Dirty solo cups and communal drinking games are definitely not recommended for preventing coronavirus. And yet, on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, I find myself on the F train prepping for holiday beer pong and other questionable choices.
As I walk into my friends’ apartment—a garden style one-bedroom in the East Village with a patio that’s bigger than the space itself, Rachel Berquist, my wiry old roommate, greets me at the door. We hug, joking that we shouldn’t.
Her live-in boyfriend, Alex Pattison, is in their galley kitchen rolling ground beef into hamburger patties. I make my way over and say hello, letting him know I’ve brought my audio equipment to record the day’s festivities.
“Oh, hell yeah,” he exclaims. “Fuck coronavirus, it’s St. Patty’s day!”
Rachel and Alex are hosting a day-drink that’s been planned for a week now—before Gov. Cuomo officially postponed the city’s annual parade and some of the Irish bars cancelled their celebrations because of COVID-19. The holiday normally attracts thousands. Whole neighborhoods, like the Village and Lower East Side, turn into rowdy, booze-fueled party scenes that don’t exactly permit for “social distancing.”
Rachel and Alex discussed cancelling their party until just hours before deciding the show must go on. Is It negligent? Maybe—there’s about 20 people drinking and communing in very close quarters. Over spiked seltzers, I turn on my tape recorder and ask Rachel her thoughts.
“It’s really hard, but what are we supposed to do?” she says while scanning the room. “I think we can just be diligent. We know everyone here, we know where people have been, and we’re all washing our hands.”
In the middle of our interview, a man with a waxed mustache and a leprechaun-printed shirt swaggers over to us and takes the microphone out of my hand.
“Are we doing karaoke?” he slurs. “I was going to sing. ‘Jumper’ but, you know what, I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s willing to jump.”
“Uh, there might be,” a girl cracks as she cracks open a mango White Claw.
This wry back-and-forth, this uncertainty disguised as sarcasm—it’s the tone of the whole party. You can sense people are scared. Not a panic, necessarily, but a quieter, creeping sense of fear we’ve all been forced to accept – and are temporarily drowning in alcohol.
As the party goes on and the drinks flow, this sardonic mood perpetuates. During a game of Kings Cup, a card drinking game, someone pulls a 10: the categories card.
“Famous plagues,” they declare. Around the room we go, naming infamous viruses until someone repeats SARS and has to take a defeated drink. At another point, someone suggests hiding frosty bottles of Corona around the patio – a timely twist on the Smirnoff “icing” prank. We all laugh. Sort of.
Even party traditions as simple as setting out chips and dip have taken a dark turn. As Rachel pours blue corn tortilla chips into a bowl, a debate ensues amongst my friends on how to safely eat them. No double-sipping for sure.
“Somebody has to stand here as the salsa police,” one offers. “It’s the only way.”
We settle for pairing the chips and salsa with a side of hand sanitizer (Peach Bellini from Bath & Body Works).
The more people I talk to, the faster I realize we’re all here questioning the same thing—if what we’re doing is actually a smart idea, or just an inconsiderate nose-thumbing at the recommended self-isolation.
“I don’t think we’re being reckless as long as you’re being considerate,” one attendee tells me while in line for the bathroom. “Life goes on. You have to live life, you can’t just shut down and stay inside, but also, be considerate. Like, have fun this weekend and then don’t go visit your grandparents.”
Behind us, a woman chimes in: “Oh, we’re definitely being reckless millennials, for sure.” She pads this by saying she’s washed her hands 4-5 times since being at the party. “You have to do your part to make sure that it’s not godawful.”
I leave feeling conflicted: on one hand, I don’t like living in fear. I want—need—to keep up some small semblance of normalcy to preserve my mental health. On the other, I wonder if I’ve just stupidly exposed myself to this awful virus that could, unknowingly but selfishly, put others at risk. I’m not certain; no one is.
The only thing I come away from this party knowing is that the kids are not alright. These “reckless millennials” are worried and scared and are clinging to social interaction while they still can. I knew there would be this party on this day with these friends. What I don’t know is how long it will be before the next time we can do this.