I put on my mask and gloves last. I don’t want to touch my sneakers after I put my gloves on, something about that feels dangerous. I check to make sure I have my wallet. I grab my backpack and reusable bags. I keep hearing that they won't allow me to use those but everyone else still is and they’ve started charging for paper recently so who knows. My mask is a bandana with gauze in the middle. My mother sent me the gauze by mail. Someday I hope to tell my grandchildren about receiving gauze by mail. Grandpa was really knee deep in it, kids! The gauze filter ain’t doin' jack squat and my mother and I both know it, but I use it because it makes her feel better. I pat all my pockets to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. I wave to my fiancé from across the apartment. Her look is inscrutable. Her look is always inscrutable. It’s her inscrutability that keeps me coming back. I take my last safe breath of air for a while and walk out the door.
For my fellow Worcesterites the preceding paragraph may have felt familiar, even the inscrutable fiancé. What follows, however, is likely not what you experience during this pandemic. Cause this Worcesterite ain’t in Worcester anymore. I moved to New York City to pursue a career in Acting (I can hear you groaning from here) but it's not the NYC you think you know. My NYC is not the world of Carrie Bradshaw, Seinfeld, or any of the “Friends.” Not even Phoebe (she seemed to be living the weirdest, and thus most real, New York life). Nah baby, this is Queens. A few miles from Elmhurst Hospital, Queens. Sirens going off nonstop since March, Queens. Ridgewood, Queens. Frontline Queens.
In the outer boroughs we don’t have the same setup as Manhattan. Our neighborhoods are unevenly outfitted with essentials. If you’re lucky you live a few blocks from a quality bodega. If not, then it's time to start walking. Unless you dare to ride the subway, but during all this mess stepping on the subway is like walking into the fourth ring of Dante's hellscape. My walk to the store is its own battle. Ridgewood is an incredibly diverse area. Diversity of race. Diversity of religion. Diversity of opinion on mask wearing. On the corner of my block is a Coptic Christian church. Guys hang out in front of it all day smoking cigarettes and alternating between wearing their masks and taking it off to talk. I cannot work the logic of that. A little farther up I pass a pack of middle-aged Albanian dudes standing outside of a coffee shop, playing chess. They are standing incredibly close together while wearing nitrile gloves. No masks. People on bikes shoot down the street. None of the bikers wear masks. If you’re going faster does that break up the respiratory particles? One guy rides his bike shirtless while singing at the top of his lungs. They say singing sends the most particles into the air. I call him the “crop duster." He is riding literally every single time I step out the door. Either we are on the same shopping algorithm or he is just always riding his bike like a background character in "The Truman Show."
My time inside the store is best described as a controlled panic attack. I am bumping into tiny grandmas left and right, bowing in non-verbal apology except when a bow itself feels culturally inappropriate. The store is tiny, so I try to move quickly. I am 6’2 250 lbs and I might be scaring people with how fast I am moving. I reach the checkout counter which is just a desk. A guy is already there, buying lottery tickets. He is wearing a mask around his neck. He nods to me and holds his tickets up, I nod back. Good luck. Once I’ve checked out, I push through the exit door and breathe deeply. Maybe that wasn't a good idea. The Crop Duster is back. He is flying down the middle of the road, arms stretched wide, face to the sun, singing Donna Summer at the top of his lungs. He seems happy. Maybe he knows something I don’t know.
Kyle Maxwell is an actor and writer living in New York City. He was born and raised in Worcester.