the value of normal

One week ago, I had a day that felt like a normal day. It was a Tuesday. I woke up early (not by choice), did a live Peloton class, showered, blow dried my hair, and went to work. I worked in my office for a few hours, then walked up to Sweetgreen for my lunch salad. I left work at 6:30 for drinks with my friends at a bar in SoHo, after which we walked to a bar on the Lower East Side for a nightcap. It felt like the kind of day I could have had any any point before 2020, and I came home energized from it.

Since March of 2020, we’ve all learned to place a high premium on “feeling normal”. In New York City especially, I think we have a heightened appreciation for the idea of normalcy. So many of the things that we associate with this city have disappeared or been radically changed by the pandemic: the subway, the arts, restaurants. Even the most basic of New York necessities, the public space, has changed. All of those third spaces that we used to go to when our tiny apartments closed in on us, have been rendered inhospitable. Whether it is the privately owned coffee shops or the publicly owned libraries, a workspace or a bar, the idea of shared indoor space is gone, and with it, much of our lives in the city.

After ten months, the idea of returning to any of those third places is intensely appealing. There’s a sort of muscle memory to normalcy, the feeling of being in a non-pandemic world that goes with a presence in a third place. While I am home, I am constantly reminded that my son and I have both compressed our lives into our apartment, with Ben doing remote learning from the couch, and me constantly trying to replicate my office a few feet away. When I am at the office, even though it is empty, it feels like a normal workday. And more importantly for me, it also feels like I am there to be my working self, not trying to stretch between two identities, dividing myself constantly between my personal and professional existences. That was the work/life balance I was used to before the pandemic: being able to exist in one state or the other, based on the physical location I was in.

So last Tuesday, I worked a full day. (Okay most of a full day, as I also spent an hour chatting with a woman on the office maintenance team about our teen kids and how much Biden seems like a far nicer person than the outgoing president.) Then I hopped on a J train and booted it up to the Bowery to meet my friends at Feliz CoctelerĂ­a. We had booked what is being referring to as “mezcal cabins” for a ninety minute seating. “Mezcal cabins”, fyi, translates to “backyard greenhouses with holiday decor”.

You can rent a private mezcal cabin in Nolita for the holidays
This is the most of the exterior of the mini-greenhouse I could find in any promotional photo

I applaud the creativity of New York City restaurants in creating individual spaces for households or other integrated COVID pod groups to sit in! There are bubbles, yurts, tents, all sorts of structures throughout the city. But the most popular does seem to be the suburban backyard sized greenhouse, that square structure, usually about 6 x 6, that just holds a party of four at their table for their adorable holiday hot drinks:

Hot toddies and one carrot–and-mezcal cocktail in the snowman (mine)

After we were done with our cabin, we wandered the Lower East Side for a while, looking for another open bar with decent options. Of course, it was deserted: the combination of cold and COVID on a Tuesday night does not exactly encourage nightlife. After ten minutes of wandering though, we stumbled upon Attaboy, where my friends were able to order another round. (I am old and therefore stopped at one-and-a-half cocktails rather than dig myself a hole for Wednesday). But even without ordering myself, I was able to vicariously enjoy the experience of going to a bar, telling the bartender what you enjoy, and having a drink mixed to your taste. Even sitting outside, in a wind shelter, it still felt like we were at a bar, in that shared space. It was an experience that, while chillier, greatly resembled a pre-pandemic night out.

We finished our drinks (I had a club soda), and then walked to the B line and went home…but I was practically giddy when I walked in the door. I had had what felt like a normal day. I had a day in which I went to work, accomplished actual work, and then went out with my friends. I left the house for well over twelve hours, during much of which I was able to forget that there is still a deadly pandemic happening around me, and the price of mine & my fellow New Yorkers’ safety is to have our lives reduced to fragments of what we used to have in this city.

Such is the value of normal right now. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see more normalcy as the rates come back down again, as vaccinations go up, and as the city re-adapts to the post-pandemic world. Normal once would have sounded boring. Now it sounds inspiring.

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