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Aisle Seat: Problem? Take It to the Complaint Department

By Naomi Serviss / New York City

My coping mechanisms are toast.

I’m flailing and short-tempered.

And I was doing so well these past two years.

Some months, at least.

Now I’d like to file a complaint.

Question is: to whom?

Here’s what temporarily assuaged

my stinky disposition

(Covid’s fault, natch):

  • Yoga in the Park

  • Meditation

  • Letter writing

  • Art projects

  • Central Park morning walks

  • Netflix bingeing

  • Zooming

  • Reading

  • Sugarless scones

  • Interneting

But this latest Covid mask confusion

has grated raw

my last achy breaky nerve.

See that white flag hoisted

from the 10th floor

of an Upper West Side prewar building?


The mask decree-or-not-decree

gives me a headache in my eye.

I’m weighing my mask options,

donning one in stores and restaurants.

Or when passing gaggles of workmen

lunch-breaking and smoking.

Besides, it keeps my nose warm.

And it’s a handy nose blotter

on those brisk days.

Construction crews proliferate

when Spring prematurely threads the air.

Next door, workmen concocted

a pedestrian walkway

with green planked walls

and a NO SMOKING sign, ignored.

It’s an unpleasant conduit

for humans and canines

who grudgingly share the claustrophobic space.

My newly adopted 9-lb. pup Janis

eye-pleads to be carried

through this terrifying juncture.

I don’t blame her.

I wouldn’t mind being hefted Cleopatra-like.

A 22-story luxury building

is being erected with great fanfare

next to ours,

Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Not a toe-tapping orchestral fanfare.

I’m talking air horns, hammering, drilling,

back-up truck beeps, concrete smashing

and other auditory insults

which have been

poisoning our lives for two years.

It’ll be at least another year.

Three elegant brownstones were sacrificed

Central Park sunrise
Central Park sunrise

so no Central Park millionaire views

would be obscured.

I’m also mad as hell

like Howard Beale in Network.

Nothing’s any good,

to steal a Joni Mitchell lyric.

The rent’s too damn high,

electricity bills are shocking

and Café Bustelo

just jacked up their prices.

To recap,

the relaxed mask mandates

are making me twitchy, not joyous.



sign has been stripped off the elevator wall.

Now what?

Will the doormen follow suit?

(And what kind of idiom is “follow suit”?)

Does that mean we’re out

of the proverbial pandemic woods?

I’ve become an existential malingerer,

cranky and insatiably hungry to boot.

Like the character in a story

I wrote for my daughter,

Moody Melinda.

Where’s the sunny side of the street

during these barren, wintry days?

The delightful 60-degree days are cruel.

Those belong in April,

not on Presidents’ Day.

(It’s a poem reference.)

My mornings begin at 5 a.m.,

before next door’s construction begins.

It’s pitch black, quiet

and no dogs need walking.


Espresso is dribbling through

the unbleached filtered,

Chemex coffee canister

not fast enough.

The first cup is life-affirming.

Second is manna.

Just enough Hazelnut creamer (no sugar!)

for café au lait,

reminiscent of Paris weeks.

I check email and churn through

websites like there’s a butter shortage.

Irony isn’t dead, just stunned.

Humor is gone with the wind,

or maybe that was just gas.

My gratitude journal

is merely another dust collector

on the tchotchke shelf.

It’s half-full (or half-baked)

rather than half-empty.

Wait. Is that a shift

in my emotional temperature?

Am I harboring a fugitive optimist?

I am a Sagittarius, so odds are good.

Who am I kidding?

I’m Ms. Resilient!

With a natural bent towards happyish endings.

Deep down inside, I secretly know

those bad moods are temporary albatrosses.

Like so many recurring nightmares,

they will finally slip off into the ether.

There’s much to reconsider

when flailing about

at my sage age.

In theory, at least.

My husband and I are still nuts for each other.

Our kids are navigating tempestuous seas,

knowing they are unconditionally loved.

The tiny white Maltese asleep at my feet

just sighed deeply.

Moody Melinda doesn’t stand a chance.


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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