By Naomi Serviss / New York City
The holidays are snowballing.
Time is collapsing.
Seasons are colliding.
One minute, pumpkin innards
are being scooped out,
seeds roasting willy-nilly,
and in the next blink,
the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree
is sparking up the night sky.
Huzzah! That time of year (again!)
when feigned goodwill morphs
into actual compassion
and you pay it forward.
Let the festivities commence!
The neon lights of Broadway!
Decorations in the pedigree stores
barter for sidewalkers’ focus.
Brightly decked out
fanciful, futuristic Fifth Avenue
artful window displays
draw a thick crowd,
not missing a single fantasy scape
lest their FOMO kicks in.
What happened to our collective Covid anxiety?
Six feet apart and all that jazz?
I still board public buses masked.
Not everyone does, as is each one’s wont.
Not a big deal.
I’ll eat in outside restaurants
(when called for).
But indoor dining doesn’t terrify anymore.
on the mean (rarely clean)
streets and avenues,
I wear my mask correctly
and take cleansing breaths.
I’m in the midtown minority,
and I worry about
all those unprotected people.
(Truthfully, I don’t worry, just stay away
from their full-frontal faces.)
Waiting in line to enter a Broadway matinee,
I’m a rarity
in my eye-catchy neon yellow KN95.
People don’t take heed of
our latest heads-up
on the viral front
from health professionals.
How many caught something at
their Thanksgiving celebration?
It’s not just Covid;
it’s a virus roulette wheel
this time of year.
Flu, cold, RSV, and who knows what
is on the horizon?
Another positive about the mask
now that the weather is frigid (to me).
It keeps my face warm,
and calms down
my jumpy Trigeminal nerve.
I see a lot of theater
And would never go unmasked.
Rescinding the mask requirement
was one of the stupidest things
the industry has done. Obvious reason?
More tickets will be sold
to those who shunned mask-wearing
many months ago.
Now, before performances, ushers emphasize
the word RECOMMEND
that masks be worn.
Not a mandate.
So far, I’ve been lucky
and theater fans
To my right and left
have (mostly) been masked…
I recently found myself
at a performance of Into the Woods
which was my fourth (yes, fourth!) time.
My second-row center seat
was within spitting distance
of the cast members.
Hey, spit happens.
This ticket was purchased
from the crème de crème of discount houses,
TDF (Theatre Development Fund).
It’s the same organization
that operates the TKTS Booth on 47th & Broadway.
Anyone can join (reasonably priced)
and members can purchase $50 tickets online.
(an officious term I use ironically)
to Into the Woods,
I noticed the woman on my right
was masked and she started a conversation.
With that I can deal, I rationalized,
hoping she would just hush.
The empty left seat was finally filled
by a short-haired young woman.
This fourth time around (seeing the show)
didn’t thrill me
like the other three.
Nothing wrong with it,
but once you see original cast members
in this Sondheim gem,
it’s hard to be swept away.
Still, the music, those lyrics
are stellar, genius, all the superlatives.
but you might never view fairy tales
the same way.
At the end of Act I,
the woman on my right
said, “What, no finale, no bows?”
Exasperated I snapped.
“That’s just the first act!
You said you knew the play!
A nanosecond later
I took a hike at intermission.
I get why this city is a magnet.
And there’s a collective sigh of relief
that we beat Covid.
So they keep coming.
Trains, planes, buses and cars.
Midtown tourists teeter
on towering boot heels
maskless and giddy with Gotham fever.
Spreading their green on holiday bargains,
returning crowds may not take the subway,
but Covid be damned!
Tourists are flooding souvenir shops,
vying for Phantom tickets,
and politely turning down
tour bus pitchmen’s pitches.
Something about this city,
now that winter’s mantle
is a cold snap away,
that’s fish bait to out-of-towners,
my informal poll concluded.
Hotels, restaurants, theaters,
museums, the whole nine yards,
are vying for your approval.
A city’s scent beckons or repels.
These next couple of months should bode well.
Now, as 50-degree days flirt
before winter’s frosting,
the aromas aren’t even that bad.
The roasted peanut air
around the cart
wafts and permeates
my yellow KN95 mask. Bigtime.
They used to magnetize my son, Ben, as well.
Since a pre-tween,
he and my daughter Emmy
learned how to navigate the subway system
They’re familiar with the seasonal smells.
Especially summer’s bouquet.
But something about
the sweet-chestnut-roasting air beckons
like in Miracle on 34th Street.
(Black and white version.)
I might have conjured up that scene.
Vendors’ frosty hawking
of navy and burgundy wool berets
to complement brown faux leather gloves,
pom-pom hats (which, imho,
should be worn only by those under 30),
“designer” knockoff bags and scarves
are there for your haggling.
And you’re supposed to haggle!
Remember when Covid-coping
turned us into hermits?
I look upon those months nostalgically,
when we knew to stay put and order in.
I’m not pining, merely reporting observations.
It’s harder now, especially if you’re prone to
S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Days gloom early.
By 3 p.m., inside lights flick on.
the ache of a dark void.
Maybe shopping would make it go away!
Besides, it’s in the
Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa (your choice) spirit
to consume mass quantities of everything!
The constant barrage of commercials
on our assorted devices
(boy, was Kurt Vonnegut prescient or what?),
People think if they just buy
that one special gift
for, say, a friend, neighbor,
brother or daughter,
they will love you more.
But we do get joy when
the right gift works out.
And by gift, I mean
a coupon book created by
my then-eight-year-old son
offering myriad tasks
he would undertake upon receipt.
The best gifts I’ve ever received
were the gifts of time.
Hallmark precious time with my kids.
Without the treacly flick.
When we gather with loved ones,
joy gets inspired.
It’s a gut thing, intertwined deep connections
Formed over decades with Family of Origin
and Family of Choice.
Times Square Disney characters
persuade gleeful tourists
to pose goofily with their kids.
Caricaturists have returned with a vengeance,
clogging sidewalk thoroughfares
and wooing potential marks
with pen and ink.
The Ladies Who Lunch,
the families who brunch,
the maskless (from everywhere) souvenir-seekers,
the matinee audiences—
all fired up and ready to go.
are cautiously inching back despite
exorbitant prices for Music Man.
How do they get away with $400 seats?
Because it’s Hugh Jackman!
Phantom is closing in January.
Who doesn’t want to see
the chandelier fall one more time?
Ha! Good luck getting a ticket.
Holiday hoopla aside,
some bare-faced tourists and locals
don’t grasp the fact that:
COVID ISN’T OVER!
Even when common sense dictates
scores of maskless, midtown shufflers
are looking for trouble.
With a capital T.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com