BY DONATHAN SALKALN
Parental Guidance | My parents are approaching their 90s and live amidst forested property marked by “No Hunting” and “No Trespassing” signs. Although they live in the boonies, they both told me they had gotten COVID-19. My dad said he had the disease in early March and recovered. My mom said that she still had it. They both drive, yet neither had gone to a doctor or had been tested.
My father spent a lifetime of social distancing, even from me. My lifelong friend, Jack, recently remarked, “Your dad is the one person in the world who had prepped his entire life for such a disease, other than maybe the guy who worked the Bell Rock Lighthouse.” I laughed hard. My dad had worked a career as a no-nonsense trial lawyer, who never lost a case in his life. He is a marvel.
I was prepping a delivery of much-needed supplies to my parents, and called them. By chance, I spoke to my dad. He rarely answers the landline, preferring instead to erase its messages. Except from me or my brother, my dad probably hasn’t gotten a personal call at home in over 50 years, so he’s made a sport of erasing my mom’s messages.
I took the opportunity to ask my dad about his COVID-19 symptoms. I brought up sore throat, high fever, and shortness of breath.
“Don’t ask me about symptoms! I know what I had, and it was bad. I’m over it,” he shouted into the phone. “It was two days of hell! I don’t know what the big deal is of all this! I got it and it’s over! Why all the hysteria?”
On a separate call to my mom’s cell phone, I asked her what symptoms she experienced. She’s a working artist and writer, and wasn’t as confrontational as my dad. She told me of waking up with body aches that spread from her shoulders to her arms.
On a Sunday afternoon, I drove to their house and delivered supplies, including a gallon of hard-to-find 99 percent cleaning alcohol, for dad’s personal medical equipment needs, toilet paper that I only found at a 99-cent store, lots of food, 10 lbs. of birdseed for dad’s feeder, plus over thirty cans of fish cat food for their cat. (Zipper is a feline I had gotten them, from a shelter, after their beloved cat Mackerel died.)
My parents wouldn’t let me enter the house, even though I wore a mask and gloves. I left the supplies on the back stoop and spoke to them through a sliding glass door. My mother was afraid that me, a New Yorker driving in from the epicenter of the disease, might catch COVID-19 from them!
Grades of Blood | During this epidemic, a severe shortage of blood in the country’s blood banks was reported. I went to the NY Blood Center at the Port Authority. I recently got my Blood Donor card in the mail, and great news! I got my first A+ in my life. It was under “Blood Type”— a course I never remember taking, but am thankful for, nonetheless. I’ll have to tell my mom and dad.
Bye, Bye Hay Fever! | Since always wearing a mask outside, I’ve realized that I don’t cough up pollen and am absent of sneezing, headaches, and sinus pressure. The city should be giving them out to everyone. I do get a slight eye ache, as my mask always fogs up my glasses. It blurs my vision and continues to give me a big startle every time I deliver food to my mother-in-law. She’s been suddenly appearing on a landing lower than her fourth floor flat. In the foggy blur of my glasses, she, in her white blouse, looks like some sort of Saint.
Shopping For Magical COVID-19 Potions | Once a week, I’ve volunteered to shop locally, and also drive to New Jersey for lower prices. I shop for family, friends, neighbors, the elderly, and even my bicycle whisperers (Waterfront Bike Shop).
I’m a meat-and-potatoes type of guy who likes to cook simple meals—like meat and potatoes, maybe drowned with a can of hot Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. I’ve even dropped the jaws of the hungry by cooking them up trays of fish, lasagna, and ceviche (all since repeated requests).
But nothing in my culinary experience prepared me for some of the items on the shopping lists, or where in the store to find them. I had to ask for employee help, as I had no idea what the following items were. (Most knowledgeable employees: Whole Foods, at W. 24th St & 7th Ave. Trader Joes, at W. 21st & Sixth Ave. comes in a close second, and New Jersey’s BJ’s was third, with Jersey’s ShopRite and Aqui last).
Kumatoes? Icelandic yogurt? Cordon Bleu chicken thighs? Sumo mandarins? Shallots? How did these New Yorkers gain such exotic tastes?
Frozen brown rice? Orange tangerine juice with some pulp —did they mean Orangutan juice? Demerara sugar? Pecan bear claws and cashew butter? Tomato paste in a tube? Almond milk? Cannelli beans? Red zinfandel, Gruner veitliner, Medjool dates, multicolored peppercorns? White Belgium endive? Really?
Are these people mixing some sort of magical potions to combat coronavirus?
My biggest learning experience was when someone put something called “fennel” on their list. Not one Jersey supermarket employee in Hoboken knew what it was. Finally, a customer at Aqui in Jersey City told me fennel was a bulb with dill-like sprouts, adding that the supermarket didn’t have it that day. I like dill, and finally found something that looked like his description at a ShopRite in Newport. When I brought the bulb to the cashier, she asked me what it was. I told her I thought it was fennel, but wasn’t sure. “What’s fennel?” she asked. I shrugged my shoulders. She looked into a file and then suddenly rang up the item.
I asked, “What was it?” She said, “It’s anus.”
In a Weird Fearful Way NYCHA Has Saved Lives! | Forget gyms. Want good exercise? Put on a mask, grab some hand sanitizer, and deliver boxes to elders and the needy, in NYCHA buildings and elsewhere. I found good exercise by taking the bags of dinners up the elevator to the top floor addresses, and then making all the other deliveries while walking down the stairs.
My exercise class got a little confounding at one Fulton Houses NYCHA building where I had six deliveries: My first was on the 23rd floor. 23J maybe? I knocked hard, yet no answer. I knocked again. Finally, as told, I hung the paper bag of dinners on the doorknob. When I open the stairwell door to leave the floor, I heard the latch of 23J’s door open and then an elderly Asian man loudly thanking me profusely. He was so happy to have gotten food!
I felt the elder’s fear of answering his door. Public housing maintains the lives of so many elders, who might prefer living in retirement or nursing homes —if they could have afforded it. Yet today, retirement and nursing homes have become clusters of too many COVID-19 deaths. Public housing has, in its quirky/fearful way, saved so many lives.
Another fear of that Asian man confronted me moments later. While walking down the stairs for my next delivery, I approached a homeless guy sleeping in the stairwell on the 22th floor. He had a cooler, a suitcase and blanket. Didn’t smell.
The big ethical question? Do I leave the homeless guy a bag of dinners or do I step by him and deliver the bag to its assigned resident? Samuel Rosedietcher, one of the food dispatchers for the Fulton Houses Tenant Association, told me I did the right thing in delivering the bag to the resident on the 22nd floor. “The homeless aren’t suppose to be there,” he said.
The Return of Springtime! | Normally, weather goes quickly from winter to summer temperatures. Not this year. With the world using a third of its normal demand of oil, our local weather reports are consistently predicting higher temperatures than what we get, probably because they based their predictions on pre-shutdown computer weather models.
I’ve celebrated the experience of springtime for the first time in a long time. Sunsets are no longer giant blobs a blood red, but rather a sun so bright it burns my eyes to look at it. Maybe the world should shut down annually for a month. Studies must be done.
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