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.

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 77

by HardyGreen on May 26, 2020

The D-Day landing.

Monday, May 25

It’s Memorial Day, dedicated to the memory of U.S. veterans. 

My father fought in World War II, the last American war that wasn’t an ill-conceived fiasco. He was part of the Day-Day landing in France, amid the first wave on Omaha Beach, as my mother was always quick to point out. How anyone survived that, I cannot guess. 

Anyway, he was a captain at the time, having enlisted in the army in 1941 when, as a high school dropout who wasn’t much interested in work, his job prospects must have seemed minimal. By the time he was demobilized in 1945, he’d risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. But he still wasn’t interested in work: He tried a small cabinetmaking business, but that failed. He spent the rest of his life employed as a salesman at a lumber yard. That gave him access to what he really liked: wood that he could use in making everything from candlesticks to furniture. He died of a heart attack in 1962, at age 54.

Both he and my mother lived through some rotten times. Her life in particular was crap: She was born in 1914 and came of age just in time for the Great Depression. Her mother died when my mom was a teenager. Soon her father remarried, and she was required to help raise a set of step-siblings. After high school, she went to work as a sales clerk in a men’s clothing store, where she met my father. They delayed their marriage for several years, as they had to help their families through the Depression, finally marrying in 1942.

While he was off fighting the war, my sister was born, in 1944. Twelve years later, she died of polio.

As you can see, my mother’s wasn’t exactly a life of ease and privilege. Nevertheless, she was an optimistic, can-do sort who, after my father’s death, quickly went out and got a job in the public school system, where she worked as an elementary school secretary. She kept plugging away until she couldn’t take it anymore, retiring sometime in her 70s. Even then, she took on little gigs, working in a daycare center. She lived to age 91.

With all the hardships she encountered, I’m sure she could never have imagined the string of surreal horrors we’ve experienced in the 21st century: the terror attack on the World Trade Center, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the 2008 banking collapse and Great Recession, the election of the mentally ill television personality Trump as president, and now a global pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans.

As climate change continues to worsen, I suspect we will experience ever more dramatic and fatal catastrophes in the years to come. 

Happy days! as Samuel Beckett’s characters were wont to exclaim.

Here’s a joke to lighten the mood. Why did the little moron throw the clock out of the window? Answer: He wanted to see time fly.

Now, let’s look forward to dinner: spaghetti with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and toasted walnuts plus a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: More episodes of the Netflix production Safe.

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 76

May 25, 2020

Sunday, May 24 Now, we have a rabbit visitor. Twice he’s come to hang out and nibble weeds in our side yard. There have been numerous reports of usually wary animals suddenly entering spaces that humans created but now are avoiding. Wild goats in the streets of Welsh towns. Sheep in California burgs. So, maybe […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 75

May 24, 2020

Saturday, May 23 Three of the world’s smallest mice showed up in the middle of the kitchen floor this morning.  They’re so tiny they must be newborns, which I suspect means that more will arrive. They moved very slowly at first, then as I attempted to sweep each one into a dustpan, they became more […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 74

May 23, 2020

Friday, May 22 A very seasonable day, with a temperature of 71 degrees. A 60% chance of rain overnight, 70% tomorrow with temps predicted to be only in the high 50s. Everything is green, with the grass and weeds on our lawn getting quite high despite the fact that the lawn was cut once, a […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 73

May 22, 2020

Thursday, May 21 Today marks eleven weeks that we have been in the COVID-19 lockdown. I spent a miserable morning trying to pay my East Hampton real estate taxes—being defeated by a bewildering online system, stupified by a non-functioning pay-by-phone thing, and finally surrendering and just mailing in checks to an office that almost certainly […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 72

May 21, 2020

Wednesday, May 20 It turns out that but for the 1918 influenza pandemic, one of today’s most fashionable exercise routines might never have existed. It’s a curious and perhaps frivilous sidebar to a tragic, world historical event. At the time of the war, German alien Joseph Pilates was interned by Britain along with 23,000 other […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 71

May 20, 2020

Tuesday, May 19 A company called Moderna has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that has shown promising results in early tests on humans. The announcement raised public hopes and sent the company’s stock soaring. But past events should prompt skepticism.  The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic—the worst in U.S. history—saw the early development of a vaccine, too. […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 70

May 19, 2020

Monday, May 18 If you have been reading this blog, you can’t have missed the fact that we’re seeing plenty of streaming video. One show that we’ve watched a lot—two and a half seasons’ worth—is the Netflix Norwegian political thriller Occupied. It’s like The Sorrow and the Pity as penned by Greenpeace. And it’s a […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 69

May 18, 2020

Sunday, May 17 Having read my blog entry about the Home, Sweet Home Cook Book, a friend has emailed me information about a Hamptons artists’ cookbook, Palette to Palate. It was published by Guild Hall Museum in 1978, contained recipes from 130 local artists, and featured illustrations and autographs from Andy Warhol, the de Koonings, […]

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 68

May 17, 2020

Saturday, May 16 It could be a strange summer out here. Realtors see upbeat signs: The market for summer rentals is booming, with urbanites looking for a place where they can escape the pandemic. Meanwhile, paranoia strikes deep. In the local hardware store, not far away from the bags of potting soil and cans of […]

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