My socially distant social circle seems more productive than I am during their downtime in lockdown. Tales of tango, sourdough baking, online classes, watercolor, meditation and bridge should inspire me to practice piano, write that novel and figure out how to remove the streaks of disinfectant spray bleeding down my metal front door. But until the pandemic is over or the British run out of television detective series, I will likely have nothing more to show for my time other than saying “brilliant” a bit too often.
Shareholders in my Lower Manhattan building are also approaching pandemic co-op issues in a variety of ways. Thanks to a wise upstairs neighbor, I was prepared for this. A lifetime ago, in early March, she said, “we’re better off accepting that during this time, people of goodwill will be making choices that are different from our own.” She was right. Some shareholders stayed. Some left for second homes. And to my surprise, all of our new owners are trying to move in.
Each of these factions has approached the workings of our co-op differently. Those decamped outside the city have been more amenable to new co-op rules – possibly because they don’t have to obey them when they’re at the beach. Even the more vocal among them refrained from pointing out the downsides of not allowing deliveries to go past the lobby, or requiring face masks in all common spaces, or staying at least six feet from the super’s office door.
Most of the opposition has come from those still living in the building, who carefully weigh safety measures against quality of life. Lockdown ideas deemed too heavy-handed included putting an end to weekend deliveries (our super’s days off) and closing our small roof deck. The only co-op news that caused me to hit the pause button on “Foyle’s War” was the announcement in April that the board had approved reinstallations of window air conditioners. Strangers in my apartment? Well, not exactly strangers. Our co-op’s been using the same service for years. Still, no one, not even my children, had stepped past the front door since the first week in March. Besides, temperatures were still in the 40s. But eventually I heard the internal buzzer that’s been guiding my 2020. In February, I listened to its unexpected call to buy a sewing machine, which has since become my face mask factory. In March, the day before the surprise Apple store closings, it urged me to upgrade my long-failing iPhone 6 to an 11. Similarly, I got the signal to change my mind about the air conditioners in late May, days before the unseasonably cold weather turned unreasonably hot.
Several shareholders who had left the city returned for a day or two so they could oversee the installation work in their apartments. I took it as a hopeful sign that their interest in battling the summer heat meant they might return before next winter. Catching quick glimpses of neighbors I hadn’t seen in months, I noticed they looked more hale and healthy and less weary than those of us who stayed. They were better groomed, with their hair cut, styled and colored, and they were better dressed, as though returning from vacation rested and relaxed. I was jealous – but happy to see them.
Our third group is new shareholders who want to start or finish alterations so they can move in. They offer a hopeful contrast to the moving trucks that pull up daily in front of the large rental complex across the street, where I’ve seen as many as seven units empty in a day. In my building, new owners are pushing hard to move in. Some say they’re eager to get their apartments ready so they can be settled before school starts in September. This bit of news made me hit pause on “Grantchester” and wonder where they heard about schools reopening. Do the salt air and bougainvillea along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound carry good news I’m not getting in the city? Not that I object. I like knowing that people want back in, that we still have a community and a neighborhood in a city that, despite reports, people aren’t ready to abandon forever.
Now that renovation projects have resumed, months of unending silence inside my apartment has given way to the loud, rhythmic popping of nail guns and the grating sounds of electric saws and sanders. Pads are up in the often-occupied elevator. More craftspeople are working in the building. And I’m not entirely comfortable with that. And yet I am. It’s the new abnormal, and it’s brilliant.