[email protected]: Lady Gaga, Perfume Genius, essential workers and the daily applause

We live for the Applause

There is no doubt that the stay-at-home order from Governor Cuomo was a necessary evil, but the New York lockdown has put vacations, celebrations, and possibly the entire summer, on pause.

Travis, Daryl & Chester pausing in their applauding

Throughout the pandemic, we city-folk have had one unwavering event to look forward to each evening. I am of course speaking of the daily New York City applause for essential workers, which occurs each night at 7 pm for exactly two minutes. Taking the lead from acts of appreciation in Europe, the city-wide ovation was kick-started as a one-night event by an advertising agency. Residents took it upon themselves to make it a daily occurrence across all five boroughs, rain or shine.

Much like the proclamation from Lady Gaga, my boyfriend Travis and I “live for the applause.” The chorus to this song has taken on different meanings for those who stuck around at the epicenter of America’s COVID-19 pandemic.

Once we got the clap, Travis and I adopted the Aperol Spritz as our “signature” drink for the occasion. Initially done as an act of solidarity with Italy – the country hardest hit in the early stages of this crisis – there is something so buoyant about the drink it has stuck with us even as the United States claimed it’s spot as number one in confirmed cases and deaths. Perhaps someone in New Zealand or South Korea, where the coronavirus was conquered, is drinking a Bud Light or White Claw spritzer in honor of us?

As 7 pm approaches, with cocktails in hand, we venture up to the shared rooftop on the 9th floor of our Financial District building. We meet our new friend Chester, a fellow gay resident, who has a shared appreciation of the pleasure that comes from participating in the cheer.

Our apartment building, which was constructed in 1888, is quite short for the neighborhood. From the rooftop, we can easily peer in on our neighbors’ apartments. The neighbors, in turn, look down on us from their skyscrapers towering 30 stories above us.

Since we are so visible, it feels at times as though we are the neighborhood conductors, although it is generally Travis, a former collegiate cheerleader, who takes the lead. Our socially distanced party of 3 typically initiates the raucous cheers that echo through our concrete canyons. I suspect, on the few occasions that we have missed it, the intensity is not the same.

Once the clock strikes 7, or as technology would have it, as out smartphones indicate that it is, FiDi erupts in a cacophony of observance.

Some of us clap, others scream and yell. We have heard car horns, banging pots, New Year’s Eve noisemakers, and an occasional trumpet. And just like on the famous Saturday Night Live episode, there can never be enough cowbell.

In the modern apartments whose windows were constructed with safety in mind, neighbors squeeze their clapping hands through the restrictive openings. The older buildings designed with less consideration towards despondent jumpers feature enthusiastic supporters leaning precariously out their windows as they participate.

Each night, when gay and straight New Yorkers engage in the evening clap, we lionize those doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who endanger their lives to save those unlucky enough to fall victim to the virus.

We extol the sacrifices of the essential workforce who enable us to follow Cuomo’s isolation directive, including the grocery store workers, restaurant employees, and an army of undocumented deliverymen who now fear death in addition to ICE.

We praise the sanitation workers who have continued to do their jobs, keeping the city so clean that an actual post-quarantine fear may be of roving bands of half-starved cannibalistic rats wandering the streets.

And we honor the men and women who have kept our public transportation running so that all the above can get to work.

But we also “live” for our neighboring New Yorkers, unknown friends who have also stuck it out in the epicenter of the American pandemic. I do not begrudge anybody who had the desire and means to leave the city, but I do feel a kinship with those who have stayed.

In the beginning, as the COVID-19 cases increased, the local death toll mounted and our hospitals teetered on the edge of collapse, I would find myself overwhelmed with emotions by this simple 2-minute celebration. Even now, as NYC has nearly flattened the curve and we have initiated conversations about reopening, when I think about how little we know about the future I find tears welling up in my eyes.

I am not sure what next week will bring, or the week after. But so long as we are stuck in our homes and the novel coronavirus ravages our city, we will continue to celebrate the people who make it strong. We live for the applause. We hope for a better tomorrow. And for now, we clap to remind ourselves that we have made it through another day, together.

Daryl, Travis & (socially distanced) Chester on the roof

Cultural highlight of the day

While I have listened to and low-level appreciated the latest song from Lady Gaga, I am absolutely in love with the music of queer rock musician Perfume Genius. While his entire discography is fantastic, I have been listening to his latest, “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” on repeat all day while I work.

I have always felt his music is underappreciated – too gay for the heterosexual community, not club-friendly enough for the gays. But if you are unfamiliar, I highly suggest checking out all his work.

This is Daryl Sela’s fifth post in his series, [email protected], about sheltering at home in downtown New York City. 

Photos by Travis & Daryl