Holed up in Trump Land the American Dream is on hold for Aaron Cunningham
THE only thing that convinces you Aaron Cunningham’s photograph of him gazing across the Hudson River toward Freedom Tower is actually real is his crumpled shadow on the ground.
Everything else looks unreal. The empty skies. The shiny blue sheen of the Manhattan skyline, while the Hudson has never looked more tranquil.
There is silence in the photograph.
As the coronavirus pandemic takes a firm grip of America’s east coast, New York has never felt more still. Eerily still.
Cunningham lives in Hoboken, New Jersey almost within touching distance of the city that never sleeps. Until now.
Explaining the location of the photograph he posted on his Twitter account, Cunningham says: “It’s overlooking the Freedom Tower. My view is the entire skyline of Manhattan. The photograph is unreal looking, it’s as if somebody has pulled a backdrop down, that’s exactly what it looks like.
“The waterfront piers and the green areas are all closed. All you can do is go for a run along the road that runs beside the river. You look out at New York and it’s just dead. You can tell there’s no life there, there are no boats on the Hudson, no helicopters in the air doing tours, nothing.
“Some of lights are on in the high rises and they have lights around the top of them. The Empire State Building is lit up in red and it pulses; it’s like the heartbeat of the city, that it’s still going.”
Around 13,000 New Yorkers have died since the virus swept through the state from early March, that’s discounting 4,000 deaths that were untested for Covid19.
More than 2,700 people have died in care homes. Hospitals in New York report 2,000 new coronavirus cases every day.
The 30-year-old Crossmaglen man has been living on America's east coast since 2016. He works as a bartender in The Ashford, New Jersey City.
He's been playing for Longford since he arrived Stateside. Life has been good since leaving one of the most famous GAA parishes in Ireland.
His ideal day in New York? That’s easy. Bryant Park, coffee in hand, people watching, chilling in the sun.
“Bryant Park is located in mid-town between 5th and 6th Avenue, near the public library,” says Cunningham, son of the famous Joey.
“I don’t know what it is, there is just something about it. It’s a little sun trap, a little bit of calm between 5th Avenue and Times Square. I like sitting there having a coffee or an ice-cream and just people watching and making a few Face-Time calls to people at home and just chilling out.
“In the evening time there’s nothing better than going to a rooftop bar and having a cocktail, going out for dinner with a few friends. But things like that have been taken away as the parks are closed. There is literally nowhere to go.”
Holed up in Trump Land, Cunningham is in awe – not in an altogether flattering sense – of how the President of the United States of America is navigating the pandemic.
“It’s unbelievable. And the scary thing is people are voting for him and actually appreciate what he’s saying and doing during this crisis.
“In one of his recent press conferences, he said: ‘You know, I’ve got the authority to open the states.’ And Governor Cuomo, here in New York, came out and said: ‘Look, I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing, but the governors have the power, we have the power to open our states.’
“The following day, Trump came out and said: ‘I’m giving authority to the governors to do what they want.’ (laughing). If this wasn’t so serious, it would be hilarious.
“I think Trump gets into people’s heads a little, that he’s the man that makes all the decisions.”
As another Presidential election race looms in November, Trump’s approval ratings have taken a battering since the pandemic.
With each passing press briefing and petty squabble with so-called "fake news" reporters, Trump appears to inflict a little more damage on himself.
“I would always say morale is good around Trump supporters just because he’s doing what he says he’d do. He’s being rash, he’s being out-spoken, he’s not following the status quo.
“What he’s good at is taking credit for things. It’s about ‘me, me, me’ when things are going well and when things are not going so well he blames other people.
“I think with Trump, it’s a generational thing. A lot of older people, and in my own experiences, I’ve noticed a lot of older Irish and Italians would be very supportive of him. They’ve short memories. It wasn’t so long ago they were immigrants coming to America. They just have an older way of looking at the world.”
Cunningham, who won two All-Ireland titles with Crossmaglen Rangers, adds: “Previous to the pandemic I would have said there is no doubt he would get re-elected. But the Democrats keep shooting themselves in the foot by putting up bad candidates…”
Entering his fifth week without work, Cunningham plans to stay Stateside and hopes to return to being a bartender again "by the end of June".
So, the prospect of him returning home and wearing the famous black and amber jersey again is remote.
Still, he has a bagful of memories during the early Noughties when there were still a few Ulster and All-Ireland titles in the St Oliver Plunkett Park club.
“There are two games that stand out for me for different reasons. The first one would be the 2011 All-Ireland final [against St Brigid's] as I scored a goal in that game in Croke Park. That was a dream - to score a goal in a final. The best match that I’ve been involved in would be the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final against Dr Croke’s in Portlaoise. That game had everything.
“We started slowly and we were six or seven points down, we got it back to maybe a goal or four points at half-time. I marked Eoin Brosnan that day. It was like man against boy. He had size and strength and speed to go with it. That first half was a lesson for me.
“I remember coming in at half-time and we hadn't shown up. We all had our heads down and I made the mistake of lifting my head and [co-manager] Gareth O’Neill made eye contact with me. He came over to me and basically f-ed me out of it. He was shouting: ‘You don’t care. Do you give a shit?’ – and all this. I stood up and the two of his went head-to-head. He got under my skin that much.
“I look back at that, he got a reaction out of me, he got a reaction out of the team and we came out on the right side of it.
“I remember after the game, Gareth was laughing and I laughed. It was one of those things. You know, if the result hadn’t gone the right way there might have been different feelings towards one another; the fact the result went the right way we could have a laugh and a joke about it.”