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Aisle Seat: A Merry Covid Christmas

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.

Purposefully walking

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.

Marital Masking: The author and her husband Lew recently en route to a matinee on the C train

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.

“Circling back”

(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.

Sans mask.

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.

No spoilers,

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.

And attendance!

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

(not unaccompanied).

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.

I know!

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.

Magic realism.

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.

Broadway audiences

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:


Even when common sense dictates

wearing protection,

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

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