(All photos by Pamela Harris, except Muriel Bowser photo by Reuters.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. When the virus hit, I wondered how she would’ve survived it. I don’t mean actually getting the virus. I mean not being able to shop.
Browsing a clothing rack for a bargain was my mother’s lifeblood. Almost every day she hit Syms, TJ Maxx, Loehmann’s, Marshall’s, the flea markets in Florida over the winter, Home Goods—any store that carried a potential designer bargain.
She visited NYC twice after I moved here, and one of those times we window shopped in Soho before any stores were open. It took an hour to walk three blocks. She’d press her nose to the glass and cup her hands around her eyes to shut out the light, to get a better look. “Oooooh,” she’d sing at every window, this particular one a bag store. “Think they have a sale on?”
“We’ll come back,” I answered, knowing that even on sale, even though she could afford it, she’d never spend what those pocketbooks cost.
Last year I passed a store on Wooster Street that had a sign, ‘Sale On Sale.’ I could feel my mother’s ghost twitch and shimmer next to me as she rolled her sleeves, ready to shop. A lot of the mid-priced stores were having out of season sales, private sample sales, Buy One Get One 50 Percent Off. The high end stores such as Balenciaga, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, had full-price merchandise, but the only people I’d see milling in them were sales people and private security guards. I felt like I was witnessing the end of retail.
After the virus hit, a handful of stores boarded their windows or emptied them of merchandise. Would these stores come back? What would our neighborhood look like post-Covid?
(The top photo is our neighborhood at dawn in April. The bottom photos are from today and yesterday. Boarded up, but opening.)
For much of April, every morning I went out and fed the birds, then walked the empty streets through Soho and into the west village. Many restaurants that tried to do take out or delivery closed, since it cost too much to stay open. None emptied, giving hope they’d reopen once the city opened.
Over and over I’d think, the whole world is going through this! What an opportunity to see how alike we all are. I loved how some countries embraced their scientists (ours didn’t), what PM’s and presidents had compassion (ours didn’t), how many women broke out as leaders. Cuomo transformed and became a voice of sanity. I loved seeing countries offer help to others, countries that had never done this in the past. This is a role America always played due to our financial might, our brilliant minds, and our history of humanity and philanthropy. It’s been wildly depressing witnessing how we’ve offered worse than nothing. Rome is burning.
And then the protests began. (There is a huge difference between protesters and looters. There is a huge difference between protesters and looters. I’m saying it twice.)
The message of the protests gives me a moment of hope. The protests have gone global. The world is hearing enough is enough. The only way forward is through change.
My new hero is the Mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser. She’s gracious, smart, and she’s doing it her way with a whole lot of heart. (She oversaw the giant yellow ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted down the middle of a DC street near the White House.) My mother wasn’t interested in politics, but I wonder what she’d think of all this. Would she feel the possibility for change that’s in the air, or would she shrug and keep dancing while Rome burned around her.