“We’ve never ordered delivery from a supermarket before, but one of my friends told us about Instacart. We’re worried about giving anything to my mother, so we decided to use the service, despite there being three supermarkets down the block. Still, half of what we wanted was out of stock. When the shopper rang the doorbell with the groceries, my mother and I went to open the door, and Sophia yelled at us and told her to just thank her through the door and have her leave the groceries in the hall. My mother and I thought this was rude. Sophia said we’d rather appear nice than stay alive. The shopper didn’t seem to care. She didn’t want to interact with us, either. We left an envelope with an extra tip taped to the door. Sophia heard Sanjay Gupta say that you should spray every grocery before bringing it into the house. So I did that, and then had to figure out where to put all these cans of tuna. Super stressful. I then took a nap.” — Neil Kramer
New York City. You either love it or hate it. I lived there for nearly 10 years and had many of my most formative experiences there. I met my wife there, all of my best friends lived there, the two cats I share with my wife came from there: one from the bodega around the corner from our apartment on Ocean Parkway and the other a rescue from the Bronx. I miss the city so much. Not least for the kind of people you meet and are surrounded by. New York has an unmistakable energy. The people there are incredibly resilient.
When my colleagues and I were sorting through submissions for In Sight not long ago, one submission caught my eye. Funny and full of empathy, it was also a project that could have come only from the New York I got to know once upon a time.
Neil Kramer, a writer and photographer from Queens, found himself holed up in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with his mother and his ex-wife. Why holed up? The coronavirus, of course. As we all know, New York was one of the epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic not long ago. This led to people staying inside their apartments, self-quarantining to keep from getting infected. Quarantining went on for months. And Kramer, along with his mom and ex-wife, were among those taking precautions.
Quarantining and self-isolating have been tough for all of us. We’ve had to change our lifestyles dramatically — no movies, no going out to eat, having groceries delivered so we can avoid unnecessary human contact. And of course, the changes have taken a toll on us — mentally, physically, spiritually. We see all of this in the following words and images by Kramer. He, along with his mother and ex-wife, have provided a glimpse into lives irrevocably changed. And they have done it with panache. Kramer’s images are imbued with a deep sense of humor and humanity and even tenderness.
“Tensions are already rising.”
“Unexpected Family Closeness. We all were looking terrible, so we decided to help each other look presentable in case we have to FaceTime with someone.”
“The family that self-medicates together stays together. ”
“A Facebook friend recommended a gentle bubble bath as a great way to relieve stress during a lockdown in my one-bathroom apartment in Queens. Not sure the plan worked.”
“A beautiful friend from Colorado finally mailed us toilet paper, and we are celebrating and in tears.”
“All the hard-working health-care and essential workers out there help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. ”
“Need a haircut? The Quarantine Salon is now open. By appointment only.”
“We’ve passed the two-month mark.
“We’ve all been sleeping way too much, even in the afternoon. You don’t need to be Freud to know it’s depression. There’s a limit to how long someone can be quarantined with the same people all the time without it affecting your mental health.
“ ‘We need to exercise,’ I said. We need to move around. ‘We need to dance, for our mental health.’
“I put a disco radio station on Pandora. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ from ‘Saturday Night Fever’ was on. ‘Stayin’ alive … Stayin’ alive …’ ”
“One of the inconveniences of the last two months has been doing the laundry. We don’t have a washer and dryer in the apartment, so we usually use the laundry room in the lobby of the building. The last time I was in our laundry room, in early March, it seemed scary — too crowded and too many surfaces shared by others. That’s when we started washing our clothes every other day in the bathtub. We used a clothing rack in the bathtub to dry the clothes, but because of poor ventilation and poor hand-wringing, it would take 12 hours to dry one sock. I suggested we dry the laundry on our outdoor terrace by the dinette, but my mother adamantly refused.
“ ‘I’m not going to have all our neighbors look at our laundry,’ she said.
“It became an ongoing conversation. I didn’t understand why my mother was being so paranoid about hanging the laundry on the terrace. Did it remind her of her childhood in a poorer section of the Bronx? Was it considered low-class? She insisted that our apartment building had an expressed law ‘in the books’ that no one should hang their laundry on the terrace.
“ ‘That’s ridiculous,’ I said. ‘It’s a pandemic. The rules are out the window. No one cares if we hang the laundry on the terrace.’
“But she didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
“I was washing the laundry in the bathtub today when I saw that my mother was napping. I told Sophia that this was a good idea to dry the laundry on the terrace and prove to my mother that it is a good idea. I hung some wet sheets on the terrace railing, and the wind almost made my mother’s fitted sheet sail away off the terrace toward LaGuardia Airport. People waiting on the line downstairs at the Key Food Supermarket looked up at our terrace with disapproving looks, almost as if saying ‘What is this — the Bronx?’
“The laundry dried quickly and ended up smelling terrific, and my mother gave limited approval to drying small amounts of laundry on the terrace, as long as she is never seen doing it.”
“One of the arguments for not wearing a mask outside is that it is a free country. To many, asking someone to be inconvenienced is an infringement of personal freedom. If someone is at risk to the virus, like seniors or those with medical issues, they should just stay home.
“That is easier said than done. After months ago home, it becomes an infringement of personal freedom for seniors and those with medical issues to be stuck at home.
“After our trip to the park last week, my mother tasted the flavor of freedom, and she liked it.
“My mother’s friend, Shirley, called. She used to be the same blouse size as my mother, but because of an illness, had lost a lot of weight. She had a bunch of brand new outfits from Bloomingdale’s that she never wore that were now too large. Can she drive over and give them to my mother?’
“At first, Sophia and I nixed the idea. My mother bristled at our helicoptering. We came up with a compromise. I would go downstairs and pick up the blouses from Shirley as she drove by in her car.
“When it was time for Shirley’s arrival, I found myself on an important Zoom conference call. Sophia was about to have a virtual conversation with a doctor at NYU. We were forced into the inevitable — my mother would have to go downstairs ALONE and pick up the blouses. It would be the first time she’s left the house alone since March.
“ ‘What’s the big deal?’ some of you might ask. My mother is active and independent and can go outside by herself. She’s not a child. But there are a lot of people out there who don’t wear masks, even in our neighborhood with one of the highest covid-19 infection and death rates in the world.
“We told my mother that if she goes out by herself, she has to wear a mask, gloves and goggles to protect her eyes.
“ ‘Why don’t you just wrap me in the shower curtain?’ my mother asked, sarcastically.”
“Ready or not, the world has reopened. People are in the streets, protesting for racial justice. Friends have started to take the subway again. But here at home, we’re still confused and anxious over covid-19. Especially my mother. Because of her age and high risk, does she need to remain isolated from her friends and social activities until there is a vaccine?
“A few days ago, she looked depressed, so Sophia asked her if she is looking forward to anything when New York reopens.
“ ‘I’d like to go have breakfast at the Blue Bay Diner,’ answered my mother. The Blue Bay Diner is a local diner here in Queens. ‘It’s way too soon to talk about diners,’ I said.
“And then I felt bad for saying that. ‘But I have an idea for this weekend,’ said Sophia, looking out the window at our terrace.”
“We bought a third TV this week, and put it into the bedroom. Fifty-five-inch widescreen. So now all three of us can retreat into our own spaces and watch whatever show we want. Ironically, I haven’t watched the TV, since … I’m not sure it is what I really wanted.”
“Everyone is giving up hope. You thought we were, as well. But nope, not us. We’re the epitome of optimism. When we saw our local movie theater’s marquee promising they were ‘opening soon,’ we set up shop to be the first in line. And so we’re waiting.”
“Sophia showed me an article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of hugging and mentioned that she never sees my mother and me hug. I said the Kramers have never been a hugging family. Sophia said that to get through this pandemic we should hug each other every day. My mother and I protested. ‘But we could be like your favorite TV show,’ Sophia told my mother. And so, in our first reenactment of ‘The Golden Girls,’ Sophia plays Blanche. I’m Rose. And my mother is definitely Dorothy. Thank you for being a friend.”
In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.
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