“Dispatch from a Pandemic: New York City” by Amanda Hoffman

amanda hoffman art
Subway musician, Patrick Ragnarsson

I was sitting in the park wondering what takes longer to set in, symptoms or panic, when I saw a dog prance through the soccer field with a cotton surgical mask stretched across his snout. His owner whistled and I turned around to see her throw a tennis ball with corona samhands sealed inside blue surgical gloves. She raised a rubber hand to wave at me, and I waved back, squinting to see if I could distinguish the shadow of a smile underneath her mask. It’s hard to tell who’s smiling under their masks. It’s even harder to tell who’s flirting.

I passed a Baskin-Robbins and watched a woman hold an ice cream cone with surgical gloves, her tongue darting out to lick the fast-melting treat shiny with spit and condensation.  A drop rolled down the side of the cone and she caught it on her glove, licking it off. On the C train, I watched an old lady cross herself. A second after completing the sign of the cross, she took a mini bottle of Purell from her lap and sanitized her hands.

I took her sign of the cross as a sign and decided to put my dog, Rumspringa, in a rental car and leave New York. I answered phone calls from my mother every two hours, so she could “check your voice for corona.”

“Put a Band-Aid on any pimples you have,” she warned, her Bluetoothed voice crackling through the Toyota’s speakers. “You really shouldn’t have open wounds at this time!”

Like clockwork, two hours later she called with another message: “Keep your windows closed. It’s airborne.”

“Only drink bottled water,” she chided shrilly two hours later, convinced the virus was in the pipes now. “No running or tap water.”

When I pulled the car into her driveway eighteen hours later, I expected a hug. Instead, she held out a can of Lysol.

“Close your eyes,” she instructed, her voice muffled under her surgical mask. The can hissed as she Lysoled me down like she was applying bug spray.

I hope when this is over, restaurants will stop putting calories on the menu.

–March 15, 2020

I started working for the New York Department of Health last month, calling people across the state and registering them forcovid-19 testing. I’ve learned when you call a New Yorker from an unknown number, they will answer like a New Yorker; guarded, distrustful, slightly hostile. Mostly, they will just hang up like a New Yorker.

I spoke with an Egyptian woman in the Bronx who tried to tell me my connection was bad. In broken English she told me: “Your voice is…not nice to me right now.”

I called three Vitos in an hour.

I asked an eighty-year old man in Brooklyn if he had a car or “someone who could drive you, maybe?” and he snapped back: “Drive me? I can drive myself, thank you very much.”

Another older man in Queens went quiet on the line for a minute. “Sir,” I said, “are you still there?”

“I’m here,” he said, yawning. “I just drifted off while you were talking…I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”

The background noise is always different. In some houses, I can hear Cuomo talking on the television, or kids fighting a few feet away. When an ambulance wails past anyone’s window, we both get quiet on the phone until it passes. Neither of us speaks until the sirens fade.

Once, on a call to the Bronx, this silence was broken by someone in the background who piped up to say: “Who the fuck are you on the fucking phone with?”

–May 10, 2020

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Hoffman Headshot (1)

 

Amanda lives in New York with her dog, Rumspringa, where she’s just one spoon trying to stir the pot. She writes for Reductress, The Establishment, Kveller, RobotButt and more. She  performs with the group Rosemary’s Other Baby. She doesn’t usually have this pimple.