Mr. Markham, who is from Jupiter, Fla., arrived in Manhattan last August after serving in the Navy as a nuclear submarine officer aboard the U.S.S. Pasadena in San Diego. He’d been accepted into Columbia University’s engineering school, and soon after getting here, he immersed himself in the city’s colorful tumult.
By spring, Mr. Markham was smitten with New York, seeing a kind of mathematical poetry in it. “Physics is beautiful because it is unpredictable and random,” he said. “I see that same beautiful chaos in New York.”
Then, the pandemic gripped the city, and the New York he was getting intimate with became bleak and barren overnight.
Couches got tossed on his street as people moved out. On Tinder, conversations ended swiftly: “I’d try to meet up and they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m with my parents in Connecticut. I’ll be here until it settles down.’ I’d reply: ‘Uh, OK. Talk soon then, I guess.’” Soon, Mr. Markham felt like he had been left alone on a ghostly Upper West Side.
To his surprise, he began appreciating the city anew. At night, he biked through the empty canyons of Midtown. He set up a projector on his roof and watched “Yellow Submarine” on the wall of the building next door. One day, he walked into a nice neighborhood he’d never visited before, and discovered it had its own private garden.
“It’s called Gramercy Park,” he said. “They have this special little garden just to themselves. You need a key to get in, right? No, you don’t. You just need a pair of legs and to be able to jump a fence. And guess what? It’s just like any other park.”
“Now everything is strange, but I like strange,” he added. “I’m learning more about the city now than I was before.”