Desperate Times and Desperate Measures

I can usually stretch to a month or more between haircuts and was already planning to do it again when the NYC lockdown order arrived. Having some room to spare, the issue of haircuts never even occurred to me. Like many others, I was focused on assuring we had enough toilet paper, paper towels and, oh yes, food. Haircuts were simply not on the agenda of lockdown concerns.

As it happened, my hair continued to grow. And grow. While many women and some men are comfortable with long hair on their necks, I am not one of them. As time passed, I became increasingly aware that the “mop” on my head was uncomfortable. It seemed to me that my head was warmer than usual. There is probably science to support that idea, but I was not interested in explanations. I wanted the hair gone.

Life is funny that way. When you don’t have enough of something important, or might not, like toilet paper, you get very serious about searching for sources until you’re sure you “have enough.” Conversely, there are some things, like hair, that when you have more than you need/want, you can’t rest until you get rid of it.

Sooo, I commenced to searching for hair cutting tools for men. I had never imagined I would want to cut my own hair, but each morning, as I looked at myself in the mirror, it became clear that emergency measures were in order.

Having not prepared for this situation, I did what I always do. Research. For more serious and long-term projects, I would normally turn to books but in this case that option seemed “off.” So, to learn what the tools are, where to buy them, how to use them, study, watch videos, process, think, process, prepare and …. go to YouTube.  Done. Somewhat intimidating but not overwhelming. You can do this. Then, of course, turn to …. Amazon.

Now the reality begins to dawn. I am not alone. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions of men who would ordinarily go to a barbershop or salon are now in the hunt for the same tools I need. And I am late to the party.

As usual, Amazon has a vast multitude of options but, in the annoying way that Amazon works in times of trouble, you can put them in your Cart only to find at checkout that the items are either “unavailable and we don’t know when they will become available” or “there is no vendor who can deliver this item to your location.” I waste a staggering amount of time studying the user comments (I will be writing about Amazon user comments in the near future) and ratings, unwittingly falling further and further behind the army of men conducting the same search. I fall back to Google searches for men’s haircutting tools. There are surprisingly few sites selling them. All are out of stock or the reviews/ratings are so despairing that I decline to take chances with my precious hair.

Finally, after many hours of searching, I find a recognizable brand name clipper set at a site whose name seems sufficiently familiar that I can trust it. The predicted delivery day is quite far in the future, but this is the reality of being slow out of the gate in a pandemic. I order.

Two days later, the first email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of “8 to 14 days” from the original estimated time of delivery. I swallow hard but accept that this is the reality into which we have all arrived.

The next day, the next email arrives, informing me that due to demand and other factors, there may be a further delay of 8 to 14 days from the estimated time of delivery. And so on, every day or other day for a week, at which point I decide that delivery may never occur and demand a refund. Provided with no argument.

Back to …  Amazon, the Jet.com, then …. Finally, it dawns on me that I have been seeing eBay in some of the Google searches. Now desperate, I go to eBay where, after many years’ absence, I have no account. Once that hurdle is overcome, I find a vendor offering exactly what I need. The vendor has great ratings from other buyers. Desperate times, etc. I order.

After only a few days’ time, the package arrives. Clippers (two!), various “combs” that control the length of the cut, hair clips, oil, brush, actual combs. Twenty-three pieces in all. I am “in business.”

Leaping ahead, after more “research” and overnight “processing” time, I line the bathroom floor with the last Sunday New York Times and proceed to cut my hair. Below, I have boldly gone where I have never gone before. The “before” and “after” photos speak for themselves. It is not a perfect haircut, but it will do for a first try. After two more of these, I will be ahead financially and by then, hopefully, the lockdown will be lifted sufficiently for a visit to a real barber.

So, here are the results. Read ’em and weep.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

 

 

Angels in New York

Just when you least expect it and are sinking into the despair of self-isolation with a sick spouse and extreme personal vulnerability to the coronavirus, someone appears as if by magic to save the day. It’s not magic, of course; it’s human kindness and generosity at its best. I referred to her as an angel in an email and, with no prompting from me, my wife used the same terms. It must therefore be true.

The story is simple enough. My wife has come down with what appears to be COVID-19. We don’t know how it happened. We’ve taken all the precautions. Nonetheless, a doctor in a televisit said she thought it was COVID. It fits the symptoms list perfectly. Fortunately, so far, there are no breathing issues. But you may take my word for it – this virus is mean as a junk yard dog. Everything bad you’ve heard about it is true.

Anyway, my own vulnerability has led my wife to vehemently object to my leaving the apartment. Since she became ill six days ago, I have left only twice to pick up food deliveries and packages at the concierge desk and that was over her protest. When she started to need some things we had consumed, like ginger ale, I found that it is impossible to order online at CVS for delivery of items sold “only in store.” We then recalled that a few people in our building (700 apartments in two towers) have volunteered through the resident portal to help people like us. One of them was recent. I found her message and we began to communicate.

Skipping some of the details, she instantly agrees to trek to the CVS around the corner to buy whatever we need. Faced with imminent store closure (it’s Saturday night at 8 pm and the normal “open 24 hours” has apparently been suspended), she makes them stay open until she gets everything we asked for and delivers it to our door. She exhibits no impatience whatsoever as we text back and forth about the options/brands, etc. She wants us to have exactly what we want, not just what is convenient for her to grab and go. I am a bit overwhelmed.

This leads to a second trip the next day when we discover other needs. She texts me from the store to recommend an over-the-counter medication that may help my wife’s nausea (it did) after consulting with the pharmacist about it. She sends photos of various options so I can choose specifically what she should buy.

She patiently helps me struggle to reimburse her through her website (standby re that), but refuses to accept anything beyond the actual cost of the purchases. She says: “no way I’m taking anything other than exact amount.  Grandpa, who stormed the front in Battle of Bulge, would be horrified and embarrassed if I were to dishonor family name during time of national crisis.”

Now, I know I’ve encountered someone very special. An angel in human disguise. In New York City. We exchange a bunch more emails and texts after I check out her website where she manages, as a hobby, a meditation/mindfulness training program for working people. My wife in particular is interested in this for her post-recovery work life. It turns out this new friend-by-text and I are both alums of Yale University (me, Yale College, she the Law School) and Harvard (me the law school, she the Business School). To respect her privacy, I will not identify her by name. Her resume is intimidating. I joke that I and members of my class often observe that we probably couldn’t get into Yale now and her background shows why. She finds this amusing. She has a sense of humor and an infectious positive attitude toward life. [Is it a pun to refer to “infectious positive attitude” during a pandemic?]

I explain that since there is an immutable rule of life that no good deed goes unpunished, there will be two consequences to her work as Good Samaritan for us: one is that my wife must make dinner for her when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normality. The other is that I will write about her in this blog.

This is a story that must be told and included in my tales of life in New York City. She demurs on the blog but we agree she will bring dessert of her choice to the dinner. She sends me a remarkable photo of a multi-color dessert cake she had baked and says, “be afraid.” Date to be determined but I am optimistic we will make this happen.

And, for sure, my wife and I will be made better by having known this generous, ebullient, kind-hearted person, an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. As I conclude this post at 7 pm, I hear the New Yorkers that have balconies applauding, banging pots and cheering for that other group of angels working in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs around the city. This happens every day and apparently has started a national “movement,” as well it should. Giants and angels come in all sizes and in many disguises. If you’re lucky enough, an angel will find you too. I hope so.

 

New York Philharmonic Orchestra Pandemic Performances

Everyone knows by now that all live music and dance performances on Broadway, jazz clubs, Lincoln Center and elsewhere in New York City are on indefinite pause. For those of us who can’t get enough of these extraordinary “gifts” of this city, this is a particularly dark time on top of the, obviously more serious, general lockdown that has necessarily been imposed.

But, thanks to human ingenuity and determination, all is not lost. Among the many arts institutions offering online streaming of past performances is the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Every Thursday at 7:30 pm on the NYPO Facebook page, one can link to a truly amazing experience. Last night, for example, the NYPO showed a May 1994 performance conducted by Kurt Masur that was “attended” electronically by people all over the world. Three Beethoven masterpieces were performed: the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by the orchestra, the Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Emanuel Ax on piano) and, finally and oh so remarkably, Symphony No. 5. You can see the performance at: https://www.facebook.com/nyphilharmonic/videos/525953654947771/ and also at https://nyphil.org/playson

[As an aside, check out https://www.facebook.com/nyphilharmonic/videos/630361074485568/ where cellists of NYPO perform J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello in G major]

In May 1994, Masur, then the music director of NYPO, was approaching 67 years of age and Ax was just 44. They “brought the house down.”

The program actually began with an introduction by Hugh Downs followed by an interview in present time, with Alec Baldwin engaging Ax from another location where he was holed up. The two artists from different disciplines shared some of their similar feelings of nervous tension experienced before performances, with Baldwin wisely noting that “I would never compare what I do to what you do.” It’s fair, I think, to say Ax is a “genial genius” whose talents were shortly on full display in his execution of the Piano Concerto.

Masur, the more mature of the two in 1994, is described in Wikipedia as “one of the last old-style maestros.” I am not qualified to comment on that but watching Masur conduct is an extraordinary sight. He speaks to the orchestra with his hands, of course, but also a lot with his eyes and facial expressions. He goes from an apparent passivity to what reminded me of lightning in a storm. His passion transfers to the musicians, each of whom is surely a virtuoso in his/her own right. He stood on the riser for all three pieces with no sheet music, an imposing presence at 6 feet 3 inches height and in full command of the music and the orchestra.

Again, I am not qualified to judge but Emanuel Ax’s performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 is breathtaking to watch and hear. You can see him “talking” to himself as he blasts through some of the faster passages, fingers moving through muscle memory alone over dozens of notes in seconds. He too has no sheet music.

A unique aspect of these presentations is that there are multiple cameras that are regularly used by the unseen director to capture closeups of the musicians, lingering briefly and moving on to another section of the orchestra. Even from the best seats in the house, you could not see these details of what the musicians are doing at any time.

The concert closed with a remarkable performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. The playing was preceded by a talk of a number of musicians who explained some of the features of the symphony that everyone experiences without actually understanding why. It was like auditing an advanced class in music theory and practice. The concert itself was supernatural, all the more so because of new insights gathered beforehand.

Finally, note that on April 3 the Philharmonic did a special presentation of Ravel’s Balero as a tribute to healthcare workers everywhere. Not only were the music and musicianship extraordinary, but the musicians were each playing from home using Zoom. You can see/hear it here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3UW218_zPo For a similar experience, by a flash-mob in Spain (2013 when public gatherings were still possible), see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsF53JpBMlk complete with cymbals and kettle drums.

How glorious it is that these masterpieces can be shared this way and enjoyed over and over. I can’t wait for the day when we can return to a live concert hall, theater or club to experience the unbelievable skill and creativity that will once again, one fine day, be on display.