A Journal of the Plague Year 2020

by HardyGreen on March 18, 2020

On March 5, Emily and I fled New York City for our East Hampton cottage, our car loaded with canned goods, cold remedies, and a few clothes. How long will we stay? We are in a self-quarantine, fleeing the spreading COVID-19, the China-originating coronavirus that threatens humanity across the planet. By March 9, the novel virus had spread to two-thirds of U.S. states, with nearly 600 cases and close to 20 deaths. Frightening accounts of passengers trapped aboard infected cruise ships and of Draconian lock-downs in China and Italy crowd out stories about the Democratic presidential race. Thousands of employees are being told to work from home, schools are shuttered, conferences and mass celebrations (SXSW) have been canceled. The governor of New York has declared a State of Emergency.

In many previous epidemics, worried populations had limited information about the sickness, depending largely upon gossip. Now, we are both connected to the internet and we play an informal game of “top this”: I read her a headline about the latest fatalities in Iran, she counters with a tidbit about Trump-administration ignorance and ineptitude. “Mike Pence presided over an AIDS epidemic in Indiana, where he delayed a needle-exchange program saying he had to pray on the issue before making a decision,” she says.

Attendees at a recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference where there was an infected participant are outing each other, compiling McCarthy-like lists. Was Betsy Devos in the same room as Mr. X?

(It will later be revealed that the infected attendee had purchased a $5,750 “gold” package granting him access to backstage reception rooms where members of Congress and other high-profile figures mingled.)

Stock indices are in free fall. Oil prices drop 20% and the Dow by 2,000 points.

Here, Emily and I have very limited physical contact with the outside population. Since the only germs present are germs we brought with us, I’m not sure we must practice the furious hand-washing and avoidance of face-touching that health authorities advocate. How long can the virus linger on tomato sauce cans or containers of Purell? Nine days? Dunno.

Emily reads me a tweet suggesting that they’ve halted trading on the stock market. “I’m not sure that’s true, but that’s what this tweet says,” she adds. In spite of the internet, uncertainty reigns.

Inevitably, that has stoked activity on the part of digital mischief-makers and profiteers. Rumors circulate that COVID-19 was cooked-up in a lab in China with the intent of undermining the government in Taiwan. One “miracle mineral solution” flacked on Facebook and Twitter is “the same as drinking bleach,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Like the Trump Administration, officials in previous outbreaks have begun by downplaying the seriousness of the illness. In Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague, the Prefect initially institutes woefully inadequate regulations and posts Panglossian communiques. Even as springtime flowers proliferate, hospital wards fill to overflowing and new facilities are required.

Trump, meanwhile, joins the Internet worrywarts with his own outbursts of disinformation. Apparently, the whole thing is a “hoax.” “Anyone who wants a test can get a test,” he has falsely preached. He has called the World Health Organization’s estimated fatality rate of 3.4%  “a false number,” adding that “my hunch” is that it will be under 1%.

And as usual, Trump praises himself: “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

Only four days into our self-imposed exile, dietary displeasure looms. Last night we split a can of Progresso vegetarian soup, supplemented by small green salads and baked potatoes. The Nido Purificada—condensed milk—seems ok, and I’m prepared to eat boxed Kraft macaroni & cheese. Remember when you had that as a child and actually liked it? But fresh veggies are a problem, and a trip to IGA in Amagansett seems in order to get lettuce, celery, and other produce. (We ended up spending $105.99, thanks to such necessities as Destrooper pure butter almond thins, a tub of sour cream, and one package containing 24 rolls of Cottonelle toilet tissue.)

Dinner: spaghetti & homemade meatballs, salad.

Entertainment: a streaming video of Elaine May’s miserable, frenetic 1976 buddy flick Mikey and Nicky (like watching “Night at the Improv” featuring the pointless antics of two amphetamine-addled yobs) and a pretty good episode of the BBC TV show MI-5.

Le manoir de mes reves.


A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 132

by HardyGreen on August 14, 2020

Walgreens is always waiting.

Thursday, August 13

By 7 a.m., I could already feel the humidity building up. Some recent days have been uncomfortably hot, but over night it was cool enough to allow sleep.

In the mid-afternoon, Emily takes an inventory of her remaining prescription pills. This is preparation for her chat with her regular doctor, scheduled for Friday afternoon. Emily has received one e-mail alerting her to an upcoming Zoom video chat; another, alerting her to an in-person visit; and a third, of a phone visit. Which will it be?

Emily thinks maybe the video—unnecessary in most doctor chats, hardly a substitute for an in-person pulse-taking or body fondle—has to do with insurance. Maybe doctors need proof that they have truly had a patient visit, and Zoom provides that proof.

I tried to reschedule a phone chat with my NYU neurologist. I got past the reception desk and left a voice-mail message with the doctor’s assistant, requesting that she telephone me. No soap. I may never hear from them again. If they don’t make contact, I can try again in a few months. All I really need is a prescription refill.

Tonight’s dinner: a Greek salad with Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, red onion and feta cheese, plus Chinese cold noodles with sesame sauce. An international smorgasbord to be sure.

Entertainment: two episodes of Netflix’ Italian series The Trial.


A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 131

August 13, 2020

Wednesday, August 12 The telephone visit with the NYU neurologist failed. I waited by our phone for an hour—no call. I telephoned the NYU switchboard via a cell phone—so as not to tie up the landline—and gave someone the East Hampton phone number that the neurologist should be using, just in case there was any […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 130

August 12, 2020

Tuesday, August 11 I’ve been reading some extremely literate mysteries by the English writer Julian Symons. So far, I have read The Belting Inheritance, The Detling Secret, The Immaterial Murder Case, The Color of Murder, The End of Solomon Grundy, and now The Blackheath Poisonings. The Detling Secret and The Blackheath Poisonings are set among […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 129

August 10, 2020

Monday, August 10 Yesterday, my birthday, had its ups and downs. On the positive side, Emily gave me another haircut, so my bangs wouldn’t keep falling into my eyes. I cut my toenails. And we had a nice outing to the pond across from the Springs General Store, an area that was off-limits for some […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 128

August 8, 2020

Friday, August 7 My father always took a post-lunch nap. This seemed peculiar, even quaint to me—something old people did, though he was hardly old. Or maybe it was a holdover from a more-rural society. I didn’t know.  He would come home from work for a quick and simple lunch, then a half-hour nap. I […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year–chapter 127

August 5, 2020

Tuesday, August 4 A spate of newspaper downsizings and closings has prompted lamentations from that bit of the press that is still standing. The pandemic’s hit to newspaper ad sales, media giants’ takeovers, and industry consolidation have definitely led to a diminution of information about what’s going on in small-town and rural America. These may […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 126

August 4, 2020

Monday, August 3 More thoughts about my summer job at the daily Memphis Press-Scimitar in the 1960s. Coming from a family that consisted only of my mother and me, I found one of the hardest things about the job to be learning the names of all the staff members—maybe only 40-odd people. Nor had I […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020-chapter 125

August 2, 2020

Saturday, August 1 Maybe it’s a condition of rural life or something, but I seem to fall asleep early and wake up with the dawn. Rarely can I sleep as late as 7 a.m. and I am often up at 5. And that reminds me of summers in the 1960s, when my job as a […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 124

August 1, 2020

Friday, July 31 It’s beginning to feel like autumn already. Emily is scheduling medical appointments back in the city for the end of August and the second week of September. I don’t want her to face it all on her own, so I’ll go along. Maybe I should make medical appointments for that time period […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 123

July 31, 2020

Thursday, July 30 Attending to all these humdrum matters has robbed me of any ability to write something interesting for the website.  This morning, I spent more time on the phone waiting for a functionary to schedule a repairman—in this case for the landline phone, which is only partly operative since Optimum set up the […]

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