A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 198

Thursday, March 4

Emily stirred herself early today and called Walgreens at 7:30 a.m. Her mission: to find out if we could move our vaccine appointments up a week—in order to accord with the recommended interval of three weeks between Pfizer shots—and if not, to see if the First Avenue location, where we are scheduled to go on March 12, will in fact have the Pfizer vaccine. Back in February that branch only had Moderna.

She called the Walgreens head office and—hooray!—actually got a human on the phone, something she spent two-and-a-half fruitless hours trying to do the day before. However—boo! The human in this case was, Emily later reported, the most unhelpful person she’s ever encountered in such a situation.

Could we move up the appointment? Only if we cancelled the existing appointment. “Do you want me to cancel your existing appointment?”

The representative said she’d never heard that the recommended interval between the two Pfizer shots was three weeks as opposed to four. She had handled many calls, she said, and no one else had raised the idea that they’d been scheduled for one of each vaccine.

Will the First Avenue branch actually have the Pfizer vaccine? The customer service rep said she could find that out only by canceling our existing appointment.

So we gained nothing. My current thinking is that we should go back to NYC next Wednesday and immediately go in person to the First Avenue branch of Walgreens to see if they have the Pfizer vaccine. It seems they may not know in advance just what vaccines are being delivered.

(Later in the day, a visit to the Walgreens website showed the First Avenue location as having only the Pfizer vaccine. So, go figure.)

You can see that we worry about all of this almost constantly. Try not to think about it for a while, and in an hour or so, with little else of importance on your mind, your thoughts drift back to the matter of the vaccinations.

The stony indifference, abject profit-seeking, and downright cruelty exhibited in the current case has prompted a memory from my childhood. I always dreaded trips to the pediatrician when I was a child. If you went there with a mere cold, they’d give you a penicillin shot—even though we now know that would have had no effect on a cold. But, hell, they got paid for giving the shot. 

And most punishing of all, the shot-giver was a beefy woman with the scarier-than-Ratched name of Miss Bledsoe!

You could cry—you could shout and scream—but you could not defeat Miss Bledsoe and her five-inch needles destined to put a sanguinary dent into your backside.

Tonight’s dinner: BLT sandwiches, leftover penne with asparagus, and a pear salad.

Entertainment: more of the advertising-rich Hulu’s suspenseful and insightful Apple Tree Yard and of Netflix’ French comedy Call My Agent!

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 197

Tuesday, March 2

March has arrived, and the first day of spring is only two-and-a-half weeks off.

So in honor of that thought, tonight we will have a wonderful, spring-ish, and couldn’t-be-simpler repast: steamed asparagus topped with sunny-side-up eggs, accompanied by a simple Greek salad.

When we order asparagus from Stop & Shop, they always give us lots—which means there will be more for tomorrow night. Then, I will make a new but also very simple recipe: penne with ricotta and asparagus. You just cook your asparagus, then chill it—then combine it with ricotta, parmesan, olive oil, and penne. Ecco—va bene.

Emily is searching around online, perusing her Facebook pals’ COVID information group and trying to figure out the best approach for securing our next round of shots. Should we call Walgreens corporate office? Or the First Avenue location where we are scheduled to get the next round on March 12—the place that once told us they had only the Moderna vaccine, not the Pfizer one that we need?

Tonight’s entertainment: having subscribed to Hulu in order to see two Golden Globes winners, Nomadland and The United States vs. Billie Holiday, we’re finding that there could be lots more there worth watching. So, we’ll try the Emily Watson thriller Apple Tree Yard and the TV version of Fargo, followed by our now-traditional nightcap of Netflix’ Call My Agent!

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 196

Wednesday, February 24

Despite rising temperatures, there is still a bit of accumulated snow on eastern Long Island. Last night was clear with a bright moon, and at 1 a.m. the snow-covered back yard glowed like neon.

Two mental hiccups of the current period. When I have something that needs doing—whether paying bills, moving a March doctor’s appointment to a later date, or constructing a mildly demanding dinner—I tend to procrastinate. Tackling any such tasks seems horribly demanding. Better to climb back into bed.

And if there are no such tasks loitering on my mental to-do list, I suffer from a strong feeling that I am being irresponsible. I know that I am supposed to do something—but what is it?

It was somehow easier to do meal planning and a quick grocery shopping in the city. But I longed to be back on Long Island; nature and natural beauty are just closer here, even if cloudy and damp conditions prevail. Today is sunny, and I can hear the sometimes absent birds chirping. In due course, they may even return to the bird feeder. One of the squirrels just scampered up a shrub, jumped onto the roof, and raced around up there, his little footfalls offering percussive amusement to those of us below.

For months, I have relied on the local library for e-books. But while in the city I recovered my New York Public Library card. Now, I can log in to NYPL and draw from their somewhat larger stock of e-books. I have begun reading John Banville’s latest policier, Snow. Mysteriously, the author has published this one under his own name rather than using the pen name of Benjamin Black that he usually employs for his less-serious works. Yet some of the characters seem familiar from his Quirke series, published under the pseudonym. At first, this book seems like a prototypical English country-house mystery—featuring a murder in the library, no less—but I feel sure that the plot will soon turn unconventional.

There is still no prospect of straightening out the Walgreens second-vaccine confusion. Emily has had a telephone conversation with the pharmacy manager at the Walgreens branch where we are due to report on March 12—and they say they may not know just which brand(s) of vaccine that store will have until the week in question. Emily isn’t worried that we’ll be given one each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—but that we’ll be denied a second shot altogether.  She’s quite concerned about this—I just divert my mind to other stuff. Now, what’s missing from the grocery list for the Stop & Shop delivery that’s scheduled for Friday?

Dinner: cornbread tamale pie and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of The Sinner and Call My Agent! on Netflix, capped by a viewing of the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 195

Life persists in our apartment window.

Saturday, February 20

A catastrophic winter storm has swept down from the arctic and smashed its way into the lower South and Texas, leaving four million enduring bitter cold without power while killing at least 58 people. That groundhog, who predicted six more weeks of winter back on February 2, seems to have engaged in a bit of understatement.

Here in New York City, conditions are more or less on par for the late winter: dirty piles of snow at the street corners, day after day of snow showers and flurries. And the pandemic continues. Some 42 million Americans have gotten shots, including us; but the muddled situation regarding our second injection remains muddled. Walgreen’s called last evening to say that they are aware of the problem and still working on a solution. Our contact said she believes that like us, a dozen people got a first dose of Pfizer and are still scheduled to get a second dose of Moderna—even though the two aren’t supposed to be mixed. Our second appointment is still scheduled for March 12.

Biden says he believes everyone will have gotten vaccinated by mid-summer. Others say December is a more likely date for such an achievement.

We’ve been taking care of small issues such as haircuts, adjustments to Emily’s eBay account, getting tax papers to our accountant, shopping at the much-missed and now strangely empty Trader Joe’s, and overcoming the lingering affects of the first anti-COVID-19 injection. Now, we’re expecting to go back to East Hampton tomorrow, when it’s supposed to be cold but finally sunny.

The airwaves are strangely still without broadsides from MAGA man and unhinged Republicans. The Times says that 7 in 10 Americans favor Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus program, which Democrats plan to push through Congress this week. The best the GOP opposition can offer is to label the plan, with its billions in benefits for the unemployed and small business, a “payoff to progressives” or a “blue-state bailout.” 

The much-loathed Senator Ted Cruz made headlines with his temporary Escape from Texas—and shamefaced rapid return—all of which he blamed on his in-need-of-a-break kids. And Twitter-less Trump has been largely silenced.

By some measures, Biden is doing pretty well. By this point in 1932, with millions unemployed and banks collapsing like dominoes, FDR was still backing his counterproductive plan to cut veterans benefits and federal employees’ pay. Ex-President Herbert Hoover sought to blame the Great Depression on Europe and debts from World War I, and believed the best hope of recovery would come from reestablishing the international gold standard. It would be several years before the New Deal’s celebrated public works programs would kick in. So at least now there’s a clearer focus on what must be done.

Dinner: pasta with Bolognese sauce and a green salad.

Entertainment: episodes from season two of the French farce Call My Agent! on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 194

Sunday, February 14

On Friday, Emily and I each got our COVID vaccination shots. Yesterday, the Senate voted in the impeachment trial to acquit Trump.

Who says life is dull during the lockdown?

“If only because they last so long, real misfortunes are monotonous,” Camus wrote in The Plague.  Yes, there has certainly been monotony, but then lots happened in the past few days.

The adventure of our vaccinations involved some monotony. We had traveled back to our NYC apartment on Thursday; then on Friday, I reported for my 12:30 appointment at a Duane Reade drugstore, around a block away from our apartment. I was about 20 minutes early. There was a check-in, during which I answered lots of questions about any current maladies, etc. Then 15 minutes of waiting outside of the vaccination room; then another 20 minutes of waiting inside for the shot-giver to appear. 

She gave me the jab and a certificate stating, to my surprise, that I had gotten the Pfizer vaccine. I had imagined I would be getting the Moderna version, since my appointments arranged via the Walgreen’s website are four weeks apart—the interval recommended for the Modern jab. It was 1:15 p.m. before I was able to leave.

Emily went over to the same drugstore one hour later. And, fortuitously, while she was there two people came in to announce a serious problem: They had gotten the first shot of Pfizer, then went to another location weeks later—only to find that the second place was giving out Moderna shots. The two aren’t supposed to be mixed. So these people had been turned away, and had now returned to the site of their first vaccinations.

We face the identical problem: Our second appointments, slated for March 12, are at the location that has only the Moderna stuff. So somehow, there will have to be an adjustment. (I telephoned the second vaccination location, told them of the problem, gave them my name, and await further instructions.)

In the hours after the shot, I felt some soreness in my arm and a little dizziness and fatigue, but not much else. Emily, though, experienced a very sore arm and lots of nausea. Two days later, she still doesn’t want to do much other than to take lots of naps.

It has been gray and cold, threatening snow every day since our return. New York seems as depopulated as it did in September, when we were last here. 

I have sorted through the vast pile of waiting mail, dispatched various tax documents to our accountant, listened to 20 voice mail recordings, and prepared various simple meals. This afternoon we visited ourdoors with our niece, Montana, in Madison Square Park. There were plenty of people with kids and dogs wandering around and playing in the accumulated snow.

We’ll probably drive back to our Long Island house on Thursday.

Does this sound tedious? For people who for several months have done little other than read the New York Times or do its word-game puzzles online, I assure you that all of this is quite taxing.

Dinner: leftover pasta with asparagus pesto and an avocado and lettuce salad.

Entertainment: episodes of the French comedy Call My Agent on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 193

Tuesday, February 9

This morning at 7 a.m., I was able to make appointments for the two doses of COVID-19 Moderna vaccine at Walgreen’s back in our NYC neighborhood. After I succeeded, Emily followed suit, making appointments at the same location and on the same days, February 12 and March 12. 

I couldn’t believe it. Emily came out of the bathroom and, she says, I told her in a very matter-of-fact way that I had made appointments. 

Like it was no big deal. Actually, I think I was in shock and disbelief. 

We have also been trying other Walgreen’s locations, including East Patchogue and Manorville. If either had succeeded, we’d have had to employ GPS to figure out just where these stores were. Instead, weirdly enough, we’ll be going to locations that we know well. One is a Duane Reade/Walgreen’s where I have historically picked up all of my prescriptions.

So we’ll go back on Thursday, and get the first jabs on Friday. 

We are told to print out and bring with us both the Walgreen’s e-mail regarding the shots and the NY State consent form. So it’s just as well we didn’t bring our computer printer out to Long Island—we’ll print these out in the apartment.

We’ll be reversing some of the moves we made when we first came out here in March of 2020: packing up foodstuffs, cooking gear, and clothes to take back. But for now, we figure we’ll only stay in the city for a few days. We’ll want to see if there are any negative effects of the vaccinations and possibly we’ll want to get some supplies that are more available in the city than out here. Various must-do ideas–like maybe getting haircuts–will occur to us between now and then. 

And of course, there may be some surprises that must be taken care of back in the city. Is the apartment O.K.? Are all of the plants dead?

Dinner: a goat cheese and cheddar omelette, asparagus, toast, and a small green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of The Sinner on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 192

Sunday, February 7

Mid-afternoon and it’s snowing to beat the band. Three to seven inches are predicted. The stuff is sticking to the boxwoods like big clumps of cotton. But we won’t need to go out for a couple of days, unless we get a vaccination appointment, which is about as likely as winning the Powerball jackpot.

This morning Emily and I each checked New York State and City websites, along with those of druggists CVS and Walgreen’s.  At one instant, the Walgreen’s site said there were appointments available in Manorville, which is about an hour’s drive from here. But you have to keep clicking, certifying that you are eligible, haven’t had the virus, and so forth. Before long, it said the closest place with vaccine appointments was in Connecticut. 

The whole exercise is preposterous—frustrating, demeaning, and futile. 

Everyone is maddened by it: the vaccine rollout, they call it…more like a limp-out or maybe a crawl-out.

The whole thing reminds me of a discussion years back at McGraw-Hill about employee profit-sharing. Those were fat times, and thanks to Silicon Valley, sharing the takings with the hired help was becoming more common. I’ve got mine, the BusinessWeek publisher remarked, thinking he’d made a great joke. Nobody applauded.

So, them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose. To those in charge of vaccine distribution, the population only matters in an election year. Biden needs to demonstrate otherwise…and quickly.

Dinner: chicken paprikash, noodles, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of The Sinner on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 191

Friday, February 5

Unfortunate circumstances and the politicians have turned the COVID-19 vaccination process into a competition. Celebrities, many attempting to encourage the wary, go online or to the media, saying how easy the whole process is: Nothing to fear, just go to this CDC website and arrange an appointment. Meanwhile, millions cannot get an appointment and are left thinking there’s just something wrong with them: They must lack persistence or maybe computer skills.

In New York State, there’s just not much information. Every day, I go to the N.Y. State website, and to the sites of druggists Walgreen’s and CVS, only to learn that there are no appointments available. We’re willing to take an appointment in the city or out here on the East End of Long Island. The announcement yesterday that there would be lots of shots given at Yankee Stadium but only to Bronx residents made me wonder: just what sort of ID does one have to show? My driver’s license and our passports have a New York City address. If we were to get an appointment out here, would those be sufficient—supplemented perhaps with a property tax receipt or some letters addressed to Emily and me at this address?

Someone on Twitter asks: Why don’t they go door to door administering the vaccine, especially in poor areas? Well, because the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines must have ultra-cold refrigeration, and that means they’re not very mobile.

Emily’s high-school chums on Facebook report a much more sane process in Colorado. Rather than playing frantic website speed dating in an attempt to get an appointment, Colorado-ites merely go to one website and register—then, in due course someone telephones you with an appointment schedule and perhaps a registration number. 

But it’s typical capitalist thinking to make everyone see the socially necessary inoculation as a competition—a meritocracy, if you will. Mia Farrow, Mike Pence, and 20-something “educators” rate a jab—isolated and aged folks do not.

Suppose we make an appointment in the city or in Stony Brook, which is one of the state’s vaccination points? We’ll have to travel there once—and then again, a few weeks later for the second shot. If it’s in the city, should we stay there during the interval?

Who can say? In this life, as the artist once known as Prince suggested, you’re on your own.

This morning also features the exciting prospect of a Stop and Shop grocery delivery, likely sometime between 10:40 and 11:10, they now say. The truck could show up earlier, but they’ll let us know via text message. Emily must remain attentive. Will they get here before it begins to rain?

Dinner: an Amy’s frozen pizza and a green salad.

Entertainment: episodes of the British drama Collision on Kanopy.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 190

Monday, February 1

It showed overnight—by 9 a.m., only about an inch, but it’s still continuing to snow off and on. The National Weather Service says that by early afternoon, there will be a combination of rain and snow that could be heavy at times. Also, it’s supposed to be very windy and cold. Total accumulation could be from 3 to 7 inches. Tomorrow, though, there’s supposed to be light rain, and the low is to be only 35F—so maybe any accumulated snow will melt. Then, there could be more snow, with little accumulation.

In the city and points west, it’s colder than it is here and total snow could be up to 14 inches. By Thursday, temps should be in the upper 30s.

Just before I awoke, I had the following dream: We are staying at a large, colonial house with a big front porch. When we drive up, we find that there are three dogs waiting on the porch. Two are German shepherds and one is a small English bulldog. (Could these be the Bidens’ dogs? Hmmm, a large colonial house….) No humans are around. The shepherds, with their expressive faces, seem a bit unhappy. Do they belong to the owner? Do they want to go inside? We leave and when we come back again, they are still there waiting. I find a couple of buckets and put water in them for the pups to have a drink. What to do?

The New Yorker has a sad and frightening article by a Midwestern professor whose wife one day begins having hallucinations. An art lecturer, she takes students to museums for discussions of paintings—and the students tell him, confidentially, that she has been describing figures in the paintings who aren’t in fact there. She also begins imagining people in their house, such as The Flowery Man (in actuality, a hallway flower pot).  Having read that it does no good to deny the presence of such figures, he plays along, even providing a place setting at the dinner table for one such visitor.

Then one day, the police and an ambulance arrive at the door. It seems the woman has been having over-the-backyard-fence conversations with neighbors about her visitors. They take her away to a hospital, but by now the pandemic has hit and the husband is not allowed to visit. After a bit, though, he is discovered to be suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and he is admitted to the same facility but not allowed to see his wife. Before long, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital and his belt and shoelaces are taken away from him. Their daughter having signed the proper forms, the wife is driven away to a different state where she is to live in a long-term care residence. There, she will die of COVID-19. The professor has been allowed to return to his home, and his last communication with his wife is a phone call in which he reads her a poem.

Horrifying, no? Could my dreams turn to such hallucinations? Could Emily and I be forcibly separated for some reason?

We’re doing O.K. for now, but the article’s subtle description of these folks’ slow drift into mental illness, old age, decrepitude, and institutionalization—well, you know, it’s likely to happen to all of us. The only really new wrinkle in the story is the addition of COVID-19. I’d just as soon avoid that, thank you very much, but no vaccines seem available to us. It can seem as though only the likes of Mia Farrow,  Queen Elizabeth, and those whose institutional affiliations—such as our twentysomething niece or a friend of Emily’s—are getting the shots.

Emily reads that the snow has led to closing of the state’s vaccination sites. So all those lucky enough to have an appointment for a shot will now have to reschedule. Do they have to go to the end of the queue?

At night we lost electricity at around 8 p.m. But it came back on at 9:36. Then came a succession of five phone calls from PSEG-LI, the utility, saying that the electricity had come back on, then that it was expected to come on by 4 a.m. or maybe 4:30 a.m. One phone call’s robot voice said simply: “System error. Try again later.”

Dinner: turkey chili and a salad.

Entertainment: half of an episode of The Bay on Britbox. Then the electricity failed. 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 189

A poster for De Sica’s very silly “Scandal in Sorrento.”

Tuesday, January 26

Jason of Energy Associates has become a regular caller. One can no more shake Jason—who has telephoned at least ten times of late—than one can evade the college alumni magazine. 

Unlike other marketers, whose unsexed, android voices might wish you to be aware of a Medicare benefit to which you are entitled, Jason seems to be a real, bona fide human—although Emily tells me that the most recent “Jason” isn’t Jason at all: She knows his voice, and this isn’t he. 

Perhaps there is no true Jason—it’s just a non-threatening, New Agey name, suggestive of Argonautical questing but not at all of home invasions or midnight vandalism. No, Jason, I feel assured, is at home in bed early, preparing each evening for a long next day of friendly and helpful phone calling to those in need of reduced-carbon electricity options.

Walgreen’s, another frequent caller, wishes to inform us (not sure which one of us) of a prescription that has been delayed due to an insurance issue, which they are working to resolve. One might wonder just which prescription is at issue here. But wonder in vain…Walgreen’s friendly but disembodied voice isn’t going on record with that information.

Nor can I shake my worrisome dreams. They wake me at 5 a.m., like some insistent car alarm or military bugler, and then I begin worrying about an altercation I had with a co-worker or fellow Zabar’s customer back in the 1980s. These embarrassing life experiences cling to my unconscious mind, ever ready to spring forth in a new burst of angst and remorse. Take that time I had a fist fight in the 8th grade band room…or maybe that disappointing grade in 11th grade geometry class. I had so wanted, and felt I deserved, an A. Why? Who cares? I still do, it seems.

We recently viewed two very engaging streaming videos, each of which featured young male protagonists who are tempted by society’s glittery materialism, yet quietly choose more humane options. In the short French Entracte (or Intermission), a teenage boy all but accidentally watches Vittorio De Sica’s neorealistic classic The Bicycle Thief while his friends sneak off into another theater to see The Fast and the Furious 8. Afterwards, they rave about that action flick’s big budget and exciting title sequence, as our classic film watcher says nothing but silently reflects on De Sica’s profound depiction of father-son bonding amid desperate poverty. (Entracte is part of the online My French Film Festival.)

In Netflix’ The Life Ahead, an aged and ailing Madame Rosa (86-year-old Sophia Loren) adopts an African-migrant teenage boy, Momo, who secretly deals drugs. He clearly delights in the lucrative and hard-partying, fast-lane life, but gives it up when the sinking Rosa needs his support. Momo’s is a choice in favor of Rosa’s love and that of her community, which includes a prostitute and her child, a shopkeeper, and a physician. 

It turns out that Netflix has several classic Sophia Loren movies, including The Sign of Venus and Scandal in Sorrento. Actors in the latter, very silly farce include a middle-aged de Sica, who’s infatuated with the ravishing Loren but comically out of his depth.

Dinner: pork chops with apples, braised kale, and an avocado and lettuce salad.

Entertainment: Scandal in Sorrento.