After years and years and years of dreaded anticipation, the Norovirus finally arrived in our household! Of course, I couldn't be entirely sure that the viral gastroenteritis that afflicted us with much vengeance was definitely of the Norovirus genus, but the rapidity and extreme communicability that characterized the outbreak pointed towards Norovirus, as well as the fact that Norovirus was very common in that day and age, so it was kind of a safe guess.
But first, other things happened.
It was the month where non-heterosexuality was celebrated, albeit only by the people who were always celebrating it. We went down to my church, or my former church, depending. There was a picnic for families tagged with an awkward initialism.
We hadn't read the notice carefully enough. We had failed to bring swim clothes for the kids.
There weren't many twins, so Asaph assumed that most of the parents present had adopted. Also, the kind of non-heterosexuals who resorted to surrogacy tended to be the type who avoided church picnics. But a man who knew better than we said that we were wrong.
Asaph noted that the parents present were extremely devoted to their children, and that those who were revolted by the rise in non-heterosexual parenting that had not originated in non-homosexual relationships -- both conservatives in the hinterlands and radicals in urban centers -- who accused us of simply using our children as a fashionable accessory, should have been present to witness the sight.
The rector approached me.
"Your children are so lovely," she said, in her charming British manner. "Maybe one day we will see them at Sunday school?" She accented different syllables than I would have, owing to Britishness.
I revealed to her that the children were being raised as Jews, and that there was nothing that could be done about it.
"Our hands are tied," I didn't say.
Our daughter tried to eat some sidewalk chalk, leaving her lips bechalked.
When it was time to leave, I tricked Asaph into letting me bring the children inside the church, as he was chatting with the senior associate and couldn't object in front of her.
The sanctuary was predictably bedraped and festooned with the colors of the rainbow.
We went to meet some non-heterosexual friends who hated children of any kind. We veiled ours to avoid offense.
It was a beautiful day. Our friends talked about all of the relations in which they had engaged during various tawdry adventures.
What a beautiful day! I thought.
The next day was the large procession in honor of the non-heterosexual. We weren't going, of course, but I wore a shirt given to me by my far-left Armenian friend Darius.
There was yet another picnic organized by Asaph for the New York County Twins Association. I brought the kids.
I was overjoyed upon departure.
We fed the kids, knowing that our former friends and associates were dancing, et cetera, on a pier somewhere.
Once I had gone with Darius! I remembered. But he was very left-wing, so it had been difficult.
The next morning the children rose at an ungodly hour. I took them on a walk. We went south, through Hell's Kitchen. As it was the morning after the June celebrations, it was not an enjoyable stroll.
There was trash, of wet, dry, and living varieties, everywhere. Foul smells swirled about as noxiously as they could. The children stared in shock from the stroller as the wheels passed over the remnants of many hopes and dreams.
It didn't help that the conditions of the air were hot and humid. I felt that we were being smothered by aerosolized filth. I longed for the clean and the pure.
I watched two muscled young men get into an argument as one of them got into a taxicab.
"You're psycho!" said more muscly of the two. The less muscly rode away.
The words came to me in a robotic voice: oh the drama.
I quickly walked towards the river. I found a spot in the Hudson River Park where I could treat my brain with visual remedies.
We headed back up into our non-descript neighborhood. I thought about how our son mysteriously knew the hand gestures associated with the song "Itsy Bitsy Spider", known not to him in Hebrew as "עכביש קטן", even though we had it on video.
I walked through the begrimed city to my job.
Nothing interesting happened there.
Our children were starting to learn problematic things.
The national holiday arrived. I had made a resolution to walk to the little red lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. That was to be my only festive activity. The sky was blue, the clouds were white, and the lighthouse would be red, even though that order of colors was French, and not United States of American.
I started off with our daughter, who promptly fell asleep.
Miles later she woke up.
She started to get impatient.
We entered an area of many Latino and specifically Dominican families having barbecues. The smell of grilling meat and the sound of various rhythmic musics filled the air.
Our daughter was spellbound, and temporarily forgot her complaints.
We kept getting closer to our destination.
I was getting impatient myself.
Finally, we arrived.
There was the lighthouse!
"Up?" asked our daughter.
"No up," I said. We headed back into the city.
I felt bad that I couldn't let her run around, but it would have ended in tears.
We crossed over back into the city.
The first person I saw was a non-heterosexual man who was wearing shorts and no shirt, and, as was apparent, no underwear. He had a large tattoo at the very lowest part of his back. He was pretending to walk his dog.
He saddened me.
We walked into the Heights.
Back when I studied the Spanish language, I would have had a lot of interest in discussing the proper use of the verb rentar.
Now I didn't care.
We headed down to the subway and were back home in minutes.
At or on the weekend, I took the kids to Brooklyn to spend the night with our paid childminder, so that we could observe Asaph's birthday.
It was so hot. Accursed climate change! I thought.
I put on my sunglasses before I exited the subway station. "Why are you doing that, man?" asked a person who looked like someone who often wore sunglasses when it wasn't necessary.
I was just doing it in a futile effort to minimize the wrinkles around my eyes.
I always had very mixed feelings when I dropped the kids off at the home of our paid childminder. I often wished that our paid childminder just lived with us in our apartment. Or in a new apartment where there would be room for her.
I headed back into the city to meet Asaph near where Darius lived, or had lived -- I didn't know, since we didn't have any of these friends anymore.
I accidentally took Asaph to an Arab street fair on our way to a series of planned destinations.
We could hear the cries of "!فلسطين !فلسطين" echoing through the trendy and fashionable neighborhood.
"I'm sorry," I said to Asaph.
Our first stop was gelato.
Our second stop was a spa, with massage.
We then had an unscheduled stop that Asaph insisted upon. I didn't like deviating from the schedule.
Finally we had dinner at the place where we had dinner for any and every special occasion. When we walked out to take the documentary photo, the hostess was worried that we were leaving prior to eating and paying.
After fetching the kids the next day, I walked through one of my old neighborhoods. I went by where I had lived when I had my 30th birthday party! I had been wearing leather pants, and the toilet had overflowed, and a neighbor had complained about the noise having woken up his two-year-old child.
What shame, I thought.
I walked by where I had met Asaph. It was unrecognizable.
We had a party for Asaph down by the river. We invited a large number of persons, but only those with children attended. I was disappointed at first, but I liked all of those who did arrive very much, so I ended up not feeling so bad about our former friends. It wasn't fun for most of them to be around even one child.
A female parent friend couldn't remember how to say "pinwheel" in Korean, so I looked it up for her.
She hadn't even remembered how to say it in Spanish, the main language she used with her children and husband.
Later that week we had arranged to go out to Fire Island, to stay at the house of our affluent friend back from the olden days. Audra took the children to Brooklyn again.
It had been almost two years since we had been there. I was full of excitement and dread as we boarded the ferry.
There were no visible changes to the route. It was so nice to smell the ocean!
There had been some changes, owing to fires, but the place was pretty much the same.
Since we were there mid-week during the week after a holiday, it was quieter than I had ever seen it in the summer. When one caught sight of an extremely attractive guy, he was likely to be an employee of one of the local establishments.
We had the house to ourselves the first night.
I locked the door to our bedroom, because I was kind of scared. The roar of the ocean was wonderful to sleep to. I was used to using an artificial version emitted from my smartphone.
I loved our affluent friend's house.
It had smooth floors and walls, unlike most of the houses out there.
Still, one could see that the ocean was trying to destroy with moth and rust. The constant spray of salt air required constant vigilance.
Luckily that wasn't our concern.
Our formerly iceblond friend and his dog -- who were now nomadic vagabonds -- arrived for one night, along with someone who had a paid rental share that week. It was nice to have some company.
I joined a conference call in the morning, since it just made things easier not to get too behind.
I was happy to be able to go for daily runs.
We made meals from food purchased at the ridiculously overpriced stores, but we didn't even mind!
I walked by what I assumed was a bamboo die-off. Maybe it was damage from the great storm of the previous autumn, I thought.
We tried to go out to one of the so-called teas, but there were so few people, we pretended that we had just been going back to the overpriced store.
We cooked and watched movies and just looked out at the ocean and the stars from the roof and balconies.
The place was certainly not frozen in time, but I did feel like I was temporarily transported back to an epoch of considerably less worry. Or maybe just different worries.
A walk on the beach revealed that not all damage had been repaired, in spite of the obscene wealth of the homeowners.
The absence of people did evoke a twinge of melancholy.
I read an article called "The Boys on the Beach" written by an an American neoconservative (meaning Jewish) journalist and author from the September 1980 issue of Commentary magazine.
It was a sign of extreme privilege and luxury that I was able to find this article interesting. Still, it was refreshing to ready articles hostile to non-heterosexuality that did not reference religion. And she had got a few things right.
I looked for more comforting reading.
It was time for us to leave.
We had interacted with very few persons of any kind or type during this trip. It had mostly been about sleeping to the sound of the waves of the Atlantic.
I went to watch for the ferry.
Suddenly we were back in the world of normal human beings.
That weekend we walked up to the first birthday party of some twins we knew whose parents were like us and who had come into the world like our children. (They had attended Asaph's birthday party.)
I hadn't noticed that a west-side church was caving in like some Cambodian temple.
I passed another church that had clearly been repurposed for the Greeks.
The birthday party was very fancy. It had a theme with many corresponding features. We kept our children confined to a humid racquetball or squash court where they played with rolling toys.
That evening I went to a surprise wedding.
Everyone was surprised.
I saw a gift I had given a few years prior that I had purchased from a German Benedictine Roman Catholic church at Tabgha (الطابغة).
The next day we drove to Tenafly, New Jersey, for an outdoor barbecue held by two Israeli non-heterosexual men who had twin girls in the same way that we had twin boy and girl.
Their girls looked like beautiful and otherworldly fairies. They called their two fathers by the Israeli/Aramaic word for the concept (אבא), plus the respective man's name. I liked that idea.
"Can I be called אבא אריק?" I asked Asaph.
Our daughter ate some glue, so we had to call the poison control center.
Over 90% of the guests were Israelis who worked in the high-tech sector. The hosts were only planning on being in Tenafly temporarily and showed little interest in assimilation. Most of the food being served had been imported from Israel.
As we left, the guests and hosts demanded that we download a Global Positioning System-based navigational smartphone application which used turn-by-turn navigation, as well as user-submitted travel times and route details, developed by an Israeli start-up high-tech company.
It was supposed to help us bypass the traffic on the way home.
I couldn't really understand how to interpret it. There were so many crazy little cartoon critters.
It was difficult to cross the George Washington Bridge on a Sunday night in any manner.
Later that week our children had their year-and-one-half check-up at the doctor. As I walked through New York's tony Upper East Side, I thought about how I hadn't seen my former friend Tony Rizzuto since before I was married.
A museum-like smell (a pleasant one) reminded me of a youthful trip to Madrid in 1995.
Our daughter did not enjoy the check-up, even though it involved no shots or vaccinations of any kind!
A shipment of peanut-based Israeli snacks arrived at home. I had ordered them with the hope that feeding them to our kids would prevent them from developing a peanut allergy, even though there had been advice a few years prior that advised withholding allergens from young children.
"You could just give them peanut butter," had said our pediatrician, when I told her about my pending order of Israeli goods. But I had also wanted to counter the boycotts.
No one could explain the rise in allergies. My grandmother, who had been born before World War One, had had many food allergies.
I took the kids on a walk that Saturday.
It was hard to find good smells in New York.
Things either smelled awful, or, if you walked deep enough into Central Park, they might smell like nothing.
Our son was a bad eater.
We headed out to Brooklyn for an informal reunion of Asaph's business-school class.
It was a hot, hot day.
Our children still thought that the word "hot" meant "food".
A version of the clogs I owned that Asaph hated with much fervor was being worn by one of Asaph's former classmates.
"See?" I said.
"He used to be a model," Asaph said. "He can wear whatever he wants. You can't."
He was still very attractive and tall and blond, even though he and his wife now had a baby.
Some of the party were reprimanded by a security guard for openly drinking beer, even though I had given a warning and had predicted trouble.
We went to a water feature. Even though the water was not being recycled, it was just normal New York tap water with minimal chlorine, and our children splashed and played in the water that pooled in various places. The water feature was crowded with children.
This is a place where our children will acquire a gastrointestinal virus, I thought. I then said it.
I couldn't get the virus out of my head.
The next day, after they had lunch, I gave them a bath, because they had gotten very dirty eating.
This is around the time they should start throwing up, I thought.
After drying the children, our daughter started throwing up.
I screamed for Asaph.
"As I prophesied!!" I yelled.
That caused a fight.
Our daughter kept vomiting, and I kept cleaning it up with bleach. In a known-to-be-futile effort to keep our son away from the virus, I took him outside.
We walked by an absurdity.
I went to buy him some foam clogs.
We went to a playground where he promptly fell down and started to bleed.
We went to another playground.
I hadn't realized that the playground hadn't been named after the Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy which opposed the United States during at least two wars who had become an iconic folk hero in American, Aboriginal and Canadian history.
It had been named after someone who had been named after that person.
Our son's wounds healed a bit, although not with the vampiric speed I had hoped.
I checked in with Asaph. Our daughter kept throwing up, although there wasn't much left.
I finally went home. I took our daughter on a short walk during which she slept. She woke up to heave dryly at one point, and then went back to sleep.
I brought her back home, and Asaph took her out again as I prepared our son for bed.
Asaph reported that she was much improved, and was dancing and drinking by the pier.
I knew that only a few virus particles could cause illness, so I made sure to wash my hands in a light bleach solution every few minutes. Even with this hand-washing protocol, I didn't put my hands to my mouth, or touch any food with my hands. I didn't even touch silverware -- I used individually wrapped plastic forks or used a paper towel to pick up any utensils. I sprayed bleach around the apartment at regular intervals -- several times each half hour.
I didn't even eat dinner. I had already been dieting, but I decided to use this as an opportunity to speed up my weight loss.
"Imagine that the apartment is contaminated with radiation and behave accordingly!" I said to Asaph, fruitlessly.
I was up all night as we kept her in our room, although she didn't throw up again.
I felt sick when I woke up, but it was only from exhaustion. Asaph was already sick from the virus, however.
I stayed home from work. Audra arrived.
"Imagine that the apartment is contaminated with radiation and behave accordingly!" I said to Audra, fruitlessly. "Don't touch any of your food! Wash your hands with bleach! It's better if you don't even eat in the apartment!"
Carmen arrived for her semiweekly visit. I went out with her and our daughter, so that she wouldn't have to be in the contaminated and infected apartment.
I went to buy our daughter foam clogs. Later I would regret my choice of color.
I felt terrible, but I knew that I didn't have the virus, yet.
Asaph continued to feel worse and worse. He lay in bed next to me, moaning quietly.
He stayed home for a second day. His nausea started to abate, but he became feverish and lethargic.
I walked home after a day at work, scared about what I would find.
It started raining as the sun shined.
Plou i fa sol, I thought, something I had learned from Centfocs.
Asaph was still not doing well. I avoided lecturing him on how he never heeded my constant warnings about the importance of hand washing and the risk of gastrointestinal illness and how he never ever listened to me and shouldn't he apologize to me for a change?
The morning arrived. After 48 hours, Asaph was feeling a bit better. Our daughter had been sick for a maximum of six hours. Our son was still miraculously untouched.
I took the kids out for a walk through Hell's Kitchen, as I did most alternating days.
New York was really gross.
We lived near dilapidated and filthy areas and sterile and soulless areas. Those were the choices.
Why couldn't we have clean and bustling areas with charm and character?
I guessed things could have been worse. We could have all been living in refugee camps, like the Arabs forced the Palestinians to live in, so that they retained a plight.
I received a call from Audra during my Hebrew class that our son was finally sick (Asaph had recovered and had gone to a dinner with his American cousins). I left class with a heavy heart.
He had only thrown up once and went to sleep with no complaints.
In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling nauseated. I had not been dreaming about being sick.
This is it! I thought.
I ran to the bathroom. I took a prescription anti-nausea pill, prescribed by my doctor for just this purpose.
I lay back down in bed. After around 20 minutes, not only did my nausea go away, but I started to feel hungry. I started thinking about onion and goat cheese tartlets.
God, I wanted an onion and goat cheese tartlet.
That's odd, I thought. I didn't think the medicine was supposed to work that well.
I woke up in the morning feeling fine. It had been a false alarm.
The terrible globally heated wave finally ended.
Audra arrived. She was finally sick too. She had brought plastic bags with her on the subway in case she had to render into them.
"Go home!" I said.
I stayed with the kids. We took long walks.
The end of the heat had brought clouds. I hate clouds, and crowds, I thought.
I was in the wrong town.
Our son was lethargic and slightly feverish, but was eating and drinking normally. He wasn't a big thrower-upper -- we had already known this.
I walked by some luxury buildings that filled me with rage and hatred.
I was in the wrong town. I needed out.
Later I discovered why the kids' bathtub wasn't draining properly.
The next day Asaph had arranged for a substitute childminder. She was a Pakistani woman named after a daughter of the Islamic prophet.
I couldn't understand a word she said.
"Imagine that the apartment is contaminated with radiation and behave accordingly!" I said. She didn't understand me.
Our son was still lethargic. I felt bad for him.
I knew that the virus could still be released from an infected person's body for two weeks. When would I get sick? I wondered. I wouldn't be able to maintain this level of vigilance for much longer. Eventually I would drop my guard and eat a piece of bread with a contaminated hand, or floss my teeth without thinking, or drink water from a source other than the showerhead. Then I would have had the worst of both worlds: days of worry and restricted activities and exposure to chlorine bleach, yet ultimately falling victim to the plague.
I repeatedly telephoned the substitute or replacement child minder during the day. She usually didn't answer, but when she did, I couldn't understand her. I hoped the kids were doing well. It was odd to leave them in the care of someone who was a total stranger; Asaph had met her at some time in the past that wasn't clear to me.
Friends of Asaph's family were coming to visit New York from Georgia (state) over the weekend.
On Saturday morning I went out to get coffee with the kids, passing a naturally occurring retirement community where two non-elderly friends of ours lived.
They didn't have kids -- yet.
I detoured by Lincoln Center, and thought about the Esposizione Universale Roma.
People in the third age of life, holding steel bottles of water, public-radio canvas tote bags, copies of The New Yorker, and portable folding chairs, were lining up for free Mozart tickets.
We all headed over to meet Asaph's parents' friends at their hotel.
We went downtown.
We walked by New York University, which wasn't difficult, since it occupied considerable territory.
We headed to Washington Square Park. It was a beautiful day. Someone was playing selections from the Philip Glass opera Satyagraha on a piano.
We continued south. I had to explain the concept of "Eurotrash" to Asaph's parents' friends from Georgia (state).
We were starting to get dehydrated.
We had arranged to go to the memorial at the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. There was impressive security. As we had reserved tickets ahead of time, we bypassed all of the European tourists waiting in long, fenced-in lines.
We spent most of the time watching the children, making sure they followed the rules.
The weather wasn't too hot, but it was very sunny, and the sun had been magnified.
Asaph got emotional, even though he had been safely in Israel during the attacks, comfortably enduring the Al-Aqsa Intifada (انتفاضة الأقصى).
We ended up in a park with a view of the Statue of Liberty and the comings and goings of the Staten Island Ferry. Asaph's parents' friends' teen-aged daughter expressed interest in a shirtless young man who was reading a book, and conspired to have him take our photo, so that she could interact with him.
I didn't dare reveal this young man's obvious orientation.
We had plans to go out to dinner with these friends at a place we used to frequent frequently when we lived down on the nicest street in Hell's Kitchen.
Our babysitter barely had to interact with the kids before we put them to sleep, but, still, I said, "Imagine that the apartment is contaminated with radiation and behave accordingly!"
We had to wait a long time to sit down at the restaurant. I looked at all of the young and hip patrons, laughing evilly in the manner of young New Yorkers, and felt fear and loathing.
The food was fine. Was it worth the bother?
The next day we took the friends of Asaph's parents to Central Park.
It was cloudy.
Central Park was still my favorite place in New York, apart from the Cloisters, which I had only visited once.
Of course, I preferred real nature, although real nature usually required an automobile and involved more hazards.
Nature wasn't really our friend, I knew.
We went to a popular and expensive toy store. Our son's obsession with shoes delayed his enjoyment of a hackneyed attraction.
He was not very attracted to the actual attraction.
I went down a side street to buy some alcohol-based hand sanitizer, even though I knew it was ineffective against Norovirus. I passed a Japanese grocery store.
Oh how I wanted to go in!
Asaph's parents' friends were quite impressed by this mediocre town.
Perhaps the fact that I never took advantage of any of the advantages of New York was a reason why the romance had gone sour.
The only advantage I took advantage of was the lack of car usage.
But weren't there other places where I could have that?
The friends of Asaph's parents left.
We walked home.
Upon reviewing the contents of the internet, I realized I was now to the right of the maternal side of Asaph's Israeli family on issues related to Israeli security and existence.
Things outraged me that didn't outrage them.
Don't you see? I wanted to scream at them. But I didn't.
As I walked to work, I wondered if I should be offended.
I was hard to offend.
That night, I asked Asaph to get me a bottle of sparkling water from the refrigerator. But when I sat down at the table for dinner, I saw that he had emptied several bottles of sparkling water into a pitcher, a pitcher that he had handled, filled with ice cubes, ice cubes that he had handled.
Asaph had recovered from Norovirus much less than two weeks prior.
I poured some into a glass. When Asaph wasn't looking, I threw it away.
That night, I brought my own bottle of sparkling water into the bedroom. I thought that I had removed the bottle cap before going to sleep.
In the middle of the night I reached for the bottle to take a drink. But when I brought it to my lips, I felt that the cap was still on. A bottle cap that I had touched with my hands -- my hands that had possibly been unbleached at the time -- touched my lips.
In the morning I looked over.
I tried to accept my fate. When I got the Norovirus, I would suffer in silence and with stoic dignity. I would stay isolated and would bleach everything that came out of me.
Norovirus stops with me, I would think.
48 hours later I was still unstricken.
I had lost 20 pounds, owing to diet, exercise, and neurosis about the onset of Norovirus.
I was forced to exercise during my lunch hour from work.
I marked it on my computer-based personal information manager, to prevent people from scheduling meetings. In the olden days, people hadn't scheduled meetings all the time, but now people scheduled 9:00 meetings at 22:30 the night before.
I had 9:00 meetings twice a week, but, even though I got up at 5:00 to tend to the children, I had trouble getting to work by then, owing to our child minder's schedule.
The children were getting impatient with our morning walks.
The wanted to run around, but it wasn't safe -- I couldn't watch the both of them.
We took walks through dismal Hell's Kitchen.
It was awful.
We realized that we would soon have to so-called potty train them.
We hadn't even been brushing their teeth! We were awful parents.
I went to ask at the dance complex in our old neighborhood about classes for our kids.
I was told by a beautiful and pleasant young woman that I had to wait until the kids were two years of age.
The were painting the remaining section of the West Side Elevated Highway.
It looked pretty good.
We took our kids to playgrounds, even though I worried that they were still infectious.
I left the house at 4:30 on Sunday morning to head to the airport.
I was heading to South East England for a "Hostile Environment Awareness Training" for work, even though I had managed to get out of at least two recent trips to potentially hostile environments.
I had no idea what was awaiting me!