Tuesday April 7, 2020
Full moon high tide.
At 10:00 AM, the line at Trader Joe’s in Soho went around the block, nearly to King St.; fifty percent of the people in line wore masks and maintained an average distance of about eleven feet. At 2:00 PM, there was a fairly short line at TJ’s on West 21st St, and everyone was wearing a mask. I wonder how much more food is being bought now? Panic buying must be over. With so many thousands of restaurants closed in the city, the amount of food being purchased must have increased significantly.
Funeral homes and morgues are overwhelmed. There have been 2,500 deaths in the state so far. 779 dead today.
Unlike some people I know, I never take the same route when I run. Usually my route is determined by what composer John Cage would call a “chance operation.” He lived on Sixth Avenue back when it was as empty at night as it is now; he would have loved to experience the current soundscape.
My “chance operation” routing, based on traffic and traffic lights, was confounded as there was not one intersection where I needed to turn right or left to avoid cars or trucks. With few reasons to turn beyond whim, fate or fancy, I ended up running east from the Hudson River along Gansevoort Street past the new Whitney Museum, then zig-zagging before reentering the city’s grid at what was originally the Maritime Union’s gleaming ultra-modern 1960s building. A few incarnations later, the building became a stand-alone emergency room a few years ago. It is the only medical facility anywhere around after St Vincent’s Hospital closed.
At some point last week, a white tent appeared, it was directly behind a tractor trailer south of the building. I noticed it around the time when I saw the tent hospital camp in Central Park and wondered what it could be for. Tents are not common in New York City, it seemed far too small to be functional at about ten feet wide by thirty feet long. Today ,approaching from the west, on foot, and in daylight, I instantly saw it was part of a temporary morgue.
The full-size tractor trailer, attached to the tent, had been lightly whitewashed to fulfill its role as refrigerated storage for the dead. It is one of the many cold trailers that are all over the city and are reported to be filling up. It felt awkward to have zoomed by it so many times without so much as lowering my head—if not to honor then at least to acknowledge those souls.
Later I learned that each trailer holds about 110 bodies. The dead are stacked on shelves. Body bags are in very short supply, even torn ones are being reused. Likely a grim picture, mixed with the compassion of those charged with handling them. Some of those corpses must be very heavy, hard to handle. Each one remains until a funeral home comes to collect them. The small tent was erected over what must be a long ramp to the cold storage zone. It hides the view.