Ramona on Corona… Birdsong and My City

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A humor series on navigating this difficult time

Today, I’m sharing another installment of a humor series from my friend Pam Goldman, centering on a woman named Ramona, who tries to help… in her own way.

If you’re new to this series: Here’s the previous installment. Read on.

4:28a.m. You up? We must stop meeting like this. Actually I’m happy to have your company because this is a lonely time of night. I mean day. It’s morning but still quite dark. Even the birds are asleep. According to my dear friend Phyllis, a latent ornithologist, choir practice begins in two minutes at 4:30a.m. with song sparrows, house wrens, robins, cardinals, bluejays and crows serenading humans with a wake-up call. Could this be where Clifford Odets got the title for his play, “Awake and Sing”?

I guess birds, not unlike humans, like to be seen, heard and most importantly, known. Would that l had someone on my trail so anxious to see, hear and know me that like Phyllis, they’d set their Apple watches to ring before dawn, just to bear witness to my every move. My own personal stalker, but in a good way! I just wouldn’t want to be tagged with the name of my species tied to my ankle by a flimsy piece of string.

Any-hoo hoo hoo (last of the bird theme).

This is described as a humor series and I hope I don’t get sacked for false advertising but today’s installment is an almost obituary so STOP READING NOW IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A LAUGH.

My City with a capital C, New York City, the City, is on a ventilator. It has been a vital part of my life for as long as I can remember. Its hold on me is not unlike that of blood relatives, — it’s in my DNA and there is no way to get rid of it.* (*Note to blood relatives: I love you but sometimes you just need to back off. No offense.)

I grew up in the shadow of The City, commonly known as New Jersey. It was a fine place to grow up (Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi) but it was the opposite of The City. The City was sexy. New Jersey was not. The City was fast. New Jersey was s-l-o-w. The City was TALL. New Jersey was s-h-o-r-t. The City was silver. New Jersey was green. And most importantly, New Jersey was parents, The City was no parents!

As a teenager I took the non-stop bus every Saturday morning from the Garden State (very few gardens, just sayin’) into The City to study acting so I could become famous and live at The Plaza Hotel, just a short walk from the theater district where I would perform in Broadway plays, greet my fans, slip into a waiting stretch limo and scoot uptown.

After 45 minutes on the New Jersey Turnpike the bus lumbered through malodorous rotten eggs, otherwise known as sulferous Secaucus, the olfactory assault my signal that the skyline was only minutes away. As we’d round the bend that hugs the Hudson River, sun glinted off skyscrapers that suddenly appeared across the water in a tableaux of towering sterling silver minarets, with only the dank Lincoln Tunnel separating us.

I disembarked amid the steam and hissing of The Port Authority Bus Terminal and slipped into a sea of people “going into The City.” Some days it seemed the entire tri-state area was coming in for a matinee.

I don’t know how you feel about The City or if you feel anything about it at all but if you feel or felt The City is or was the ultimate in living on this earth, I have news. It’s over, at least for now.

My City is undressed. It’s without accessories, without its make up and jewelry. No Lincoln Center. No Carnegie Hall. No New York City Ballet or Metropolitan Opera or New York Philharmonic. No Broadway. No musicians warming up in the pit. No coloratura sopranos warming up in their dressing rooms.

It’s quiet. It’s dark. It’s over, at least for now.

My husband K. and I recently drove in for his six month dental cleaning. We had given up our lovely apartment on the UES (for civilians, Upper East Side) during this friggin’ crisis and moved full-time to our getaway in the tri-state area ( geographically-vague because I really don’t want a stalker, even in a good way).

We have been living out of The City for six months. Let me tell you that seeing it for the first time since the outbreak was a shock. As we cruised up Madison Avenue, I counted nine masked people, three unmasked. No throngs of tourists drooling over the darkened Ralph Lauren windows. Just a line of four people standing six feet apart outside Three Guys Coffee Shop waiting to be admitted. Saddest of all was the woman with a masked baby in a stroller. The mask was black making the little angel look like a baby bandit.

Around the corner from our old building, Pinky Nails, where I got my pedicures — CLOSED. Barry’s Cleaners, whose front man I knew well enough to assault with iPhone photos of my grandkids — CLOSED. Our favorite authentic NYC Parisian coffee shop that was not a Starbucks — CLOSED. And on and on…..

The signs of Covid are everywhere: FOR RENT, FOR LEASE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE THESE LAST 25 YEARS BUT DUE TO COVID blah blah blah. It’s easy in the country to isolate in your house and not feel the pandemic. Cows, horses, chipmunks and wild turkeys do not wear masks.

In The City I saw evidence of pandemic everywhere, in the mostly vacant streets, in the double buses carrying only three or four passengers, in the absence of Uber and Lyft drivers cruising the blocks.

What I did see were feeble attempts to bring folks back….restaurants, prohibited from serving indoors and desperate for business, placing tables and chairs outside, not only on the sidewalk, but in the street, even in the gutters, to attract customers and keep their businesses alive

It’s all terribly sad. Where is a mayor when we need one? The Big Apple is rotting!

Half the people have left. Coop sales under contract have fallen through. Hotels are being transformed into SROs for some of the many homeless folks on the street. If you’re a tourist from a foreign country here for the restaurants you better learn English for TAKE OUT and CURBSIDE PICK-UP.

The City is lost, searching for revitalization like the rest of us. Let’s hope it doesn’t develop fever, cough or labored breathing and become another staggering statistic.

73 days until November 3rd, Election Day. This will be THE vote of the century.

Make it count. Our lives depend on it. And so does My City.

Humor will return in two weeks. Ramona needs a break.

The Last Word: VOTE.

Pam Goldman is a writer, therapist, wife, mother and (young) grandmother. Her work has been published in The New York Times and VIVA Magazine. She is completing her first book, titled LEFT.

This originally appeared on Medium.