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The Column: Big-city nerves are jangled by the pandemic

At night, we eat at a little table. Two candles, two wine glasses, the two of us trying to get through.

The big house they built down the street killed most of our water view, but we can still see harbor lights and the charter fishing boat operating even in cool weather.

We raise our glasses, half filled, one red, one white.

"Toast."

"Toast."

And then:

"We’re doing all right with all this. Aren’t we?"

"Sure. Doing all right."

On the hi-fi, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are singing "Autumn in New York."

Before I can stop myself, I say, "Autumn in New York? Good luck."

We haven’t been to the city since March — not to the Irish Repertory Theatre on 22nd Street or the little Italian place, Restivo, on the corner after the show.

No walks through Times Square, dodging the crowd. No rides on the crowded, late night 2 or 3 trains back to Brooklyn where — before the pandemic — we would go on weekends. No Sunday morning circuits around Prospect Park.

Sometimes, if we stayed in Brooklyn and didn’t head to Manhattan, we’d listen to jazz at the conservatory on Seventh Avenue or see a sweet, small-scale production at Gallery Players on 14th Street where the audience sits in the basement of what once was a school.

Or maybe it would just be dinner with Demetri — our pal of more than 40 years, Demetri Sarantitis, who comes over from Hoboken, to have a pizza at Il Porto down by the Navy Yard or a couple acres of Mexican food at Mezcal’s on Fifth Avenue.

"What to start?" says Demetri, always hungry. "Nachos, maybe? Quesadilla? Guacamole, spicy, for sure." When appetizers come, Demetri divides them into thirds. He is an architect and has a good eye. "Salud," we all say. "Health."

Memories pile up like a stack of old LPs, songs from another day.

One time at Restivo, a server approached to say quietly he noticed my right shoe was falling apart and didn’t want me to trip. I used Gorilla Glue to make the repair at home and showed the waiter on our next visit.

"Ah, I remember," he said. "Fixed."

I haven’t worn that pair for months. They are going-out shoes, and I am not going out.

Nope. Homebound. Stuck.

So why not just head in and at least say hello, again — pack an overnight bag and go?

Northern State, Grand Central, Jackie Rob, Eastern Parkway, Grand Army Plaza, Eighth Avenue, down the block, front entrance, fourth floor, last door on the right. This is my mother’s old one-bedroom co-op in Park Slope. She died years ago. We’ve been able to hold on to it, a stupendous luxury, no question. Glorious. And empty.

So … just go.

Infection numbers vary by neighborhood, but it’s not like a COVID cloud is hovering over Gotham and only Batman can spare us. Wearing masks, keeping distance, the risks are slim. Millions manage every day.

Still, I’m edgy. Chance encounters on the street. Someone approaching in the hallway. Stuck in the elevator with a stranger. A traffic accident. It’s the worst thing about the pandemic. It may not make you sick. But it’s sure to make you neurotic.

So this weekend, we’re home. And probably next weekend, too, and the one after that.

With options, we’re the fortunate ones.

We’re not among the hungry, for instance. A Newsday story said as many as 400,000 people on Long Island have food worries — 400,000. We are not struggling to pay the rent. We can skip public transportation. We don’t have to get to work.

Our only problem is a case of the big-city jitters. No one should shed a tear.

For now, we’ll wait this thing out — safe and sound and in the suburbs.

Some people say New York won’t be the same after the pandemic. Broadway theaters are dark through May, at least. The Philharmonic canceled its season. Restaurants are gasping. Favorite shops in peril.

But you can’t kill this place. It rebuilt after horrific fires in the 18th and 19th centuries. It came back after Sept. 11 and superstorm Sandy.

"New York is always hopeful," said the writer Dorothy Parker. "Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it."

When all this is over, the city will be there.

Everything works out, we will, too.

Salud.

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