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freemexy Apr 7
The Signs of the Coronavirus

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Chicago is empty of people but full of signs. They can make you laugh, like the neat notice on the doors of the Chicago Theatre: “Widespread Panic: Postponed.” (Tell that to the guy who rations the toilet paper at Costco.) Or they can make you wince, like the sign on the Women & Children First Bookstore, sitting below its motto: “Opened in 1979, Open Today, Open Forever.” The sign says: “Temporarily closed.”

Every city is like this now, as if our protective masks stifled the ability to speak and left us to communicate only in writing. The notes tell the story of the more than 10 million Americans who have lost their jobs in the last two weeks, as almost every state has shuttered nonessential businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.The American city has always been coated in words, from barroom neon script to the slogan on that fast food marquee. But rarely has this written layer felt so coordinated. On the Kiski Kar Wash in Pittsburgh: “Flu Season Is Here, So Wash Your Hands and Your Car.” On a suburban sidewalk outside Denver: “Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.” At a New Hampshire supermarket: “Senior shopping hours, 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. everyday.” They are both practical and inspirational, an instruction manual for a new era and a card catalog for a society in crisis.

Messages have appeared on storefronts, sidewalks, in the windows of apartments. They are printed on 8½-by-11-inch sheets, drawn on whiteboards, and scrawled in Sharpie. Restaurants say they are open for takeout, sometimes with perks: a cocktail! A roll of toilet paper! Fill a growler from the keg? Please?From a liquor store in South L.A. comes the following message, which I can only convey in its entirety: “COVID-19 is some real shit. Cover your fucking mouth. Shut the fuck up! Buy your shit and leave immediately. Absolutely NO titty or sock money! Stand back at least 6 feet, playa. Store capacity limited to 5 motherfuckers at once. You cough, you die. Drink responsibly.”

At the corner of Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan’s East Village, someone has built a makeshift memorial. Two vases of flowers sit alongside a board that shows a tally of the dead, beneath a handful of American flags. Adjacent on the park railing, a hand-painted warning reads, “Stay six feet apart or be six feet under.” As a collective expression, New York’s coronavirus signs recall “Subway Therapy,” the 5,000 Post-it note messages written on the subway walls at Union Square after Donald Trump was elected president.

With Americans isolated by distancing rules, signs lend each exchange the thrill and weight of performance. In Seattle, a pair of teenagers taped notes in their windows to thank the nurses next door (and also brought cookies). The nurses put up a sign to thank them back. After the state barred visitors from nursing homes, a Connecticut man named Bob Shellard made a poster to wish his wife a happy 67th wedding anniversary from outside her window. (He also called her on the phone: “Can you see my sign?”)