We thought it would be something ultra-modern that got us, didn’t we? We thought it would be nuclear zombies, or maybe a software virus. Nope! It was the old-school kind. The kind of thing that’s been going around every winter and spring for 100,000 years. Only this time it’s postmarked from hell. We’ve been laid low by the common cold’s CHUD cousin. The flu that ate the world.
Manhattan doesn’t surrender easily. I was here on 9/11, and though the bars and restaurants were quiet in the fall of 2001, they were still open. People went to gyms. People had brunch. People saw movies and shows. This time, all of that is gone. Manhattan isn’t Manhattan anymore. Broadway theaters look like tombstones. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue has been canceled for the first time in its 258-year history. There is no nightlife. There isn’t much daylife, for that matter. Everyone who can work from home is doing so. A lot of the people who can’t work from home are just out of work.
In Cameron Crowe’s Tom Cruise movie “Vanilla Sky,” which was filmed before 9/11 but released shortly after, a dream sequence finds Cruise’s character wandering an empty, barren Times Square, and the simple stillness, the vacuum, the silence, was one of the eeriest things ever put on film. This was before digital technology made it easy to conjure up anything the imagination could devise; in order to film the sequence Crowe got the police to shut down Times Square for three hours one Sunday morning in November of 2000, crowds champing at the bit just beyond the borders of the film. For the second time in a generation, we’re living through a disaster movie.
In a movie, though, you know things will be over in a couple of hours or so. When will we wake up from our state of suspended animation?
New York can’t go on very long like this. True, we could all spend a week off just to finally get through “The Irishman,” but what then? We’re social animals. We need those bars and shows. The people whose livelihoods depend on these businesses need them even more. Every waiter, actor, bartender, stagehand, personal trainer, and ticket taker’s life is in limbo. We’re all holding our breath, and you can only hold your breath for so long.
Everyday life in New York City is so trying that just getting through a week of this is like walking a barbed-wire tightrope. Lots of people and businesses barely get by. One horrible week could be lethal to a restaurant or a Broadway show, depending on how their insurance works. New York City schools are closed for the next five weeks. Are we in for at least five weeks of shutdown? New York has endured near-bankruptcy, multiple stock market crashes and several nasty terrorist attacks. Can WuFlu really be the one thing that makes us put up a “CLOSED FOR THE DURATION” sign?
One more movie that comes to mind: “The War of the Worlds.” All-powerful aliens come to the tri-state area, laugh at our feeble weapons of war and settle in for world domination. Then the aliens start feeling a little achy. They call in sick from their important jobs vaporizing humans. They stop firing laser cannons and start chugging Robitussin. Soon they’re all dead of a virus. “Pathetic aliens,” we all said when the Steven Spielberg movie came out in 2005. “They aren’t adapted to living on our planet.” How is it that, after all these years, we are suddenly not adapted to our planet either?