Our New York office entered suspended animation mid-March of 2020. My husband and I, partners in business and life, drained the coffee maker and emptied the fridge — except for the tublets of coffee creamer with an expire date of December. We washed the dishes left by a staff member, someone thinking they’d get to it first thing Monday. Then there was no Monday. We crossed our fingers the pandemic would be done by fall, keyboard clacking picking up right where it left off.
The midtown we visited weekly to water the plants and collect the mail abided in quiet. But summer always lulls the city. If it weren’t for the ambulance sirens, refrigerated morgue humming, and surging numbers of homeless people in vacant entryways, the torpid streets of June, July, and August 2020 would have seemed almost normal.
We put all the plants in the best offices. They were the regular occupants, so it seemed only fair. I was not sanguine about the fate of our botanical colleagues since we struggled to keep them alive pre-pandemic. I christened them with tragic names like Heathcliff for the brooding Sansevieri, Beth March for the wispy bamboo palm, and Captain Ahab for the lush and determined devil’s ivy. Others got Gatsby, Lily Bart, and Anna Karenina.
By June 2020, the LaserJet ink from February’s printouts was faded and the pages’ edges curled. A pair of black pumps loitered under a desk as if just kicked off. A post-it on a stapler warned usurpers the gadget belonged to Andre. Going to the office felt increasingly like returning to Pompeii after the blast. On the streets, all indicators of time and season were out of whack. Nearby after-work bars heralded Saint Patty’s Day. Marshmallow Peeps, less vibrantly yellow but still probably edible, nested in card-shop windows for a long-past Easter. Bus-side ads for Broadway’s shuttered Lion King continued to urge, “Hakuna Matata!”
But it was impossible not to worry. Some of our clients went out of business. Others cut budgets. Plywood covered retail stores against street protests. We applied for government loans — a first in the history of our tech consulting business. The election outcome was uncertain, as was the arrival of a vaccine. In November 2020, we finally threw out the coffee creamer.