NYC Journal #18 — Test Your Blood — Friday, May 29, 2020
Earlier in the week I signed up via a link that my brother texted me. They had every day broken into five minute intervals and there were lots of available slots. I thought Friday after work-from-home would be good. 5:55PM meant I had 55 minutes to travel 25 minutes.
I left home like 5:10PM and walked quickly to the train. I kept my mask in my hand. Is that why the young woman who was starting to cross over to my corner backpedaled and then waited to cross the giant street from her corner and not mine, which was contaminated by a man without a mask? I thought, should I put my mask on? But the light was changing soon and so by then the most polite thing seemed to be waiting for the big street while ignoring her and her chosen corner.
Of course I hate this train for being the loudest and with the most glaring yellow light and so I never take it anymore, but I used to take it to work all the time and so I knew the way and my feet followed along the concrete and past the concrete walls while my brain floated out to sea. Sat down, waited three minutes. Train screeched up. Going to board it, but then the metallic sing-songy voice reminds me that this is the train to Manhattan! I’m supposed to go deeper into Brooklyn, which means I should be waiting on the other side.
My lungs, which never quite recovered, notwithstanding my herbal teas, breath exercises, sunbathing and other incantations, felt a little soggy as I dashed up five flights of stairs. The main problem I’ve not shaken is the chest mucous, the sogginess. The paper lungs feeling has largely gone away, at least it’s been largely gone away a while now. There were a lot of steps; the equivalent of running up a steeply slanted football field. Unless I exaggerate.
At the top of the concrete-incased-in-metal steps is a nice clean covered pedestrian walkway. I crossed it, but then on the other side I saw a sign beckoning towards only a train line which I did not need, that in fact had nothing to do with my planned route. So then I ran down the steps. At the bottom was an elevator that said it could take me to the train I needed, though once inside the dark (one weak yellow light — so not pitch black, just kind of dusky) glass-sees-concrete-walls elevator, I did not quite understand which button to choose. I picked the most likely candidate.
Up I went and exited next to the top of the stairs I’d just run down. And so then I realized that the elevator wanted me to do the same thing the stairs had wanted me to do; and so again I crossed the pedestrian bridge, this time looking desperately around for some kind of a clue about the whereabouts of the train I desired, longed for even.
Ah! There off to the side right after you cross the bridge! An elevator that will take you down to the side opposite the one my autopilot had misguided me to. The elevator, however, had a pink plastic ribbon taped across the steel frame, and on the steel doors a sign explained that it was out of service and that the way to get to that side of the train was to go back outside and come in the other entrance. I knew about that way; I’d been avoiding it because I’d already used my ticket and you can’t use them twice in quick succession.
I explained my situation to the lady (African American, round-faced, hair bundled into square loaves on either side of the top of her head) within the station kiosk. I couldn’t understand what she said through the speakerbox. I said, “what?” a couple times; she said loudly, “go ahead!” and pointed again towards the gate that she’d buzzed open. I walked through, still confused and still with damp lungs; I turned and said thank you through the slowly-shutting door.
I jogged down the steps, but oh! people are jogging up the steps! And the trains at this station are only running every 12 minutes (coronavirus time, I guess)! Actually, even worse: the digital sign (hanging from the ceiling on the platform) says 14 minutes until the next subway. On the opposite side (formerly the side I was on) sat s a very skinny 50ish black man in black jeans and a black hoodless sweatshirt and a tight buzz cut. White high tops. What was he saying? He was going on and on but I couldn’t make out about what.
I’m going to switch to the present tense now.
I just would rather.
Between us stand the many straight metal support columns; between each row of those rivet-rich beams the ceiling arches a little, which gives one a little sense of luxury, even if the paint is mostly peeling and gloppy where it isn’t and of course the cement platform is as always stained so gross.
Eventually the train arrives and says to get on board and just thank the Lord.
I’m still going to make it! Not five minutes before my appointment, which my emailed reservation requested, but close enough:at exactly 5:55PM I hop up the steps to the NYPD Community Center. It is a repurposed bank of the old-fashioned sort. I mean the kind that’s a big marble box with columns and other classic touches, and that on the inside consists mostly of one giant rectangular room with a 100 foot ceiling ending in some fancy mosaic or tile work or at least some beautiful old fading stencilled designs of geometric shapes or laurel-knots. This one, as I was to find out, had a nice, new basketball court as the main room.
Now I’m going to switch to the second person.
I’m just gonna do it!
In front of you a tan-skinned medium-build fit guy in tidy shorts and T-shirt, behind you a tall giant-bellied pale-skinned guy in tidy shorts and button-up short-sleeved shirt (like a Hawaiin, but with milder designs) with his white hair combed up and back and long sideburns.
The 5’ light skinned African American lady stops you at the large rectangular entrance to shoot your forehead with an electric ray gun. “What’s this?” you say. “Temperature! Taking your temperature,” she answers quick and cheery. “Oops”, she exclaims after an apparently unsatisfactory beep from the machine, “got to try again.” You square up to try and be a better target. A better beep ensues. “That’s it! 97!, so you’re good to go.”
And you move into the long rectangular foyer where a young, chubby-cheeked tan-skinned man (in blue scrubs and a white lab coat; like everyone working there) with his dark hair combed forward over his bangs speaks to you in a soft, shy voice. “What?” you bend towards this man, who is perhaps 5’4” and seems a tad delicate and in need of quiet reassurance. He repeats towards your bending ears, “if you have an appointment, I need the black and white barcode.” Fortunately, you’ve already brought the email with that code to the fore of your intelligent telephone, “It’s here” you say, turning the phone’s screen towards him. He scans it with his handheld scanner, which beeps approvingly and he says OK you can go on. What flooring is there in the foyer of this old repurposed bank? Square Marble tiles??
Straddling the end of the foyer and beginning of the gymnasium is a very short black (less than 5’) with long hair combed down but buoyantly lifting back up and out en masse. She and the first lady are older than you; the man in the middle is younger than all of you. This final member of the gauntlet also seems happy to see you — so far you’ve been enjoying that great experience of cordiality and communal ease that fancy restaurants in vain attempt to create (you cannot buy true fellow-feeling). She chipperly announces, “Here’s info on how to get your results!” while handing you several stapled-together print-out pages, all the while leaning gamely forward, eyes scanning lively, looking for your spot in the gym. “OK, thanks” you reply. A quick nod, still intent on the tables and her duty, “OK, station 6!” and she points towards the table labeled “6”.
On the left side of the gym are like five or six two-table rows, each of which is about four feet long and houses a single health worker across from whom sits a single test-seeker. Your guy is pale, maybe 50 years old, with dark eyes and a bald head. He leans back kind of bored, arms folded over chest, in his metal folding chair. “ID?” he asks as you take your place opposite him (everybody is in a mask, of course). You search your wallet and emerge triumphant. He takes it with the slow steady nod of infinite indifference, keyboards a bit, and then stands up, “OK, you can follow me.” This man, stocky with big rounded shoulders, is a bit taller than you.
He leads you twenty or thirty feet across the gym floor to one of the blood-drawing stations. Here on this side there are also fix or six or maybe it’s more I can’t remember rows of these tables with let’s guess gray plastic tops supported by steel legs. But instead of two columns of single tables with a little walkway between them, these rows consist of two tables smooshed together, with two coworkers, the blood-drawer and the other one who I guess helps organize the data and equipment.
As you follow your man away from his table, you take one last look at the two ladies from the table next to yours. The short (5’?) skinny 50ish white lady in a white cotton tank-top and brightly colored biking shorts is sitting with her legs double-crossed, so that one running shoe’s heel is flush against the other’s tongue. Her long mousy-brown graying hair is braided tightly down. She moves her hands about nonstop while talking with big eyes and much gusto. I don’t know what she’s talking about. The African American health-care worker across from her is taller and heavier, with broad shoulders and a patient close-lipped nod. You think maybe she’s bored and humoring the other lady, but then, just as you’re leaving the scene, she gets animated and leans forward with a very emphatic, “See, I’d never … “
A tall thin lady with the creamy brown skin and delicate features wears a white lab and long hair tied back. She is 30ish and pretty and says, “Hello, my name is _____ , could you verify your name and date of birth?”, which request you easily fulfill.
Does she ask everyone, or is it the way you push back into the plastic chair and slightly squint your face that makes her say, “You have any issues with needles?” “No,” you lie. Well, it’s not a lie, lie; it’s an expedient exaggeration.
I don’t know what the lady standing a couple feet to the blood-drawer’s right is up to. She’s assisting and/or supervising, because at some point she says, “he should clench his fist”, and the beautiful young blood-drawer with the long flowing but professionally restrained hair — who has already placed your forearm on the leftern most edge of the plastic tabletop and tourniquetted your unexceptional bicep with a blue elastic band — says to you, “can you make a fist?” And then, “Everything OK?” And then, “OK, one, two, three!” at which point arrives the slight prick and then a little prickly wait while the vial fills. And then, “OK, you can relax your fist now.” And quick as a wink she’s removed the needle and replaced it with a little cotton ball. “A little pressure.” she says, and you replace her gloved hand with your bare one. “I’ll just give you a bandage and you’ll be good to go.” “OK. And I go online to check?” “Yes.” “Have a good day.” “You too.”
You leave with a sense of hope for Brooklyn, and with her the world. People of all colors and backgrounds working well and efficiently and happily together towards a shared goal.
Back to first person and to past tense.
“It was poppin,” by which I in this case mean it was going smoothly, with everyone in sync and moving with one accord. However, when I look up that word in Urban Dictionary, I am not sure that I find that exact meaning. The meanings I find are get something started; happening (as in, “what’s going on?”/”what’s poppin”); feeling competent (OK, so this one maybe — but not just feeling competent, but actually being competent); in style. Maybe I used “poppin” correctly and maybe I didn’t, but you get what I mean: it was like we had it together. But more than that: we were all glad to be there together and were flowing along, making it happen, getting it done, a well-oiled machine, a friendly healthy team, a fellowship.
I took the train back home.
About the guy who had been leaning back with his long arms stretched out on the back of the wooden waiting bench — the one I’d seen and heard but whose statements I could not follow when I’d been waiting on the opposite platform. He was still there, and still jabbering into the air when I returned and got off on his platform. But now I heard some of his commentary:
“Moved back to Bedford Stuyvesant! Moved back to Bed Stuy after 40 years and I got no regrets!”
Well finish the piece in second person, past tense.
This was Friday, May 29, 2020. At night your parents called. No, you’d not heard about a black man dying at the hands of white Minneapolis police officers last night. You’d worked from home and then headed straight to your blood test appointment. Burned down a police station in Minneapolis? No, you’d not heard anything. Protests in Brooklyn? Not that you know of, but again you’d not really done anything except call people about building maintenance issues all day long, and no one had mentioned anything about any of this.
Author: Ian Yu
Editor: Johnny Onda Spoett
Copyright: AM Watson