Coronavirus: Searching for the New Normal

How are we doing? When clients ask my husband this question, he always replies: “Another day in paradise.”

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By Marguerite Elisofon

The city that “never sleeps” is currently comatose. New York City Streets are empty; most stores and restaurants are shuttered. White hospital tents are springing up in Central Park. I’m thinking it’s not safe to take a power walk anywhere near those tents, especially with spring breezes that could blow deadly germs in our direction. My husband and I quickly detour onto Madison Avenue and turn south for home. Spaced out lines with spaced out people wearing masks and gloves wait on the street in front of Citarella and Duane Reade. I refuse to stand on an outdoor line to be admitted into a store unless it’s an emergency….

Fully protected in matching blue mask and gloves, one of my neighbors retreated to her apartment rather than ride the elevator with us. Is this paranoia or scrupulous adherence to social distancing? Our elevators are small, but traveling from the 9th floor to the lobby probably takes no more than a minute or two. With most tenants in our building staying home most of the time, the (usually slow and crowded) elevator has lately offered express trips to the lobby from our floor.

How much time should we be spending cleaning and sanitizing? Every morning my husband now sprays Lysol on the newspaper before bringing it into the apartment and dropping it on the dining room table. I sit down to read the front page of the Times saturated in lemon-scented disinfectant which has dried into a light brown parchment.

“What about the rest of the newspaper?” My germophobe friend inquires.“I guess I’m taking my chances.” I reply in a questioning tone.

Our discussion shifts to grocery and restaurant deliveries and the danger of germs lurking on the outside of plastic bags and containers. We spray the outer bag with Lysol and I wash my hands before putting the food into the fridge or serving it. What about the plastic containers holding the food, or even the food itself? Obviously, spraying is not on option because ingesting even small amounts of Lysol is unhealthy (not to mention distasteful).

My germophobe friend (who, like me, doesn’t cook) assures me that microwaving kills the coronavirus germs, and that’s why she has partially switched to frozen dinners. The microwave doesn’t help our family much because we eat a lot of salad, and I’m not a fan of frozen meals. I won’t stop eating the healthy foods I enjoy because of worries over who may have handled the food. And, no, I’m not spraying cleaning supplies from the supermarket either, although today my husband decided to spray the two 12 packs of Bounty we accidentally discovered at Duane Reade on 74th and Third. Don’t bother going there; the Bounty order of 12 packs was a one-time deal. “Buy one pack for $12 or two for $16 while supplies last,” the cashier informed us. Not exactly a deterrent to hoarding, but we couldn’t resist.

Speaking of hoarding, it’s now impossible to order high-acetone nail polish remover on Amazon without a three week wait. Unlike other women across the country who had dip manicures a few weeks ago, I failed to stock up on a strong and effective polish remover. The Cutex I already have doesn’t work on my glitter gel polish, despite my desperate attempts after my hair caught under my nail and broke it. Filing and soaking a broken nail is extremely painful and not a solution I would recommend unless you’re feeling masochistic. I’m now wearing a Band Aid on my right index finger, which makes it MUCH harder to clean my apartment, do laundry, empty the dishwasher and even write this blog. Lucky for me I have a big box of Band Aids, because they keep falling off my finger from all the hand washing and household chores.

Yes, I know, the lack of high acetone nail polish remover sounds like minutiae in the face of a global pandemic and the mounting death toll from Covid19, especially here in NYC. But if all of the ladies who need to cook, clean and sanitize their homes end up with broken and infected fingernails, who will take over that essential-but-usually-invisible labor?

The good news is that so far my family and I are healthy (even with a badly broken fingernail). We are all starting to establish new — and hopefully healthy — routines.

Samantha and I take turns on our new LifeCycle. Most days my daughter climbs 9 flights stairs at least once a day to compensate for not going to the gym. She also does floor exercises, stretches and meditates. In addition, Samantha Facetimes with her psychiatrist and our writing coach. Except for Tuesday, most evenings are devoted to Face timing friends after she finishes EPIC’s on-line classes and rehearsals. On Tuesdays, her DreamStreet theater group, has resumed rehearsals for their summer musical production of Alice in Wonderland.

My husband has claimed half of our dining table as his office, where he continues to work his usual long hours. When he isn’t busy on conference calls, struggling to master a “loaner” office laptop or reading through piles of documents, he tries to take a four-mile power walk 3 or 4 times per week. He continues to eat the same Spartan meals he enjoyed at the office: a large fruit cup, one Zone bar and one Cliff bar. Happily, for his law firm, three full boxes of documents await his attention in the den. An additional 15 boxes could be delivered from the office if necessary, but I’m praying the shut-down ends before that happens….

I’m (trying) to enjoy an extra hour of sleep to support my health. Exhaustion and stress help me to fall asleep. But when I wake up at 3 am and 6 am, it’s difficult to drift off again. Immediately I remember that people are getting sick and dying all over the world from the coronavirus. How do I relax and stop wondering how to stay safe until the nightmare ends? I don’t want to become dependent on Valium so I only allow myself one or two tiny weekly doses during my worst insomnia.

Happily, I have started taking on-line Zumba classes with my favorite Equinox instructors. I’m also enjoying our new exercise bike and accompanying my husband on some of his power walks. (I’m a fair-weather walker). Also, I’m writing more — my favorite work — with my favorite girl two or three times a week in addition to posting blogs for The Never-Empty Nest and The Good Men Project.

This week I taught myself and my daughter to vacuum. Samantha has become a wonderful mother’s helper, loading and unloading the dishwasher, helping me carry heavy bags to the laundromat, changing linens, and even cleaning her bathroom. I’m teaching her valuable life skills that I hope she can use when she lives on her own one day. Tedious but essential.

The rest of my time is devoted to checking in with friends and my 92 year old mom. I still go to the supermarket every other Monday, and Citarella on Tuesdays, but now that all of us are hunkered down in our apartment, I’m forced to go more often. We need more water, more lunch food, and, yes, more toilet paper. With everyone in a hoarding panic, I spend more time shopping in various stores, hoping that paper products will be delivered close to the time I arrive. Shopping isn’t much fun, but I’m getting used to it, and it’s the least of my worries.

We are all trying to make the best of a terrible situation and create a new normal. How are we doing? When clients ask my husband this question, he always replies: “Another day in paradise.”

This story was originally published on margueriteelisofon.com and republished on The Good Men Project.

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