“Blue Skies,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “Hound Dog” were all part of the singer’s repertoire hired to entertain residents of The Maplewood at Strawberry Hill, where my 90-year-old mother lives. (She’s the one on the left.) The garden was a sea of wheelchairs and walkers as he sang to an audience of octo- and nonagenarians. When he got to “New York, New York,” I lost it. This year, this song has been especially evocative.
“These vagabond shoes
They are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city
That never sleeps
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap …”
It started with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen co-hosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve 2019 from New York City’s Times Square. When the theme “New York, New York” came on, I felt proud to be a New Yorker. I sang along with Frank Sinatra. We were saying goodbye to 2019 and ushering in 2020.
We were all so hopeful that it would be a good year. We were excited about the future. It was January, and the pandemic hadn’t yet taken over the world.
Little did I know that the rousing anthem would be the same I’d hear nearly three months hence as people cheered first responders in hospitals in NYC as Coronavirus raged. Now in lockdown, with everything closed, we’d watch on TV, YouTube, Instagram, wherever we could catch the news. At 7:00 on the dot, when the shift changes for many, we’d watch the exhausted and brave emergency room doctors, nurses, and staff exit the hospitals. “New York, New York” was blaring. There was a great sense of community. All over the world, people were in quarantine. They braved the cold as they stood on balconies. Before open windows of their apartments and on the streets in front of the hospitals, they clanged pots and triangles as infections and death rates continued to climb.
“These small-town blues
They are melting away
In old New York …”
“If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York.”
“Did you have both vaccinations?” and “Are you vaxxed?” is what everyone asks before they get close. At an outdoor craft fair I went to the other week, you had to sign up for a two-hour slot and bring documentation that you had been double-vaccinated, with space of least ten days since the second vax. They checked everything before you could even enter the fair.
I went away recently, for the first time in 14 months, with good friends. We were no longer afraid to be together. In a group shot, we held up two hands and made the “V” sign. In other times, it signified the peace sign. Double “V”s now meant victorious and double-vaccinated.
When “New York, New York” was sung that afternoon while at The Maplewood, I flashed from New Year’s Eve to encouraging front-line workers to this moment in the garden of seniors. The country is reopening. Restaurants can operate at full capacity if they create physical barriers or maintain six feet between tables. Stores, salons, and gyms are returning to 100 percent capacity, but only if they can maintain the distance between individuals or groups. Masks will continue to be mandatory on public transit and in schools from PreK to grade 12, correctional facilities, healthcare settings, and nursing homes. And theaters and ballparks are returning to full capacity, instead of one-third full, if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination. And Broadway will open in September!
“New York, New York” reminds me of a sense of normalcy. The spirited community builder put to song will never, ever tire.