Last Wednesday afternoon, my wife and I took the Hampton Jitney from our home in East Hampton to Manhattan. We had tickets to see a Broadway show called Come From Away the next day. Arriving at Lex and 86th Street as the sun set, we walked to our apartment on Fifth Avenue a few blocks away.
It was strange coming to our apartment. We hadn’t been there in a while. Turning the light on in the front hall, we saw a copy of The New York Times just where we had left it the last time we were there. The headline sort of jumped out at me, as did the rest of the stories on the front page.
“As Buttigieg Drops Out, Biden Chases Sanders Into Tuesday Primaries,” was the front-page headline.
The date of this paper was Monday, March 2, 2020. There were other front page headlines.
“Death at Nursing Home as Virus Spreads in U. S.” The subhead was “In a Suburb of Seattle, a Scramble to Assess Emerging Risks.”
“In China, Color-Coded Data Raises Red Flags: Alarm at Surveillance of Personal Health.”
“A Mission Shift for Afghanistan: Troops and Strikes Will Decline, if Pact Holds.”
The paper’s front page was yellowed with age. But it was folded neatly and the other pages were normal. Seems it had never been read.
The apartment had been cleaned before our arrival, so it wasn’t dusty or anything. But everything was left right where it had been when we were last there more than a year and a half ago.
There were condiments in the pantry, clothes in the closets, toothpaste and mouthwash on the bathroom sinks. Was toothpaste 20 months old any good? How about the mouthwash? We threw them out.
What about bottles of pills? They all had expiration dates. One said use by April 2018. Everything had expiration dates. I went on a tear throwing things out. There was only one survivor — a bottle of drops for cleaning out earwax that was good until October 2023. I couldn’t recall buying it. October 2013? Ten-year earwax drops?
We did the same thing in the kitchen pantry. And there were exceptions there, too. I’m talking about things that were not opened. Barbecue sauce said to use it by April 2020. Barbecue sauce, in my view, lasts forever. And so do other such things. No?
Boxes and bags of things to throw out got piled up. It was in some ways upsetting to be doing this. I found that moths had eaten holes through a cashmere sweater. But all the other sweaters in the stack were OK. Could moths be picky?
We threw the boxes and bags out into bins in the back hall by the back elevator. It felt wasteful and sad.
The next morning, we went out and shopped for the things to replace what got thrown out. Overall, the Upper East Side was bustling, but there were not nearly the crowds from a year and a half ago. We’d been warned that crime was up and the homeless were everywhere. But everyone seemed happy and the only homeless person we saw near our apartment was sleeping on a sidewalk heating grate under some plastic bags on 85th street between Fifth and Madison. We walked around him. Or her.
Some people outdoors wore masks, some did not. Everyone wore a mask to go into the stores. And as at home, many restaurants had curbside wooden dining structures for patrons.
A CVS on Lexington at 84th Street had air-circulating units on the floor inside. Exhaust tubes went up through jagged holes in the dropped ceiling panels and thence outside. It felt healthy to be in there.
Mostly it felt exciting to be out on the streets. Baby carriages, students, tourists taking pictures in front of the Metropolitan Museum’s giant sidewalk waterworks displays. Street food. Joggers. Police cars. Picnickers in Central Park.
We’d been away so long, we’d forgotten just how exhilarating the city was compared to the leafy peacefulness that is the Hamptons.
The Broadway show Come From Away is set in the small Newfoundland Canada town of Gander — population 12,000. It’s all about local concerns. But then things start hopping. Gander, the town, sits alongside a giant airport now largely unused, where many years ago, commercial aircraft that couldn’t make it across the Atlantic on one tank of gas used Gander to refuel. Now, suddenly, there’s a huge problem.
On this day, which is 9/11, an emergency has been declared in the United States and all aircraft in the air have to divert to the nearest airport. The townspeople here, the mayor, the police officers, the schoolteachers, the school bus drivers, the merchants, homemakers and fishermen soon learn that during the next three hours, a total of 38 airplanes carrying 7,000 people from all over the world are going to come down from the sky. They will be needing places to stay, food, beds, showers, clothing and solace.
As the planes land, the locals at first balk at what is happening, then embrace it and welcome these strangers to their homes with open arms. Friendships are made. Officials work 18 hours without sleep. Even a love affair begins. Days later, there’s an emotional departure. And in a finale, 10 years later, a reunion.
Friday night, Billy Joel, who lives in Sag Harbor, was back performing at Madison Square Garden after a 20-month intermission. Sunday morning featured the excitement of the New York City Marathon. (Yay, Sam Broner!)
Also on Sunday, as part of the spring-forward-fall-back experience, the sun which had been setting happily at 5:40 p.m. suddenly and very unhappily went down at 4:40.
Except in our apartment. The clock over the sink in the kitchen, the clocks in the bedrooms, study and living room, were already set to that earlier time.
For that is what the time was when we were last in the apartment on March 2, 2020.