovia. It was a timed ticket, like the ones you get for special exhibits at the museum. You enter at a prescribed hour – and leave promptly when your time is up. And, according to the ticket, my time was up. There wasn’t even a gift shop where I could extend my visit and purchase an overpriced memento. I was propelled back to the portal where I’d entered just minutes before and as much as I resisted, I was deposited once again on the other side. I recognized it by all the tired eyes peering out from above constricting masks and ears that were folded uncomfortably forward by elastic bands. I turned, secured my own mask and walked slowly back home. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try again. Noncovia awaits. I’m almost sure of it.
Mona Finston is a partner at MoJJo Collaborative Communications, a virtual PR firm in NYC. For 20 years, she also worked as a performer, singing all over the U.S.A. Mona is currently working on a book of essays about her most unusual mother and a screenplay about the fantasies of an older woman.