Dancing In The Face Of Uncertainty

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Dancing In The Face Of Uncertainty

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My family and I were shown immense grace as the world endured the heart wrenching sorrow of the COVID-19 pandemic. May those whose lives were stolen by the coronavirus live forever in memory, and rest in eternal peace.

At the onset of my second Freshman semester, the chatter among friends included ignorant musings such as: "what would happen if we got it?”, and my favorite, “the virus would NEVER come to the island.” Before Costco lines evoked Walmart on Black Friday, and up-to-the-minute death tolls became the linchpin of our media diet, the Bayonne Bridge signified a seemingly impenetrable chasm safeguarding Staten Island from a quarantined cruise ship in February 2020; because obviously airborne particles don’t pay tolls, right?

A strange sense of wonder and excitement overtook the CSI campus on March 11, 2020: the day Gov. Cuomo announced CUNY & SUNY schools would “pause” in-person instruction. I'll never forget hearing the announcement on radio before walking to class for the last time until September 20, 2021. As I drove down Loop Road, a group of students (presumably upperclassman) cheered while blasting music on the Great Lawn. If those students truly were upperclassman, their dancing in the face of uncertainty would spite the commencement celebration they would never receive. I suspect a webpage and some pre-recorded speeches is an inutile stand-in for sitting among thousands of graduates on that very lawn.

In tandem with devastation, panic, and uncertainty, the pandemic thrust society into a hard reset. So much of life is spent planning, yearning, and working towards the future - all of which are meaningless novelties to a hellacious virus. To survive the pandemic, besides evading COVID by way of masks, social distancing, and grace from above, each of us had to sift the remnants of our livelihoods to make out what our “new” present would look like.

I thrived through the pandemic with music blasting, self-reflection, and a sense of liberation. Family bonds grew stronger, passion projects were completed, and for the first time in a decade, my life felt tranquil. I am repulsed by the fact that while millions took their final breath, businesses shuttered for good, and anxiety tormented the world, I found inner peace reminiscent of my childhood summers. Eerily, I vividly recall sitting in the basement of 2N during a 8am Geology class wishing for, “all this crap to end”, and lamenting, “why didn’t I go to SNHU or some college online?” I guess someone got their wish, and dragged humanity down with him.

My father was the only non-essential worker in the house; he didn’t get that fancy paper from the state which supposedly let you free if cops pulled you over. We spent the first full day of lockdown scouring local stores for the coveted (and effective) N95 masks. At a time when the CDC told people to not wear masks so medical professionals had supplies, we were on a mission to guarantee we had protection for the long haul. My family recognized that the “pause” would not be a 1 to 2 month patty cake. My father was adamant his Window Cleaning & Power Washing business would collapse from the indefinite closures of his commercial clients.

Our first purchase was the last 3-pack of Milwaukee N95s with those gaudy exterior respirators from homespun Garber’s Hardware. The ever-jovial gentlemen behind the counter adamantly said something to the effect of, “we’re gonna be here ’till they tell us to shut them doors.” 3 masks wouldn’t cut it, so we continued down the way to ye olde Sherwin Williams; where the employee had no suspicion we needed a 20-count box of 3M's finest for anything other than some recreational spray painting. Mask wearing wasn’t en vogue just yet.

Those masks were needed when my Uncle could not get out of bed at 1:30pm the following Saturday. He worked the night prior, Friday the 13th, at his second job as a bouncer in Manhattan. On Saturdays he would saunter out of bed by 10:45 the latest; but here he was: frozen in bed, voice hoarse, and coughing like a smoker. I threw on the 95 and nitrile gloves just to speak to him from the hallway. That day was also the first time I ventured out in full biohazard regalia. I still remember the condescending scowls at my neighborhood’s second rate deli counter.

The treatment advice the CDC hotline provided was to load up on Extra Strength Tylenol and guzzle water like there was no tomorrow. Thankfully my Uncle did see tomorrow and recovered in about 5 days. While my Dad and I kept our distance as my mother tended to the patient, we realized there must be a fruitful pastime besides burying our eyes in CNN coverage all day.

My father, perpetually seeking the next project, came to the realization that, in plain english: we needed a pool table.

When I was 6 years old, my father built a pool table out of wood when he was working for a contracting firm that operated in what is now Brooklyn’s Industry City. At 9 feet It conveniently sat atop our giant dinning room table. It was a gorgeous deep blue with every authentic accoutrement short of nicotine-reeking cloth. The table lasted about 8 months until my mom wanted her dining room back, fair enough. For a long time that table felt like a fever dream. After the it departure it was seldom mentioned; the balls and commemorative Coca-Cola cuestick sat dormant in the far reaches of our old home.

The biggest hurdle to this project was space. The only feasible location was the unfurnished room in the back of our basement. The room experienced iterations as a screen-print emulsion lab, woodshop, actual chocolate factory, punching bag area, and video recording studio. After countless YouTube tutorials, including a Filipino gentleman building an unleveled table where all balls rolled to one side, we ventured to Lowe’s “Indoor Lumber Yard” to rekindle the magic of 2007.

We sourced only the finest un-warped 2x4s and the purest synthetic wood crafted by the hands of man: Unfinished MDF Board. The 97 inch composite wouldn't fit down the basement stairwell, so we asked the one employee not running from us to cut it down the middle. Our makeshift table now presented two unique considerations: first, the board had to be precisely glued back together, and second, did you know commercial lumber dimensions are several inches off the actual product size? And in case you were not aware, “real” pool tables are made of slate.

Breaking ground on March 19th, we used our decommissioned 20-year-old kitchen table as legs for our new creation. The board’s overhang allowed pockets to sit freely (no ball return system needed). On the days I had online class, my father intended to go downstairs “for about an hour” in the morning, before getting stuck in a jam by lunch, and working until dinner. I would assist in between classes, and when I was free, we’d get caught up in the room for hours on end. With Music Choice and MTV Classic the soundtrack of our toil, my Dad and I measured “tournament standard” dimensions - only to be slightly off, argued about what the heck a 142 degree cut really is, and savored the aromatics of wood glue and contact cement. The room was coated in sawdust, with scrap wood scattered neatly about. I was finally involved in my dad’s carpentry prowess after years of staring at his convoluted tools. Have you heard a Mitter saw in action? The grinding of the spiraling blades drown your ears with the screams of a motorcycle whizzing through a tunnel. I’d wince in fear that the time would come when the blade’s “SHING” would be followed by an agonized scream. My dad made mention of how woodshop teachers were always missing an appendage. He even shared horror stories like the time the blade guard failed to engage on a circular saw, skid free, peeled the side of his boot, cut through floor tiles, and sputtered wildly until it sliced the power cord.

When I did schoolwork upstairs while listening to SiriusXM (another pandemic coping tool) I regularly heard my dad belt obscenities en español louder than both of our blaring radios. The table was declared playable at 8pm on Monday March 30th. I know this because the music on tv tuned to a channel recording CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE (I DVR’d many movies during lockdown). The table is not 100% complete, and has some quirks which challenge you to be a better player.

We practiced and played on that table at least an hour a day everyday until in-person classes began to cloud my schedule. Under lockdown, my family spent days and nights hanging out in the backyard, barbecuing and laughing loudly, before we capped the night with rounds of pool. In homage to the California Spring Break shelved by the obvious, I burned a best of California Hip-Hop Mix CD to play on our old stereo that found new life in the pool room.

As New York overcame the epicenter phase, the laid back qualities of spring carried into the summer and fall. Everyday felt like a celebration of life. People were out in parks and open spaces, roads were traffic free, and in my case, I was able to hold the people I love closer. I wish everyone could have experienced the “new normal” as I did - with their own sense of peace. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved ones who no longer walk this earth because of the pandemic, and myself and my entire family experienced onset and lingering side effects from both the vaccine and the coronavirus. I do not think I would have survived contracting COVID as I did in May 2022 if I was not vaccinated.

I look back at my lockdown experience so fondly because I choose to focus on the joyous moments in the midst of global tragedy. Perspective is key. Perhaps I was forsaken the “true college experience”. I know for sure I was afraid of COVID. I only stoped wearing my N95s after having them for 12 hours straight while coughing phlegm from the virus. I feel a sense of sorrow and shame when people tell me the lockdown screwed them mentally; regardless of whether or not they lost someone.

But what did I get out of the pandemic? A furnished room, an unbroken streak of Straight A’s, an endless summer with those close to me - and at what cost? I’m still the same shoddy pool player after three years of practice. What the lockdown gave me, more than anything, was the one thing that is unequivocally fleeting in this life: time.

Maybe in hindsight, those revelers on the Great Lawn had the right idea.

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This item was submitted on March 30, 2023 by Louis Adorno using the form “Share Your Lockdown Staten Island Story” on the site “Lockdown Staten Island”:

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