Portrait of a Pandemic Prisoner

Adam Nelson
2 min readMar 16, 2021
Photo by Adam Nelson

One year ago today, I took this shot, within the rumbling ramble of New York City, before the dark and stormy deaths of 525,000 succumbed to airborne illness.

Grim did not yet grieve telekinetically. Electronically. From afar.

One year ago today, when a cough was a consideration. A sneeze, a salute. Neither was known as the calculated calling card that causes us to leap.

The kind that has led to 2.6 million fatalities unfathomable.

One year ago today, before the pandemic protruded and protracted our promising everyday’s, the first case of Covid was registered in Virginia.

It forced us indoors. Cratering our economy. Killing our culture, family, work, health, and wealth. Of all that was lost, built on sand, bruised, and buried in the battering, it is the mist of this list that unequivocally empties the bowl.

The boarding-up of Broadway, the dim movie houses, eradication of small businesses, and our empty restaurants that give rise to rile.

In 1999, I opened Workhouse on a wayward street in Soho. Only proximity could have elicited such a love affair with one of those dark restro dens made expressly for daydreamers.

Known as Lucky Strike, it served as our business bohemian, wine-stained boardroom. A soterial secret spot unparalleled in moments of both personal celebration and dazed devastation. For thirty-one years it held merlot-splashed memories, chased by watery espressos, and crisp creme brûlées served over crinkly paper tablecloths.

In the shadow of evenings long ago, I see a flickering filament in the mirror of my mind. Members of The Wooster Group — Spalding Gray, Elizabeth LeCompte, and Willem Dafoe — gathered together like a theatrical den of thieves deep in penetrating pantomime, whose storied and sensational Performing Garage stood stoically just outside.

The faux Parisian perimeter adding melodious mist to that magical manifold.

Nothing says death-like devastation. Especially when met with creaky deadbolt doors forever closed.

How fortunate to have been able to say a greedy goodbye to at least one shelter before it was sheathed in sawdust.

Entering one year ago today, on a rain-soaked evening, the night before New York quarantine, when my favorite manager opened up even though the restaurant had been privately closed.

One last chat and chew.

One final midnight mix in a city that is not recognized even by the ghosts who grew up beside her. Before this potent pandemic robbed us of participation, crammed into small tables with just anyone.