At the risk of declaring premature victory over the coronavirus, conversations in my Lower Manhattan co-op are shifting from “What are you watching?” to “What are you going to do first?” Like my lockdown soulmate, unjustly imprisoned Andy Dufresne in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” I’ve spent my time on the inside plotting life after my escape. I’d like to burn my masks, see my sister in Cleveland, see my daughter in “How I Learned to Drive” on Broadway, hit the beach in Anguilla, meet a friend in a restaurant, step inside my super’s office.
But as freedom draws closer, I keep finding pieces of pandemic living that I don’t want to give up. This isn’t a case of Stockholm syndrome. I haven’t become, to paraphrase a line in “Shawshank,” an institutional woman. But some pandemic adjustments are worth keeping. Here are a few:
Handwashing. Even before 2020, I preferred that visitors ask not where to leave their shoes but where they could wash their hands. Since I don’t eat off the floor, my immune system is less likely to be triggered by something brought in on someone’s soles than on their palms. I was thrilled when our super put a sanitizer dispenser in the lobby. I hope we keep it. The habit of taking a quick, cleansing squirt when we enter the building is a good thing. I’m all for keeping the handwashing game strong.
Undercrowding. For the last year, our co-op agreed that only two passengers at a time are allowed in our small, wonky elevator. Before then, it chilled me to ride with certain surly neighbors knowing we could wind up stuck inside. But since COVID-19, respecting personal boundaries and comfort levels has become a more customary part of our co-op culture. Now when the elevator arrives and I don’t want to get in – for whatever reason – I can say, “Thanks, but I’ll catch it on the way back.” And that’s that.
Tipping. The cost-of-living for delivery people isn’t going to decrease along with the downward trend of COVID-19 infection rates. Those who we tipped bigger because they walked, drove and peddled to our building to keep us in food and supplies during the worst of last spring shouldn’t get a pay cut now.
Conserve. My latent hoarding gene was activated last year by shortages, both real and potential. I used to go through a roll of paper towels every day. Now a roll can last me a month, sometimes longer. Because the memory of empty grocery store shelves is still too vivid, I’ve also found a way not to throw out a morsel of food. Once a week I make Clean Sweep pasta by combining whatever’s left in the refrigerator, then adding it to spaghetti. While I’ll continue to be mindful of waste, the only leftover dish I can see deliberately making in the future is what I currently call Pandemic Pâté: herbed white beans, pulverized and spread on crackers, topped with a drop of fig preserves. First, I think I’ll rename it.
Cleaning. It’s taken a year of intense attention to hygiene for me to realize what I slob I used to be. Before the pandemic, I would rinse off a lemon before zesting it, maybe. I might wash a new shirt before I wore it, but more likely would not. I’ve worn out several generations of iPhones without wiping any of them down with alcohol. Worse, I never thought about the trail of germs when I blow my nose outside, then open our front door and push the elevator button. In “The Odd Couple” terms, I’m now more Felix than Oscar.
Noise. After the dead stillness of last winter and spring and then the curfew of last summer, I will never again complain about city noise. Not ever. Well, at least as long as the racket of an awakening metropolis is music to my ears. If I can wear a mask for over a year to avoid troublesome particles in the breath of my fellow New Yorkers, then I can put in earplugs to tune out the symphony of their sounds. For now.
Self Help. When it comes to repairs, I would give myself a solid D during the height of lockdown for relying on YouTube videos and my tool collection. But going forward, except for the most unimportant emergencies, I plan to ask for help from actual human beings who actually know what they’re doing. I know that means scheduling, fees and tips, providing drinks and snacks and having to stand nearby because repairmen always want you to see what they’re doing and how good they are at their jobs. Turns out that watching repairmen doesn’t make me more self-sufficient, but it does make me appreciate that I should appreciate them more.
Punctuality. I have become a recovering procrastinator. After a lifetime of stalling, I plan to make every effort to drop off dirty clothes, dead watches, holey shoes, broken computers and smashed phones today – and to pick them up as soon as they’re ready. After all, you never know when your favorite sweater will be locked inside a dry cleaner that suddenly goes out of business when the entire city suddenly shuts down. Lesson learned.
Elevator Love. After living with an out-of-service elevator during the hottest weeks of last summer, I plan to treat the contraption a whole lot better now that it’s up and running. That means not holding the door open waiting for someone else and not overstuffing it with my post-pandemic dreams: lots of guests, and lots of suitcases to take on lots of adventures. As Andy Dufresne said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”