Post 283 - December 19, 2020

Day 283…

We ate dinner outside last night. It was 28 degrees (-2 C).

My brother and sister-in-law, who live upstate, came down to visit their son. Our nephew lives just ten blocks north of us so we made plans to all eat together outdoors.

We made our way down to an Italian restaurant which is just a few blocks south of us. They have a particularly deep kind of veranda with an overhang in front. They have enough space to be able to set up two rows of tables with enough distance between them and still keep the sidewalk clear.

It looks like the front porch of a southern estate.

Their outside structure has been there ever since Michael and I have lived up here, but they’ve recently added plexiglass below the railing while keeping the space above it open. What that does is stop the breeze from blowing below the tables while keeping the air moving on top.

We sat at one of the outer tables and while there were some other people at the other end of the space, by the time our meal was over, we were the only diners there.

Michael and I got there first, so we sat with our backs to the street, leaving the three seats closest to the standing propane heater that had been placed between the tables for our family.

It is hard to tell what to wear these days while eating outside. My parka is so heat efficient that I can only wear a short sleeve shirt underneath it. Knowing that it was likely to be chilly even with heaters, I brought a hoodie with me in my backpack to wear once I’d taken my coat off. Once we were seated and I realized that my back was to the street, and, therefore, the breeze, I ended up leaving my parka on for the whole meal.

I left the hoodie in the backpack which I put on the ground leaning against the plexiglass. Piles of snow were packed up against it on the other side.

We had a great meal. Once we were seated and started eating, we all took our masks off. In between courses, some of us put them back on but that was more to warm our noses up than anything else.

It wasn’t nearly as unwieldy eating a meal while wearing my parka as I feared. After a few minutes, I forgot all about it. The cutlery was ice-cold, but it warmed up as we started eating. We all joked about not putting our tongues on it.

Afterwards, when Michael and I were talking about it, the only thing that we might have done differently would be to get disposable boot/mitten warmers for our toes. Under the table, blocked from the heat, our feet got pretty cold. Afterwards, we made our way down to Rockefeller Center to see the tree which warmed them up somewhat as we moved.

Last Saturday, some friends and I went to see the tree. It was a much warmer evening and at 6pm when we went, the streets around the plaza were pretty packed.

The crowd was interesting because they all seemed to be New Yorkers. Usually in crowds like that you can hear hundreds of different languages, these days, however, you mostly hear just English and Spanish.

There were so many people last week that we ended up just getting out of there. None of us were comfortable being around them all. Last night, I suggested that we eat early and then go downtown to look at the tree later which turned out to be a good idea.

There were certainly some people there, but it was possible to navigate the sidewalks in front of the Saks windows and along the Rockefeller Center Plaza and still keep away from folks. It felt OK.

I would be interested to know whether the restaurant felt that being open last night was worth it. It doesn’t seem possible that the five of us along with the few people who were there when we arrived would have even really covered their operating costs.

As Michael and I navigate through the city, we are trying to be aware of which restaurants seem safe so that we have options. The place where we ate last night is very lucky to have so much outside space because of how the building that rises above it was designed. Not all of them are so fortunate.

They also let us a reserve a table beforehand. We are finding that very few places will accept reservations these days - especially for groups of five or six.

A study released this week by the universities of Chicago and Notre Dame shows that over 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since June.

As things stand, that number can only rise.

In two weeks, over 9 million Americans will lose their unemployment benefits if this stimulus bill doesn’t pass. At the end of the year, federal protection through the CARES Act will also expire meaning that 10 million Americans will be facing foreclosure and eviction.

At the same time, the wealthiest 643 billionaires in this country have seen their fortunes grow by 29%. Collectively, these people have earned $845 billion dollars since the pandemic started.

That’s almost the exact same amount that the Senate and House are arguing about passing for the stimulus bill.

Mark Zuckerberg has made nearly $46 billion this year.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, alone, has seen his personal net worth gain over $70 billion in the last few months.

Robert Reich tweeted back in September that Bezos could give every single Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as wealthy as he was before the pandemic began.

What we are seeing is a textbook definition of a K-shaped recovery. The poor get poorer which constitutes the larger lower line of the K and the rich get richer which is represented by the shorter upward line.

Republicans have long advocated the idea of trickle-down economics. By creating tax cuts for the wealthy, the idea is that that money would eventually “trickle down” through businesses and, therefore, jobs being created.

A paper that was just published by two economists from London explored what happened over a 50-year period in the US - from 1965 to 2015.

They looked at 18 developed counties, including the United States, and found that, after a five-year period, whether or not the wealthy were taxed or not, per capita gross domestic product and unemployment rates remained pretty much the same across the board.

The difference between what happened in these nations occurs when you look at what happened to the wealthy. In countries where the tax rates were cut for the top income earners, the rich just got richer. The only thing that changed was the disparity between the rich and the poor. That gap just widened. There was no demonstrable “trickle down”.

The period of history when we taxed the rich the most - the US post war era - turns out to be the period we saw the highest growth and lowest joblessness.

You don’t need to look any further than our current President to see why that would be. He is motivated purely by selfishness. More, more, more. It’s all about the deal - not to create new businesses and make the people who work for him better off, but only to improve his own fortunes.

Even Bill Gates who has pledged to donate half of his vast holdings to charity, will still be left with more money than some whole countries could ever hope to see.

In 2017, our President radically slashed taxes on the rich. Three years later, we can clearly see the effect that that has had.

643 families are partying on their yachts and 8 million families are scrambling to find food.

We need this stimulus deal to pass.

Taking anxiety and terror out of it and just looking at it dispassionately, there is no way for our economy to improve without priming the pump. To state the obvious, people need money in their pockets to be able to spend it.

I never imagined that I would look forward to eating outdoors in the snow. Spending the evening, relatively safely, with our family, was more than worth any of the adjustments that we had to make to do it.

Will enough people feel the same that our city’s restaurants will make it through the winter? Will the stimulus bill pass so that enough people will be able to afford to do it?

Some restaurants have already given up. Some of them have gone into hibernation for the season and hope to reopen in the spring.

We are going to keep it up for as long as we can. As Elsa sings in Frozen, “Let the storm rage on. The cold never bothered me anyway.”

Remind me that I said that in a month or two when it really starts to get cold.

In the meantime, I’m going to pick up some foot warmers.