Uneasy Sunday

A guy, outside the liquor store at the intersection of 4th Street and Newark Ave.: “they’re not going to put you in jail for being outside.” Policemen would have their hands full. Lots of foot traffic on Jersey and Newark yesterday — people getting provisions, walking dogs, talking to friends from the safety of the tops of stoops. Downtowners have learned the steps to the social distancing dance quickly: pedestrians cross the street or stand aside as others approach. Blind corners with high hedges cause anxiety. You can find yourself on top of a neighbor in a hurry. Such encounters prompt embarrassment, flinches, looks of guilt, brief exchanges of cordialities before doing the dash. We’re all shy and awkward tweepop caricatures now.

New sign in the window of the laundromat: NO FOLDING, in black marker on fuschia paper. You’ve got to get your clothes and run. I’ve seen anecdotal reports of big weekend gatherings in Williamsburg and Bushwick, all in defiance of the government proscriptions. Maybe those are accurate. I can say there wasn’t anything happening in our part of Downtown Jersey City. It was darker and quieter than it’s been on any night since we moved to 4th street in 2007. No roof parties, no house parties, no loud conversations at 3 a.m., no car alarms, no cars, really.

My father reminds me that I once wrote a play set during a pandemic. He wonders if this is the right time to revive it. That doesn’t seem like a good idea at all, but I do notice that many of popular movies on streaming services are all about contagions, diseases, doctors, heroic medicine, etcetera. I’d have guessed that we’d all be immersed in space operas and other pure escapist fluff, but perhaps the collective imagination doesn’t move that way. Maybe it only leaps to the nearest narrative footstone. In the play, the pandemic was a metaphor for fears about immigration and the terrible damage that AIDS had done to interpersonal intimacy and sexual expression. This virus is a figure for all kinds of things, and as non-scientists, we can’t talk about it without using metaphor. But in an all-too-real sense, it’s no metaphor at all. It’s an actual pathogen, one that will mess you up if it crosses your path. I don’t want to distract people from that.

With everything closed and pertinent warnings given, the podium space that has been hogged by elected officials can, in theory, now be given to doctors and scientists. I know I have very little interest in hearing a press conference from anybody who doesn’t have a Ph.D. or M.D. In late March, addresses from politicians feel like posturing at best. At worst, they’re more misinformation. The President has been playing amateur physician, prescribing a miracle drug that his own medical advisers are visibly skeptical about. It’s possible that he really believes he knows better, and even more possible that he just wants to be on TV as much as he can. Meanwhile, Politico reports that the executive branch is pressing for new emergency powers that would allow judges to detain the arrested indefinitely. These threats to habeas corpus are as scary as the virus. The consensus on the Internet is that Congress will never let this happen, but I’m not so certain. Two weeks ago, nobody thought they’d close the parks. Events move fast. The guy on the corner by the liquor store should get his sunshine while he can.