Jay Giampietro is a writer, director, actor and musician whose short films have played the New York Film Festival, BAMcinemaFest, and the Montclair and Maryland Film Festivals. His short film Hernia won the 2015 Hammer to Nail Summer Shorts contest and he made his acting debut in the feature Stinking Heaven, which was distributed by Factory 25. His street photography capturing the eccentric denizens of New York City has been praised by The Village Voice, British GQ and The Guardian and is the subject of Joe Stankus’ short documentary I’ve Never Been A Fisherman. His most recent short films are Quarterbacks (2018) and Unpresidented (2017).
I spent this past weekend, the last before the New York State on PAUSE executive order went into effect, cruising through Manhattan on my wine-colored Schwinn, amongst the food delivery workers on e-bikes who were keeping the quarantine crowd alive. I spotted liberal interpretations of social distancing, cabbies jockeying for the rare hailers, and the few remaining open restaurants and bars offering take-out with chairs on their tables, displaying their obedience to the order to keep people from convening.
The dog parks were crowded, I think because a story that had circulated through social media about pets being potential corona carriers had been debunked.
By my estimate, about 40% of the pedestrians were wearing masks.
I was not. (Author’s note: I had a terrible illness with severe symptoms that perfectly line up with those of corona in mid-February. I had a fever for five days and an immediate severe chest infection that knocked me out for a week. I got through it with rest, healthy foods, and a nightly concoction of homemade ginger tea with apple cider vinegar and raw honey. I wasn’t tested, and nobody could tell me if it is in fact what I had, but again, nobody could tell me I didn’t have it either, and right now I don’t have any symptoms that would get me tested, so I am operating as if that experience has given me a kind of immunity to the virus. I’m not certain that’s possible, but I don’t think anyone could tell me it’s impossible either.)
In times of crisis, I seem to respond with adrenaline as much as anxiety, and that feeling compelled me to flout the stay-at-home orders being shouted about online. One of my missions was to try and find a homeless-ish pal of mine who I suspected was spending his banishment from the city’s Apple Stores and Starbucks lurking in the shadows of Penn Station. Seventh Avenue was eerily empty, and aside from cabbies, the only people left seemed to be those who when told to shelter in place, will have nowhere to go. I have not heard where the homeless are supposed to go to obey the PAUSE order.
I never found my friend, although we did speak late Sunday afternoon when he called me from a Link NYC kiosk to complain about our present situation. “I think they’re taking it a little far,” he said. “Don’t you?”
“Ask the National Guard tomorrow,” I told him.
If this quarantine lasts more than a few weeks I wonder how high the unemployment rate among my friend group will go. Is 75% of us unemployed the ceiling? Maybe. Who knows. When I think about it, I’m left with an absent, confused smile. This collapse seems so far-reaching that almost everybody will be fucked, right? Isn’t there some comfort in that, realizing we’re all in it together? And how can the healthcare system encompass 1/6th of our entire national economy, but a crisis that requires thousands of hospitalizations in a city of millions can topple the entire economic and social structure? How did that happen?
But these times are so charged. So uniquely curious. That feels deeply valuable to me.
During an enjoyable video group chat earlier tonight, some other late Gen Xers/early Millennials and I reminisced about becoming numb over three decades of living under a constant stream of potential End of Everything threats. AIDS, war, Y2K, 9/11, more war, climate change, Mayan calendar, Sandy, Ebola. Then we got to the killer bees.
“Whatever happened to those killer bees,?” my buddy Nick asked. “Anybody know anyone who died from that?”
“My stepfather’s grandfather,” said my friend Jeff, at 50, the eldest among us.
After the chorus of cackles died down, we pressed him for details. Jeff explained that while it wasn’t the attack of the swarm that actually did his stepfather’s grandfather in, but the fact that his stepfather’s grandfather was crossing a stream on a horse when they did, which caused him to fall off, and drown.
Then we all laughed again.