Quarantining in New York – a personal account

Special to the Mountain News from our contributor, Rachel Holtzman, who has been in quarantine since early March at her home on Long Island, NY.


Covid ala Altamont Avenue

The red sweatshirt or the New York Liberty one?

Mock chopped liver or the faux seafood salad?

Channel 23 or Channel 12?

Call Brian back or empty the dishwasher?

Clean out my closet?

Reorganize the panty shelves?

Maybe I should try to write something. . .

These are the considerations that occupy my daily existence. Of course there are things to do during this stay-at-home order, many things like my closet and the panty shelves. The dining room table is covered with the receipts and records of 2019 just waiting for me to come back to finish the tax prep for my accountant. I know I will, but not just now. Now I need to return to the refrigerator once again to see if anything different may have appeared. Keeping the inventory up to date has become an important activity of our isolation. It’s become the source of my creative energy: Humm, what can I make with the broccoli that is turning yellow, the honey roasted deli ham that is turning grey and all those radishes? The answer is probably nothing good but I did cook the broccoli. With butter and salt it made a nice late afternoon snack, a very big snack.

I have a book on Kindle that is hard to get to. I’d downloaded it almost two months ago. I’d not picked it up in over two weeks. I’ve had to reacquaint myself with the characters over and over again. In my pre-Covid life, I’d grab time to read. There is no urgency now. All I have is time.

Another book I downloaded on Audible now serves as a sleep aid. I turn on the Kindle, bring up the book I got for free and set the timer for sixty minutes. Lights out, I scrunch the comforter over my shoulder and wait for the droning sound of the narrator to lull me to sleep. The next day, I piece together what I partially heard to be ready for the next night’s sleep prescription.

Ordinarily – ordinary has been gone many weeks ago — I wouldn’t need the sleep aid, but my day has crept up by two hours.  I don’t know which came first but by going to bed at 2:00 A.M., I’m not really ready to begin my day till ten. I settle down at the TV set with a mug of hot water to get the eleven o’clock update from Governor Cuomo. I don’t feel like eating till well after noon and, unless the sun is out and a walk draws me, I move through the day in a piece meal way, a phone call here, an email check there, maybe some laundry and time for a snack. Possibly spinach this time.

Zoom meetings take place in the evenings. How does my hair look? Do I eat before or after – or during?  What a mixed bag it is. We have all become voyeurs, checking out the rooms behind each participant. I haven’t worn earrings in weeks but I wear a bra for zooming. Although it is so good and reassuring to see each other on my laptop screen, concentrating on each other in little boxes on that screen and remaining focused as one box speaks over another is fatiguing.

We had a zoom synagogue Board meeting two days ago and I can’t tell you what we may have accomplished. We are not a business that works on computer monitors with complicated technological programs. We’re a people organization that come together to study and learn and pray and play and eat. And in that, we’re hardly unique.

Today we were gifted with a glorious day after two of rain and unseasonably damp cold. I could feel the warmth of the sun seep through the walls of my house. I would go out. I have a car full of gas. I have a mask and I have protective gloves. After retrieving the garbage can and making a quick stop at the post office to drop off my tax information packet, I was free to go anywhere. In times of stress, I believe we draw comfort from the familiar so I headed to the Meadowbrook Parkway that would take me to Jones Beach, the scene of hundreds and hundreds of days spent at the ocean’s edge with my children.

Although the lot of parking field 6 was as packed as you’d find on a late May weekend, the scene was altered by restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Partial barriers were posted at intervals on the boardwalk so the walking traffic would flow opposite to each other. An old people with a cane, a young flirty couple holding hands, a family trailing behind their little one pushing her stroller zig-zag along the boardwalk – everyone was wearing a mask. A young woman wearing her mask, leaned against the railing, singing and accompanying herself on her guitar. She had a tip jar near her feet. The main Women’s room at parking field 4 was altered; every other sink was covered in plastic and taped so one could not stand too close to another to wash hands.

Only the ocean’s steel-blue swells raising, and the grey bubbling foam of the waves cresting were the same. Eternally the same.

After an hour’s visit, I returned to my car, joyous. I could feel the sun’s heat on my cheeks, even though my mask and the wind had completely disheveled my hair. Furthermore, I had put more steps on my Fitbit than I had in the two previous days. I left the Beach by way of the Wantagh Parkway, the one we used for all the times we had come as a family so many years ago. The Western sun was lowering and illuminated a cluster of clouds. It was an ethereal transformation.

As I left the parkways and drove north toward the mannered wooded roads of the Gold Coast, my eye caught butter yellow tulips that edged a low stone wall. Above, a young maple tree waved in the breeze. I sighed with contentment. By habit, I switched on WNYC. They were in the middle of broadcasting an interview with a young woman who was recounting the last conversation she had with her grandfather on the day he died. I could feel my eyes tear up.

I took a deep breath. Yes, indeed. We’re in the midst of this god awful Covid 19 pandemic and thousands of people all over the world have died. How could I forget.

As I approached Altamont Avenue, I pondered – soup and leftover meatloaf or tuna salad . . . and a mug of hot water. The forecast calls for rain tomorrow.

BJH at Robert Moses, Rosh Hashanah, 2016

Ms. Holtzman at the beach, pre-Covid. Photo provided courtesy of Lauren Heller.

This entry was posted in Barbara Jean Heller, Covid-19, Rachel Holtzman. Bookmark the permalink.

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