A few years ago, I was crossing Madison Avenue at 23rd Street in Manhattan and had the ‘Walk’ signal. A car made an illegal left turn from 23rd Street onto Madison, coming inches from people who had the right of way in the crosswalk, and the driver had the chutzpah to honk his horn at the pedestrians he was nearly running over. I gave his car a nice kick as he passed only a few feet away from me, and the car stopped a few yards away. I stopped to see if the driver wanted any more deserved kicks, and he drove away.
The gall of this driver, to honk his horn at those whose lives he was endangering with his blatant lawbreaking, comes to mind when we look at how a sizeable portion of the public is reacting to the global COVID-19 pandemic, especially here in New York City where the outbreak is the most intense worldwide.
New York must abide by these rules longer than elsewhere, because the infection rate here is so high and we are such a densely populated place. It is not easy staying six feet away from people, but a lot of people are not even trying.
I want the pandemic to be over but declaring victory too early can be deadly and lead to a terrible second wave that could do more damage than the first. Reopening New York is going to be difficult and we cannot jump the gun.
And here in Queens, of all places, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the known universe, many of my neighbors have shown themselves to be severely lacking in basic common sense, feeling entitled to run roughshod over public health. My wife and I took our three young daughters for a walk to a park, this past week, hoping to bring them to a field where they could have some free time outside without violating basic social distancing standards. The park was closed, but people had hopped the fence to sit on picnic tables or play handball as if this were an ordinary spring day. There was even a couple riding bicycles on the sidewalk (that by itself is dangerous, dumb, and illegal) without masks on.
This was infuriating and discouraging. If people were acting this way in Queens, New York, where the problem is most acute, will we be able to contain this virus at all?
Wearing a mask in public not virtue signaling; it is basic common decency during an extraordinary time. Being asked to wear a mask in public and keep away from others is not akin to slavery or the Holocaust (yes, people are really making those comparisons) any more than upholding basic law and order is modern day slavery or Nazism. If anyone questioned whether the American right could impotently cling to victimhood like the American left, COVID-19 erased all doubts.
My sister gave birth to a baby girl earlier this month. She went through labor wearing a mask. My father and stepmother have only visited their new granddaughter from a safe distance; they don’t know when they are going to get to hold her for the first time, it could easily be months from now. They do not like things being this way but protecting the health of others is not a tough choice for them. It shouldn’t be a tough choice for anyone.
Intelligence is not weakness; refusal to listen to informed experts is not rugged individualism. It’s not outrageous to be concerned about government power and to look skeptically at public panics, but the experts weighed in on this long ago and the danger is real. Do not follow these COVID-19 precautions out of an unthinking obedience to the government, but out of an obligation to your friends and neighbors.
Part of being all in this together means we adhere to basic community standards, and those include the supremacy of truth and obedience to the basic social contract. It means acting as if you are responsible for the well-being of a larger community, even if many in that community think their convenience is more important than their own lives or the lives of others. If you really want to defend freedom, you first must act like a responsible adult.
We are not lost when such people appear, we are lost if we acquiesce to them. Letting science deniers or “Covidiots” as they are being called, dictate the terms of our dealing with disease is like letting children run the schools.
In his novel Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein describes the breaking point when lawlessness and irresponsibility triggered groups of veterans to start taking the law into their own hands; their emergency measures eventually become the rule of law. If our hasty re-opening triggers a deadlier and more economically disastrous second wave, we will need to keep in mind this essential passage from Heinlein’s work: “Moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level.”
It is time for the grown-ups to step in. There may not be a swift, satisfying kick we can deliver to the “Covidiots” dotting our landscape today like we can with a car that sails through a crosswalk against the light, but it is past time to stop tolerating the intolerable. Allowing the public health to be subverted by reckless fools is not freedom, it’s suicide.
This is a drastic time we’re in right now, and things may get worse before they get better. Living in New York City means a densely populated area where disease and panic can spread quickly, but it also means being near more hospitals, doctors, and in our case, family and friends.
Drastic measures aren’t a panic when it’s warranted, and the COVID-19 virus warrants it. It spread extremely fast globally and has killed thousands. New York State has three confirmed deaths but there are 3,000 people known to be infected in the United States now and that number will likely go up significantly.
China was able to lock down millions of people at a moment’s notice because it’s a totalitarian state. The government of mainland China values its economic power above any other concerns and sees it as tantamount to its grip on power, so when it was willing to cut off global supply chains of goods, that was a sign that this was a very serious public health problem that warranted similar extreme measures. Of course, they did this after first ignoring and suppressing dire warnings from their own doctors. The extreme measures China put in place worked.
The measures the U.S. is taking now should have been done a month ago and under federal authority. When we first had cases on both coasts, that was a dire warning to public health officials to kick our plans into high gear. Somewhere we have good plans for this, but we don’t have effective leadership that can put the plans we need in place in short order.
I see people online boasting about not panicking and taking part in public gatherings and while many of these are good people who want to act boldly in times of trouble. There is often a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and a global pandemic is no time to play Russian roulette with your health. Yes, you can save lives by staying at home. It’s OK not to see your friend’s band—see your friend’s band a few months from now. This is especially hard on bartenders and people that work with the public; we understand. Unemployment and poverty are terrible; I’ve been there—but you can come back from that, you can’t come back from death.
The scene at grocery stores and wholesale clubs was ugly. People had to wait in the parking lot as shoppers emptied their carts so they could have one to go shopping with. Inside, whole sections sat empty; carts sat abandoned full of groceries as some people gave up waiting on lines that stretched to backs of even the largest stores. Experts tell us that there is plenty of food and U.S. supply chains are strong but people have been panic-buying everything, especially toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
You can still count the worst among us to not change their stripes in times of stress. I went grocery shopping at my local BJ’s Wholesale Club and a rude man cut in front of me and about 100 other people. I called him out on it—I can’t not do that anymore—and he sneered at everyone and hid behind his wife. New lines opened and because I had 15 items or less, I could use the express self-checkout and the line cutter was still waiting on line when I left the store. It’s a bad sign that people are still so smug and entitled during these times but a good sign that this person was not set upon by an angry mob. We’re still holding together as law-abiding.
But just as the virus is on us wreaking havoc with our routines and spreading fear, New Yorkers are adapting. Friends are throwing virtual cocktail parties online. Everyone who can is working from home. My wife is planning to give lessons to the kinds while we wait for the NYC public schools to put online learning in place; we’re taking them outside to places where there are not crowds – our building courtyard; not a populated playground. People are getting by.
Bands that have had their concerts canceled live streamed from more remote locations. Chesty Malone & The Slice ‘Em Ups and the Cro-Mags were among those doing virtual, “quarantine concerts” from rehearsal spaces or closed venues for their fans online. The music doesn’t have to stop. Life will go on – we just need to live the hermetic life for a while as best we can.
New Yorkers have been through worse; the 1918 Influenza epidemic killed 30,000 people in New York City alone and 50 million people worldwide, more than were killed in World War I.
The next few weeks and months won’t be fun, but New York and the U.S. will emerge stronger and more determined than ever.
There’s finally an Internet challenge you can be proud of and you should ignore the naysayers and do it already. That’s the ice bucket challenge.
The number of Internet “challenges” that have proliferated over the last several years are legion. These challenges normally involve a potentially dangerous stunt such as the “fire challenge,” the “cinnamon challenge” and the like.
More recently there is the “ice bucket challenge,” which involves people pouring buckets of ice water over their heads. On the surface it’s another load of stupid fun, and it could easily be another trend without reason, though pouring a bucket of ice water over one’s head in August is not necessarily silly or absurd. And it doesn’t have to be dangerous, though some people have made it so.
What makes the ice bucket challenge stand apart from your run-of-the-mill daredevil or disgusting Internet challenge is that it is being done to raise money to fight ALS.
ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a horrible disease that attacks the nervous system and leaves its victims unable to move or care for themselves before finally killing them.
While it’s certainly a good cause, I might just as easily be dismissive of the trend had I not known someone who was taken from us way too soon. I and several of my friends performed the ice bucket challenge in memory of Betsy Quilliam, a friend’s mother who died from the disease in 2008. “Mrs. Q,” as she was known to most of us, was like a second mother to a lot of us and her home was the central meeting place for my largest circle of high school friends. She was enormously compassionate and generous. There is no accounting for the magnitude of loss her passing represents and no way to express the enormity of the injustice of her death. She was a standard of pure selfless good in an increasingly selfish and introverted world.
So it was with pride that I accepted the ice bucket challenge. I got the challenge on a Friday evening and I was not going to be able to manage to video myself pouring a bucket of ice water over my head within the stated 24 hour deadline.
But that was no matter. Because the real point of this challenge is to DONATE MONEY TO FIND A CURE FOR ALS. All these chilled buckets will only be a waste of water if people don’t remember to do that. So far they have to tune of more than $70 million as of Aug. 24.
So while I didn’t get around to pouring a bucket of ice water over my head on video until Sunday, I got up early enough on Saturday morning to go online and make a donation. Initially that may have been all that is required. The donation was initially supposed to be done in lieu of pouring the bucket of icy water over your head.
But people want to see the bucket of water, and doing it allows you to challenge three people to do the same, so that’s three potential donations you can generate with a little bit of cold water.
I made my plans to do the ice bucket challenge. Lacking a large enough bucket, I cleaned out a large waste container we use to put recyclables and set aside seven trays of ice cubes in a bowl. My wife and I put our baby girls in their stroller and went outside our apartment building with our ice and our water receptacle along with my smart phone and a towel.
I added the water from a spigot on the outside of our building. That had the effect of melting some of the ice cubes which ruins the visual a bit. People want to see a lot of ice and water and want to see a big reaction to the cold. That visual of the ice and reaction to the cold is the “money shot” of these videos so-to-speak.
I guess I can take the cold pretty well because while the bucket of ice water was cold and a brief shock to the system, I didn’t flinch too much. I had planned out what I was going to say so I made sure to deliver my challenge. A few people commented that maybe the water wasn’t cold enough, but it was.
So there are three more people who will be donating to find a cure for ALS. Getting even a tiny bit closer to ending this disease is worth all the stupid Internet fads in the world.