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Having recently lost her job, she was hoping to make some money to tide her over until she was working again. She charged $15 an hour, but when I caught up with her on Tuesday morning, she had received only that single request for service.

In the past few years, CityMD has colonized Brooklyn and Manhattan, often displacing beloved businesses that fell prey to rising rents. Now, suddenly, the whole enterprise seemed less like space filler. At another branch on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill, the crowds were nearly as gargantuan. One couple had set themselves up in folding seats. By 10 on Tuesday morning, those toward the front of the line had been incrementally making their way forward since 6:45. In Manhattan, near Gramercy Park, the line for a CityMD on East 23rd Street was so long it nearly converged with a different one unfurling in front of Prohealth Urgent Care, on Third Avenue.

The problem with all this diligence, of taking space on a testing line for the prospect of enjoying pie and families-of-origin in Connecticut, is that anyone with an immediate and pressing need for a test result is left to wait that much longer. One man I met on the Atlantic Avenue line had been there for hours, hoping for the best after his son came home from school after being exposed to the virus.

No one from CityMD seemed to be outside prioritizing who should be let in sooner rather than later. A spokeswoman for the company told me that patients are triaged whenever possible, but that the demand for Covid-related visits and testing had never been higher.

It is hard to imagine a 25-year-old in, say, 1977, bearing all this sacrifice and discomfort for the purpose of sharing a meal with his family in November. As a child, I had an older cousin who consistently approached the holidays in the spirit of absenteeism. No matter what his job was in any given year, he always managed to work on Thanksgiving, something I regarded then as a sign of commitment but would later understand as a means of avoiding predictable disappointment and pain.

In this particular habit he was joined by many co-conspirators, especially and perhaps historically so in the 1970s, when the divide between parents and their grown children seemed vast and unconquerable. A generation of mothers and fathers lost to their vices and distractions had left their young feeding at an empty trough. So there was something distinctly hollow about gathering for an occasion grounded in a holy reverence for nourishment and gratitude.

But things are different now, obviously. The modern parent spends years clearing the path for children, who cling to them unremittingly. A pandemic was no longer a welcome excuse for retreating from obligation because obligation itself had been recast as longing. What once might have been viewed as opportunity — a free pass to skip familial duties — was now a reason for defiance. Against the advice of Dr. Fauci and the entire medical establishment, the kids were on their way home, and there was nothing to be done — over the river and through the obstacle course, assuming they hadn’t moved in already.

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