Friday November 11, 2022
Well, the fucker finally got me. Two days ago, Wednesday morning, after feeling slightly off and/or really bad for 2-3 days, and after testing negative three times, I tested positive for COVID-19.
I'm writing all this from the 32nd floor of a hotel in the Financial District of New York. Trinity Church, where Alexander Hamilton is buried, is just two blocks away. The WTC Memorial site is two blocks in the other direction. If this was a basement unit, I'd feel like a Dostoevsky character. I kind of do anyway.
How long did I have it before it showed? That's what I keep worrying over. I flew into New York City Wednesday night, the day the Astros no-hit the Phillies in the World Series, and the guy sitting next to me complained of thirst and was sweating a bit, but my assumption was he and his girlfriend had just run to make the plane. That's what I gathered from their conversation. And of course I was masked for 99% of the flight. Maybe this wasn't enough. I was more lax than I had been, say, visiting my 90-year-old father in Mpls. last January. You couldn't have pried the mask off me then. Here, I drank a Diet Coke and water. I ate one of those bland, freebie biscuit-cookies. Maybe it was an expensive biscuit.
It was supposed to be half-work, half-vacation. I still had deadlines to meet, questions to ask, but we were in New York, so c'mon. My first full day, Patricia and I walked from where we were staying, our friends' place on 102nd and 5th, through Central Park to the Paley Center for Radio and Television. P spent 10 minutes there, I spent three hours. Cagney stuff. Along the way, she took a photo of me flipping off Trump tower, which is obligatory now. That night we found a nice vegie place near Lincoln Center, then saw Mike Birbligia's show “The Old Man and the Pool” at one of the Lincoln Centers. (That space is way more confusing than it needs to be.) Beforehand, in the lobby, I ordered a gin & tonic, drank some of it there, sipped some of it in the auditorium. Maybe it was the g&t that was expensive? On the other hand, I felt way sleepy during the show, closing my eyes and practically nodding off before being snapped awake. I attributed it to all the work, and lack of sleep, in preparation for the vacation, but who knows.
Because Friday, I slept in until 10 AM (7 AM, Seattle time), woke up groggy, felt off. P said jet lag. “For three hours?” I said. “West to east?” We took our first tests then—negative—and I bought a bunch more tests at the nearby rundown Duane Reade. For lunch, we went to Nick's Pizza on 94th and 2nd, and it was fantastic; then we went to the Jewish Museum, whose exhibit didn't seem particularly Jewish to me—other than caring about the arts and civil rights. I rallied for dinner with friends at Nice Matin on the Upper West Side, and some part of me was telling myself, “See? And you were thinking of canceling. You're fine. Buck up.” I rode that thought for awhile. I chastised myself for being overcautious until I chastised myself for being not cautious enough.
The next day, with Patricia busy, I walked down to Broadway to see Wendell Pierce in a matinee of “Death of a Salesman.” And sure I kept my mask on throughout. The bigger deal was I was only wearing a short-sleeved shirt. It was climate change weather outside—60s and 70s in New York in November—so when I left I told P I'd be fine. “It's 75. I don't need anything else.” I forgot about air-conditioning. By the end of the first act I was practically shivering. At intermission I kept eyeing a “Death” hoodie, and nearly went for it, but ... nah. I'd be fine, I thought.
Sunday I felt slightly off again but again we tested—negative—and in the morning took the 6 subway to the Whitney for an exhibit of one of my favorite painters, Edward Hopper. Then we walked to Gramercy Park to visit two of P's Newsweek friends. One is in her 80s and uses a cane. The other is 90 and doesn't leave his home much. Exactly. I've been thinking about them every hour since Wednesday morning.
By the time we got home I felt sluggish again, and when I went to bed I could feel mucus draining down the back of my throat. When I awoke my chest felt tight and I had trouble breathing, and at this point alarm bells should've been going off. But we tested a third time, and for a third time it was negative. Even so, I stayed in bed most of the day, then skipped dinner at Cafe Luxemborg. Tuesday I rested again, because we had tickets that evening to “Topdog/Underdog.”
By Wednesday morning I was already thinking of my flight back to Seattle the next day. To quote Kramer, tapping his noggin: “Up here, I'm already gone.” For some reason, maybe the way I sounded or looked, our host suggested another test. Sure, why not. All the tests I'd taken over the past three years, all the negative tests, peering with cheaters to see if I could pick up a residue of a pink line. And never anything. Always clean. But here it was immediate. The bad line, the T line, showed up first and stronger. I felt slightly in shock. It was not ideal. I guess it's never ideal, but if you're going to test positive you'd like to do it at home, after a week of, say, not seeing anybody; you'd rather not be across the country, staying with friends, after having been to crowded shows and museums, and seeing other friends, fit and not, young and not, in restaurants and in their homes. You'd rather not have left a trail.
And it's at this very moment, when you're sick and in shock, and not clear-headed, that you have to make a bunch of important decisions.
Some are moral, some are logistical. Or the moral ones lead to the logistical ones.
The first decision I made was to put on a mask. Then I declared to Patricia—who was taking a test of her own—that I would head back on my regular flight to Seattle no matter what. I felt like a stain, and no matter where I went I'd be a stain; so I might as well go home and hide out there with my cat, and be a stain in private.
A few minutes later, Patricia said: “I tested positive, too.”
She was on her phone now, booking a hotel on Expedia—this one in the Financial District, way on the other side of Manhattan. Not sure why she went there. Maybe, like me, she wasn't thinking clearly. No, she definitely wasn't thinking clearly, since, when I looked at her test strip, she wasn't positive at all. There wasn't a jot of a pink line. Nothing.
“You're not positive.”
“You're negative. You're fine. For now anyway.”
At this point I decided to just get outside. Our friends live a block from Central Park so that's where I walked. And the more I walked, the more I thought about that trip back to Seattle. I knew it was wrong to get on it. But I'm bad at canceling stuff, even flights. I wouldn't even know where to begin. And then what? Stay in NYC for a week? Or more? That's pricey. Queens maybe? Maybe less pricey. I sat on a park bench in the sun, near the tennis courts, and watched a group tennis lesson. I wanted to do the selfish thing but some part of me was chipping away at the thought. So I called my sister in Minneapolis. She and her husband had gotten COVID a couple of months ago, miserably. She has a bit of the scofflaw in her, too, and isn't above skirting things now and again. But she counseled the Spike Lee path. She went rhetorical: “What if you get on the flight and give it to someone else—the way someone gave it to you?”
“What if I've already given it to someone else?”
Delta, by the way, doesn't give you any dispensation for doing the right thing and canceling a flight because of COVID. Maybe they figured people would abuse the privilege. They don't give a refund, either, just an e-credit. So I have an e-credit.
Every step to the hotel seemed fraught—even with mask on. Do you tell the cab driver? Do you tell the hotel? What are the rules? Do you ride in the elevator with that maskless family of five? “No thanks, I'll take the next one.” But the hotel had 50 floors and three elevators, and solo rides were next to impossible. After 10 minutes, I took the next one, with just as many people. Sorry, just as many people. Hope everyone is OK.
I've been lucky so far. So far it's just felt like the most miserable cold in the world, just sneezing, coughing, blowing my nose, over and over again, for hours and hours. At times I was dripping mucus like I had a bloody nose, like it needed to be staunched. But I can still taste food; I can still smell odors. I'm vaxxed to the max and still upright. And so far, Patricia and our friends are OK. No one's reported anything.
I wrote my first personal COVID post back in mid-March 2020, when it was still occasionally called the “novel coronavirus” and Seattle was its U.S. epicenter. And this is where it finally got me. Fucker.
The view from my window.