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Riding Out the Pandemic in New York, Part 2: How to Succeed in Social Distancing Without Really Dying

Updated on April 14, 2020
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Claire, an ex-pat Montanan, ardent Progressive and former jeweler, rants to prevent herself from exploding.

"You're Not Going Outside, Are You?"

This is how my mother begins every phone call.

Before I can answer, she pleads, "Don't go out."

"Ma. Even maximum security prisoners get an hour in the yard. I follow social distancing rules, I wear a mask, gloves, eyeglasses -- and a wig, in case someone spits out a window."

"Your doorman, does he wear a mask?"

NOT my siblings, yet representative of their skills and inclinations.
NOT my siblings, yet representative of their skills and inclinations.

70% Normal?

It wrenches my gut that families and friends are in upheaval, and embarrasses me that my pandemic protocol is scarcely a 30% change from my normal routine.

Before the pandemic, it wasn't unusual for me to utter only five words to a live human in any given day. Those words were usually, "Iced oat milk latte, please."

With the exception of nightly jaunts to the gym across the street, when I'm alone in New York City, I don't go out after dark. I stick to museums, matinees, noon concerts, and lectures that end before sunset.

I come from a family of -- how do I put this politely? -- careful people.

Stand By for Doom

Careful is not a strong enough word. I was raised to prepare for the worst.

Is this it?

if I survive until Thanksgiving, it might be difficult, among those of us left at the table, to take all the gloating over who among us was the most prepared.

My oldest brother has been “standing by for doom” since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Duct-tape his doors and he’d be fine for a decade. He lives with our mother, so she won’t starve or run out of supplements (though his right-wing-conspiracy radio shows would surely strain her mental health).

My other brother spent two years envisioning, and three years assembling a spreadsheet analysis for an out-of-state move. He has a supply of N95 masks in his mountainside home, where he oils his Lugers, while listening to classical music (probably Mahler).

My sister, a retired MD, has no doubt seen too many pathogens. She has washed every fruit and vegetable in her kitchen in hydrogen peroxide since 1978.

I too, suffer from the "prepper" mentality. When I was in my mid-twenties, I bought eight cases of specially packed grains and beans, which my kids consumed, over groans at the dinner table, over the next two decades (Arrowhead Mills was right: nitrogen-packed lentils keep forever).


I don't have a solar oven, bearskins, or a yurt.

Here in New York City, I must rely on my wits -- and my retirement income -- to provide food, clothing and shelter.

Here's how it's done in this urban jungle:

FOOD: The Holy Grocery Trinity

Though I normally frequent local markets, Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh, and Instacart have been my "go to" grocery sources lately.

Whole Foods Delivery is the Old Testament Grocery God. Salvation is never gained from a single click. I say a prayer (Okay, I hold my breath ... does that count?) and genuflect my index finger over "Enter."

Fickle, vengeful god that Bezos is, my unworthiness is affirmed: "No Delivery Times Available."

Worse, Whole Foods giveth and ... Whole Foods taketh away. Items disappear from my cart -- mid-order!-- when they're out of stock. I add lesser-but-similar items from my memorized grocery catechism -- post haste, lest I miss a fleeting delivery slot.

Amazon Fresh is the Protestant Grocery God. There is more opportunity for deliverance (more time slots). Whole Foods makes me rush to the lobby before my Amy's Enchiladas thaw. Amazon Fresh understands sleeping in. They pack groceries with dry ice and frozen water bottles. Despite the rusty lettuce in my last order, peace be with you, Amazon Fresh.

Instacart is like Ba'hai. Though Instacart features the best of nearby stores -- Gristedes, West Side Market, Ideal -- I am rarely satisfied with the selection from a single Instacart retailer. I often wind up defaulting to Bezos' behemoths, because they carry Streitz's gluten-free matzo meal AND Seventh Generation dish soap.

Calm Down, Ma.

Wearing nitrile gloves, homemade mask, and my 'outside' shoes, I unload my groceries from my handcart in the hallway. I spray containers with bleach solution.

I buy mostly peelable fruits and cookable veggies. I wait a day to consume fresh stuff, after torturing it under the kitchen tap.

Yes, Ma, I spray the cart while it's in the hallway, and I wash my hands twice -- gloves on, then gloves off.

I order what I eat, and eat what I order, in order. If I open a jar of marinara, it's chickpea pasta Monday, polenta Tuesday, and flatbread pizza Wednesday.

It might make for a few days of monotonous eating, but I'm not starving.

Until my windowsill salad garden matures, I harvest fresh sprouts from a Mason jar.
Until my windowsill salad garden matures, I harvest fresh sprouts from a Mason jar.

Three Tips for Eating Out, At Home

I also support NYC restaurants that are struggling to stay open, by ordering in at least once a week.

1. I call the restaurant directly if I can, so they don't have to share profits with delivery services (GrubHub is busy enough, trust me).

2. I only order "hot cuisine." Salads, acai bowls and sushi are out: I can't decontaminate (cook) them before eating.

3. Wearing gloves, I transfer my dinner into glass containers, and re-heat it. Some places, like S'Mac (the BEST gluten-free mac & vegan cheese in NYC!) offer a bake-at-home option.

TIP: Ask if the restaurant will deliver uncooked entrees, with baking instructions.

"Are you sure that's safe?"

"No, Ma." I rub my temples and stare at the iPhone on my desk. "I'm doing the best I can."

Gluten-free, Vegan Mac & Cheese from S'MAC in NYC's East Village.
Gluten-free, Vegan Mac & Cheese from S'MAC in NYC's East Village.


These days, though I dress like I'm fixin' to rob a convenience store, I still need to do laundry.

To avoid human contact, I go to the laundry room early, about 6 a.m. With a dozen washers and dryers, I can do four loads before breakfast.

Because Covid-19 is bonded by surface oils, I add extra detergent and wash in water as hot as the fabrics can bear.

You will take heart, Ma, that the laundry room itself is sanitized so thoroughly it damn near sends me into anaphylactic shock.


Do you admire retirees who buy motor homes?

My place is three times the size of a luxury RV. My husband doesn't yell at me for missing an off-ramp. I don't have to park overnight in a Walmart lot, switch out the propane, or figure out how to safely empty a waste tank.

RV fans might scoff, saying they're "seeing the world."

I live in New York City. The world comes to me.

So has Covid-19.

Bought flowers, slathered myself with my favorite 'Oscar' cream, made Alexa play Ramsey Lewis, and watched the Empire State Building, while browsing the NYTimes. Lonely, but fulfilling.
Bought flowers, slathered myself with my favorite 'Oscar' cream, made Alexa play Ramsey Lewis, and watched the Empire State Building, while browsing the NYTimes. Lonely, but fulfilling.


I'm hoping NYC takes a FIFO approach (First In, First Out) with Covid-19. We got hit hard, earlier than many US cities, for sure.

I hope there's a hiatus between waves, as we ramp up testing, treatment, and the chances of a safe, effective immunization, as well as sound protocols to reduce the risk of another pandemic.

By the time my husband and I close on the new apartment, instead of me moving "backward" in the pandemic timeline by going West, I'm rooting for my husband to join me in the Lower East Side. He can quarantine for two weeks with Benjamin Moore.

So far, I've succeeded in social distancing ... without really dying.

I hope you are hanging in there too.

Me, in Warby Parkers and Paper Towels.
Me, in Warby Parkers and Paper Towels.

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