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April 22, 2020

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Social Distancing…

All of us here in New York City have adopted the policy to the best of our abilities. Which is, to be frank, surreal. This is a town of packed subways, bustling streets and crowded bars and restaurants. We’re used to banging into our neighbors unintentionally, the polite among us offering the appropriate apologies, even as the unconcerned seem to grow more prevalent with each passing year. Our parks are an oasis for the sea of humanity congregated from all parts of the world. And let’s not even talk about Times Square…

But now, on those once-a-day walks most of us still attempt, we eye approaching strangers skeptically, regardless of whether or not they are sharing our relatively-recent practice of wearing protective face masks. Are they going to match our effort to sway to one side with an opposing swerve to the other? Our sense of personal space feels earned and necessary, though without an iota of conviction that our own well-being being is more important than the safety of others. A passing glance conveys the same silent message almost always: we’re all in this together.

And this was not how we lived just a few short weeks ago.

There are moments when keeping a six-foot separation from oncoming traffic is literally impossible, but by and large, so far at least, we have seen surprising success. Human interaction now seems synonymous with human cooperation. People stop and wave for you to be the first to pass through a section of construction-displaced sidewalk. This turnabout in behavior, though possibly short-term, is stunning.

And this is true in the avenues, the Hudson River walkways, the public gardens, and even the interiors of many of the grocery stores that have thankfully remained opened. The message seems clear. We’re all somehow going to get through this.

The stories you’ve probably read about New Yorkers opening their windows at 7pm to clap and cheer for the nurses, doctors, patients, essential workers - and each other - are, I’m glad to say, true. There are many moments from this almost-unimaginable experience sure to bring fond memories in the years to come. Provided we make it to the other side, of course.

Which I still optimistically believe we will. Testing, testing, and more testing is needed. Treatment will assuredly get better. And we have shown in the past an ability to do almost anything. So a vaccine seems certain to one day come our way.

In the meantime, neighborhoods throughout the entire world must do their best to rise to the occasion. Hopefully one day soon this crisis will be over.

As for me, certain elements of my New York City life remain the same. My little studio apartment - with a window tailor-made for me to enthusiastically join the 7pm celebration without fail - still has a piano. My guitar is out of the case. And the one thing about attempting to be a writer is that even when a particular story or novel feels finished, the potential work before me never drops to zero.

I’m also watching movies. Oh, and growing a beard. I thought I was demonstrating so much foresight when almost two months ago I called Luis, the man I’ve trusted to cut my hair for many years, for an early trim, suspecting this kind of personal service might not be available to us New Yorkers in the days to come. But he kept cancelling, and then my suspicions became true. So, well - as long as my hair was about to get unruly and long anyway, I figured I might as well grow a beard.

I’ve done so three times before. And in each instance, when the time came for a trim I silently acknowledged my lack of expertise and shaved the damn thing off. I’m nearly at that moment again, though the more-white-than-brown color has made this version far different to begin with. Maybe I’ve had enough fun. Who wants to trim a beard? I might once more do a preemptive shave, maybe even as early as tonight.

Although it’s never too late to learn or do something new. There has been some social-distancing benefit, after all; even my neighbors in this apartment building seem to be keeping a greater distance away than usual. I also have one slightly-diabolical friend urging me to achieve David Letterman-style length…

Tell you what - here’s a pic. Please feel free to offer feedback. At the very least, maybe this will induce a much-needed chuckle.

Michael laba quarantine beard

And after your laughter subsides, please remember to stay safe out there. Face masks and six feet of separation are not impossible demands.

Hope to be in touch with all of you this time next month!


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