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 20

by HardyGreen on March 29, 2020

No, not that kind of P, Marcel.

Saturday, March 28.

“Invoke ‘P’!” our President commands on Twitter, apparently meaning that General Motors should begin cranking out massive numbers of ventilators for COVID-19 patients. The “P” in question—much mocked by Twitter’s urinal-obsessed activists—seems to be the Defense Production Act, a Korean War Era law that allows the federal government to boss private companies around. But doesn’t that auto maker have many, many fewer plants and workers than it had in the ‘50s?

Now, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he’s got the illness, not wishing to be upstaged by Prince Charles. I’m suspicious of these celebs who announce that they have COVID-19. Aren’t they at least in part showing off that they are important enough to get tested, unlike the proles who can’t get a test? And what about Jeffrey Epstein pal Prince Andrew? Aren’t these plagues supposed to attack sinners, as the Lord did in Pharaoh’s Egypt?

About 65,000 tests are being given every day in the U.S.—but public health experts say 150,000 are actually needed. 

New York City now has more than 23,000 cases of the coronavirus—the country as a whole has something like 100,000—and there have been around 400 deaths in the city.

And in other news, the House passes the Senate’s stimulus/giveaway bill. Publicly, Trump tells Pence not to respond to aid requests from the unappreciative states of Washington and Michigan.

The Times expands its obituaries to include a special section on victims of the epidemic. Five included are a former college basketball star, two school principals, a journalist, and a fashion designer, ages 48, 73, 36, 72, and 62.

Camus’s The Plague is out of stock on Amazon. The book’s British publisher, Penguin Classics, has reprinted twice this year.

Lunch is easy potato soup: You take one large spud per person, cube it and a small onion, add chopped celery and cover with water, then boil for 20 minutes. At the end, smash everything with a potato masher to desired consistency. Add 1/4 cup of milk, some butter and a bunch of salt and pepper. De-lish.

Now, Mexicans are blocking the border to keep potentially infected North Americans out. There are only 500 reported COVID-19 cases in Mexico, and a group called Sonorans for Health and Life thinks that’s enough. They’ve been blocking the border with Arizona for two days.

So far, they haven’t built any walls, though.

Dinner: Spaghetti with fried eggs—essentially a bacon-less spaghetti carbonara https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/spaghetti-with-fried-eggs-50189975

And a lettuce, avocado, and cucumber salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: More of The Crown and more Detectorists.


A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 19

March 28, 2020

Friday, March 27 An unwelcome lagniappe: Louisiana may have the fastest growing COVID-19 infection anywhere, currently with 1,800 cases. Perhaps the hard-partying Crescent City should have skipped non-social-distancing Mardi Gras, “the perfect incubator,” according to one doctor. Today, New Orleans’ “clubs are silent,” says the Times. “Bourbon Street is just another lonely street, its only […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 18

March 28, 2020

Thursday, March 26 It’s “a big crap sandwich,” says Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, holder of a Yale PhD in history and a man with a subtle feel for language that would be the envy of a Francis Parkman. Despite the opposition of Sasse and three other GOP senators (including the statesmanlike Lindsey Graham) to […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 17

March 27, 2020

Wednesday, March 25 Senate Republicans and Democrats forge ahead on a $1.8 trillion stimulus/giveaway plan; the fine print remains unclear. Beneficiaries could include cruise-ship lines and casinos—many of the latter having been allowed only because they promised to generate state tax revenues. Trump escalates his denial of COVID-19, pushing to get people back to work […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 16

March 26, 2020

Tuesday, March 24 At 1:00 a.m., Emily succeeds in posting an online order for a Peapod food delivery, supposed to happen between 6:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, April 6.  The early-season tick spraying takes place at 8:30 a.m. This consists of a guy in a Save-A-Tree sweatshirt, equipped with a tank of toxic […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 15

March 26, 2020

The stinking rose: don’t leave home without it. Monday, March 23 Under a startling headline stating that “New York Becomes Epicenter,” the Times reports that “more than 15,000 people in New York State have tested positive, with the vast majority in the New York City region. That is about half of the cases in the […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 14

March 25, 2020

Sunday, March 22 A beautiful day, although still cold. I’m definitely in a rut here, with coffee, oatmeal, this journal, and the Times for morning companions. Still, habits can be comforting: The citizens in Camus’ plague city found the epidemic’s destruction of their usual ways to be unsettling. Of the pre-pestilence times, the author says, […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 13

March 25, 2020

March 21, a Saturday Oink, oink: In Washington, lobbyists representing interests from pig farmers to drone makers, “are burning up the phone lines and flooding email inboxes trying to capitalize on the stimulus bills moving quickly through Congress,” says the Times. We’ve now been away from the city for over two weeks, and as might […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 12

March 24, 2020

Friday, March 20 Went to the local bodega—and, Santa Cleopatra! They supplied me with two boxes of pasta (unobtainable at local supermarkets), two boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix, a bag of dried black beans, a carton of fresh eggs, and a bag of Pillsbury flour. (I was happy to pay $26 for the stuff.) Customers […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 11

March 23, 2020

Thursday, March 19 Much of the day gets spent futzing around with the website, taking and downloading photos to be posted, and seeking e-books about previous plagues, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, and other such epidemics. None of these are available, so I pursue escape in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book, The Wind in the Willows. […]

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