I would like to take a moment from my very busy day of eating tortilla chips for lunch and counting down the minutes until it’s acceptable for day drinking to thank the essential workers who are at the front lines during this pandemic. Obviously, we have to thank the healthcare workers, doctors and nurses who are battling day in and day out doing their vey best to help as many people as possible, but I also want to thank the employees at the grocery story and the pharmacy and the people who are still delivering packages and the men and women at the bank and gas stations and pet stores and yes, even the liquor stores. (Here in NYC, liquor stores have been deemed “essential.” I’m not sure that vodka is really a necessity of life, but I’m glad someone thinks so.) Every time I step foot into one of these places, I have my mask on and I do my absolute best to get in and out as quickly as possible, going early in the day and trying to maintain distance between myself and any other customers. What I realized a few days into wearing a mask is that no one can tell that I’m smiling. I’ve tried “smizing” but my glasses are usually fogged up so it probably goes unnoticed. Of course I always say thank you to these essential workers ringing up my groceries and/or Aperol, but without a smile, it doesn’t seem as sincere. After years of forcing a fake smile at work, it seems impossible that I would miss smiling, but I do. I really do.
Every night at 7:00, my husband and I open the kitchen window of our third floor apartment and hang out dangerously far to applaud these essential workers. An unknown neighbor who lives in the building behind us plays Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” and we sing along with our neighbors, some of whom are banging on pots with wooden spoons or clickety-clacking some other kind of noisemaker. Our window allows us a view of five other buildings, and each night we look forward to this moment of appreciation and connection. We see two men on their fire escape, wine glasses in hand who always wave to us. In another building, a mom with her two daughters comes out each night to clap, high kick and dance. The youngest, no more than two years old, likely has no idea why this is happening and she might even think the applause is for her. A building away we see another woman, probably in her late 60s or early 70s who always climbs out on her fire escape to clap and wave. Every night is a little bit louder than the night before as we all take this daily moment to say thank you to everyone who is still out there working as so many of us are jobless and not even sure when we will ever go back. I know the accolades are for them, but I also know that the opportunity to connect with others is for us. Neither me or my husband have jobs right now and this daily activity is part of our routine as sure as breakfast, lunch and dinner. For those three minutes and twenty-four seconds that Frank Sinatra’s voice carries over this tiny section of Sunnyside, Queens, I am smiling again.
Hopefully, this nightly ritual of rabble-rousing is uplifting for those it is intended for. It’s probable the random cheers from New Yorkers isn’t as important as the PPE the nurses and doctors are so in need of and a grocery store worker most certainly would rather have a pay increase than hear me warble out a few Kander and Ebb lyrics each night, but it’s all some of us have to give. Thank you to everyone who is still working, whether it’s at a grocery store, hospital, bank or otherwise. If you’re working in a restaurant doing takeout or still dealing with full service dining, thank you. I’m grateful for the opportunity to order a pizza every now and then for one moment of normalcy. Your efforts might go unnoticed by some, by I truly believe that most of us appreciate it. Until we can all go back to work, you are the heroes. You are the ones who are helping the rest of us survive and you deserve a lot more than a smile you cannot see and people yelling out their windows. But for now, it’s all we can do. Thank you, thank you, thank you.