A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 164

In 1943, black market meat sales soared. Photo by Ann Rosener/Library of Congress

Thursday, October 29

The sometimes uncertain supply of foodstuffs nowadays—the difficulty of obtaining such essentials as yeast, canned tomatoes, or even pasta—puts me in mind of World War II shortages and rationing. It’s silly, of course: What we experience is nothing like what the generation of the 1940s went through. 

During the World War II years, all U.S. citizens got books of rationing coupons. These allowed every customer to purchase an equal amount of some rare items such as sugar. A points system applied to other goods, permitting a measure of consumer choice: You could select either meat or cheese, for instance, up to a total number of allowed points. Gasoline was sold on a priority basis, with emergency vehicles receiving the most liberal allotments. And customers had to demonstrate special needs before purchasing tires or other manufactured goods containing rubber.

Support for the war effort encouraged many to sacrifice. Food writer M.F.K. Fisher embraced the necessity of scrimping: In her much-admired How to Cook a Wolf, she told how one could get by for several days on a hard-times stew of ground meat, whole-grain cereal, and withered vegetables, all at a cost of 50 cents. “This sludge, which should be like stiff cold mush and a rather unpleasant murky brown-gray in color, is strictly for hunger,” she admitted.  

Others pointed to a large discrepancy between the rhetoric of sacrifice and reality. “Never in the history of human conflict has there been so much talk of sacrifice and so little sacrifice,” observed economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who served as deputy head of the Office of Price Administration. 

Literary lion Edmund Wilson was unashamed about his refusal to join in the conspicuous celebration of underconsumption. Even as combat raged in the Pacific, Wilson recorded in his diary the delights of a sumptuous 1942 picnic at his Cape Cod home—and how he ached to rebuke an annoying friend who was always “prodding people to do things” for the war effort. 

Rather than scrimp on provisions, many turned to the black market. One study found that 25% of all wartime transactions were illegal. The Office of Price Administration reported enforcement actions against black-market transactions for meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, sugar, gasoline, rents, and used cars. There might have been more prosecutions, said OPC, except for a staff limited to only 3,069 investigators across the U.S.

I was just today listening to a BBC report on the state of Wisconsin, which is very divided along partisan lines. These people—mostly Republicans?—who reject mask-wearing and other anti-pandemic measures: Can you imagine them making the sacrifices demanded during WWII? How would they react to rationing and other federal government incursions upon their FREEDOM? I guess in the 1940s, thanks to the recent experience of the Great Depression, Americans were more accustomed to privation…and more willing to make sacrifices in the name of the common good. Moreover, in spite of the Hoovervilles and other shocking failures, government was more trusted, particularly once FDR was in office.

Dinner: turkey meatloaf, Southern corn pudding, and a lettuce and avocado salad. Sounds like hardship, no?

Entertainment: episodes of Netflix’ Ozark, Everything’s Fine with Sarah Cooper, and Britbox’ All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 163

Acorns aplenty–meaning a harsh winter is on the way?

Tuesday, October 27

It was raining, once again, when a dream awoke me at 6:30. It seems to rain every day now—our share of the precipitation related to the hurricane, or tropical storm, named Zeta. (Are they running out of names? Maybe the next will be an Aa name, like Aaron?) Along with the rain, acorns pelt the house—wham! as if some malevolent tree were hurling them, intending to inflict pain on the roof. There’s one every few minutes. Bam! like the report of a rifle. Is the propulsive force really due to gravity alone? Sometimes squirrels throw acorns down, but I don’t think they’d be doing that at this hour when it’s still pretty dark.

In my dream I am at the doctor’s office. He has stepped out of the room for a moment, leaving me there with my mother. “Your friend Walter says you seem to be in pretty good shape,” she comments. Walter? Did I have a friend named Walter who was a doctor in Memphis? I don’t believe so.

There seems to be a bumper crop of acorns this year. I remember a few years back when that also happened, they simply blanketed the yard. Some say that a big crop of acorns portends a rough winter. But the last time there were so many acorns, I don’t think the winter was especially severe.

Can acorns really be used to make coffee? Can’t think where, but I recall reading novels set in wartime or during an economic depression, with references to “acorn coffee.” Searching on Wikipedia, I come across an entry by a Belgian coffee seller, Miko, which says: “One of the ideas which kept the business alive during the [World War II] war years was the decision to start roasting acorns just like coffee beans; it made Miko the creator of ‘Acorn Coffee.’ This bitter, black derivative also known as ‘surrogate coffee’ was drunk in large volumes throughout the war years. To be frank nothing else and better was available.”

I can find no mention of acorn coffee in The Oxford Companion to Food, a voluminous encyclopedia that sits on my shelf largely unread. But it does say that acorns have here and there been eaten, “since prehistoric times.” In Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a duchess asks Sancho Panza’s wife to send her some acorns from her village, probably from the ilex oak, Quercus ilex. Varieties of this tree are cultivated in Spain and Portugal, says Oxford, with its long, cylindrical acorns being comparable to and eaten like chestnuts. 

In North America, there are also several native species of palatable acorn that “constituted a food of some importance for Indians and early white settlers.” Acorns of the California black oak had “outstanding flavor and the most gelatin-like consistency when cooked, a prerequisite for good acorn mush,” according a cited work on the Cahuilla Indian use of plants, Temalpakh by Lowell John Bean and Katherine Siva Saubel.

I suggest to Emily that, since we have so many, I might find a way to introduce acorns into our diet. She’s not enthusiastic.

Dinner: Simple potato soup, a small bit of the remaining ropa vieja, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of Netflix’ Ozark, season two, and more of the increasingly formulaic season six of All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 162

Black Panther leader Bobby Seale.

Thursday October 22 

So much time can be wasted quarreling with corporate entities over their charges. Ergo, I have put in lots of time fighting with Optimum and trying to get American Express (which handles my automatic billing) to understand a dispute over an $80 charge that dates to early August. Optimum sent a postcard saying that I must pay the $80 within two days or my service might be discontinued.

All of these billing and dispute departments are undoubtedly staffed by underpaid and over-harassed staff. The Optimum guy, Greg, finally reassured me that his supervisor had told him that the $80 charge had been expunged. I doubt that this is the end of it. (At 7:50 p.m., Greg called again to say that the $80 charge had definitely been erased.)

Otherwise, a lovely day, sunny with a high of 68 degrees. Emily and I went for a walk in nearby Maidstone Park, where there were few others. Then came a drive down to Gerard Drive, where the bay beaches were unoccupied. We saw one lonely kayaker and, a bit later, one paddle boarder in the water.

Two days ago, we got our latest Stop-and-Shop/Peapod grocery delivery. The previous delivery had come at 10 p.m.—which is to say well after sunset. In the dark, we had to wrangle 12 to 15 bags of stuff into the house (they leave it outside, socially distanced from us) and then put some into our quarantine space and other stuff into the fridge. We were able to arrange a midday delivery on Tuesday, which was much easier to handle. As ever, though, we worried that they’d deliver in the middle of a rainstorm. It was sprinkling, having rained much, much harder overnight and into the morning hours. Stop-and-Shop has gotten better about their “out-of-stock” surprises: This time, there were only two ordered items missing. 

Netflix’ The Trial of the Chicago 7 is surprisingly interesting, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Some will recall the circus of a “trial” of the alleged organizers of massive antiwar demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. At the time of the courtroom antics, it was hard to say just who was more interested in putting on a theater-of-the-absurd show—the student-age defendants or the nutso federal judge, Julius Hoffman. There were eight original defendants, including Black Panther Bobby Seale, who genuinely had very little to do with the demonstrations. After being denied a lawyer, mouthing off at the judge, and being gagged and chained to his chair, Seale was allowed a separate trial. Five of the remaining defendants were each sentenced to five years in prison for inciting violence—and all of them and their attorneys faced separate contempt-of-court charges as well. But in the end, a higher court dismissed the convictions, and the U.S. attorney declined to retry the case. 

Why was the judge so off-the-wall? How did he imagine he’d get away with such flagrant violations of the defendants’ constitutional rights—including freedom of speech and the right to counsel? According to the Netflix show, Seale, whose attorney Charles Garry was absent due to emergency surgery, was repeatedly told he should just accept representation by the lawyers who were already there, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. This was entirely improper, and Kunstler rightly refused to play along.

I remember the televised street fighting right outside of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. But were Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis in fact as prominently involved here as Netflix suggests? And did the Chicago cops and National Guard intentionally let them into the area in order to trap them? Or did I misunderstand the Netflix script?

Dinner: Mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, accompanied by cold sesame noodles.

Entertainment: We’re not finding much of interest that’s new, so more episodes of Better Call Saul and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 161

Novelist Henry James and his philosopher brother William James.

Monday, October 19

An abundance of leisure time has allowed me to read lots of interesting stuff, so I am going to tell you about a bit of it.

I must admit that I fell way behind in my magazine reading and am only now catching up. In late-July, The New Yorker published a fascinating article that persuasively links all American policing to the reinforcement of slavery. 

“The Long Blue Line: Inventing the Police” by historian Jill Lepore tells how, before the mid-19th century, keeping public order was mostly left in the hands of the “watch”—everyday citizens who were required to put in time walking city wards and, if necessary, to raise the alarm. But slave societies went a step further. In such plantation economies as Cuba or Barbados, slave patrols were established in order to catch and punish runaways. In North America, the French city of New Orleans was distinctive in having wage-earning, armed city guards to carry out police work.

Then, in the 1830s, the city of Boston established a paid police force—largely in response to a series of mob attacks on abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison. Other cities soon followed suit: New York in 1844 and Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Baltimore in the 1850s. Of course, population growth, widening inequality, and rise in such crimes as prostitution and burglary also played a role in the emergence of urban policing. 

By the early 20th century, military men entered the policing fray, adapting the tactics and weapons that had previously been used to subdue Native Americans and the colonized folks of such areas as the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Jim Crow-era laws virtually criminalized blackness, with, for example, a quarter of those arrested in Philadelphia being African-American. That group constituted only 7.4% of the city’s population. Over the decades, various branches of government each established its own police: In New York State, there are town and city police forces, state police, county sheriffs, private security forces, and federal police including the FBI, ICE, and the U.S. Border Patrol.  

But the failure of police forces—their proneness to violence and all-too-obvious racial bias, the stretching of their role to include social work, traffic enforcement, and even education—have led to public disenchantment. Today, Lepore says, “an overwhelming majority of Americans, of both parties, support major reforms in American policing.” Even many police officers believe change must come.

Whew! Time for some unreality.

Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw has received several cinematic treatments. The latest is now playing on Netflix as The Haunting of Bly Manor. Yes, this is the tale of the two orphaned kids, now supervised by a recently hired and young nanny, living in a weird, remote mansion. And something is going on with the kids—can it be that they commune with the dead? 

Henry James wrote several ghostly and supernatural tales, and Netflix’ Haunting seems to incorporate more than one of these. (I haven’t yet seen the whole production.) Anyway, its episodes carry the names of such James works as “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Jolly Corner.” If you’d prefer to read these rather than view the cinematic adaptation, you can get no-cost, e-book versions at Project Gutenberg’s website.

Dinner: Picadillo, rice, and a green salad

Entertainment: The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix and All Creatures Great and Small on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 160

“Dear Diary….”

Sunday, October 18

Shouldn’t Mike Pence have a diary? These are historic times, and someday he’ll be able to publish such an account for big bucks. So maybe I could help him write it–give him some ideas right here on the blog.

That could be funny, right? Lots of ponderous piety (“I prayed hourly for the President to overcome his bout of the Chinese virus”); peculiar reflections regarding Old Testament quotes (“Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man” conjures thoughts about haircuts during the lockdown). Amy Coney Barrett’s much-reported life story could trigger memories of Pence’s college-years defection from Catholicism to evangelical religion. There could be comparisons of Pence’s own picayune misuse of political donations to Trump’s massive debts and scandalous financial doings. And of course, he’d share private doubts about the Commander-in-Chief’s depraved comments and debauched alley-cat behavior. 

But to write such a mock diary well, I would have to immerse myself in the true-life details of Pence’s life—and who could stand to do that? 

Better to devote my postings to interesting stuff, including articles I am reading.

The New York Review of Books daily newsletter recently ran a valuable article comparing health-care coverage in countries around the world. In a review of Ezekiel Emanuel’s Which Country Has the World’s Best Health Care? historian David Oshinsky discussed the merits and demerits of systems from the Netherlands to Taiwan and the United States. So, which is the best?

Naturally, it depends. Just what is your priority? Short wait times vs. the most professional and up-to-date care? So-called elective surgery? Universal coverage? Drug costs?

Not surprisingly, surveys put the U.S. at or near the bottom in most categories. But regarding first place, “there are too many variables and too few precise measurements to pick an overall winner,” the article says. Emanuel places Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Taiwan at the top. Personally, the book author has said, he’d pick the innovative Dutch system.

One of the surprise revelations of this piece is Oshinsky’s opening anecdote, which describes President Harry Truman’s late-1940s effort to enact an American national health care plan. It seems that, during World War I, Truman had been an Army artillery officer—and had become increasingly troubled by the poor health of recruits. Five million-plus draftees had been rejected due to poor health, and another 1.5 million inductees were soon sent home for similar reasons.

What was the problem? Americans couldn’t afford good health care: Two-thirds of the population lacked the means to overcome a health crisis. And there simply weren’t enough providers: Many rural counties had a 3,000 to 1 ratio of people to doctors. Once he was president, Truman resolved to do something about this. He wasn’t able to, thanks to the no-holds-barred opposition of the American Medical Association.

Oshinsky’s article is so quotable and informative that I am placing a permanent bookmark for it on my Internet favorites page.

Ever wonder just why GOPers and Trump are so fanatically opposed to the Affordable Care Act? I mean, the concept was invented by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and first put in place as Romney-care in Massachusetts.

 But Trump excoriates the ACA as “a disaster.” He’ll never tell you precisely why—just more invective, as we have come to expect from Mr. MAGA.

Well, here’s why: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has an article showing that repeal of the ACA would dramatically cut taxes for the 1%—by an average of $198,000 per year.

 Moreover, “pharmaceutical companies would pay $2.8 billion less in taxes each year, even as millions of seniors would pay billions more for prescription drugs.”

So is the ACA a disaster? Maybe it’s just the 1% being forced to forego that third bottle of Dom Perignon.

Dinner tonight: all veggies. Stir-fried sugar snap peas in ginger and garlic, plus a baked Kabocha squash.

Entertainment: More episodes of of Better Call Saul and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 159

Santa’s Helpers reporting for store duty.

Friday, October 16

The year continues to produce developments that in any other time would be astounding, gobsmacking—but that nowadays one just tends to accept. 

Case in point: Stores are giving employees special holiday-season training for what to do if there are conflicts over mask-wearing.

In short, just what workers should say if customers fight against attempts to save their lives.

I read about this and at first thought, well, what else is new? Then I thought twice—whatttt?

I guess this kind of thing has happened before in hyper-individualistic, I-know-my-rights America. Flight attendants have had to deal with passengers who refuse to return to their seats even as the plane rolls and tosses in rough weather. Drivers refuse to put their kids in lifesaving booster seats. 

So what should a retail employee do if, despite signs instructing that you must wear a mask to enter this store, someone comes in sans mask and makes a scene about the matter? What if a mother with child confronts said nonmaskwearer and a screaming match ensues?

Counselors say to give the belligerent customer a choice: Would you like to step out of the line and speak with a manager, perhaps? 

Yeah, or maybe you’d like to step outside and talk it over with Thor here.

Who’d have imagined that the local Walmart would need muscled-up bouncers?

I mean, “Sorry, Kris Kringle, we’re gonna have to let you go. We’ve had some unexpected personnel expenses this year.”

Then, “Right this way, Sonny Barger.”

Oh, well. The social distancing wasn’t working too great in Santa’s Corner anyway. And little kids aren’t so much into Zoom, either.

In Britain, Great Grottos, which operates over 200 Christmas-themed displays in shopping and garden centers, announced a delay in the planned hiring of 500 Santas and elves.

As if unemployment weren’t already an issue. Father Christmas seems to have become a stepchild.

Dinner: Pasta with drop meatballs and a green salad.

Entertainment: We’ve exhausted all episodes of Borgen, so we’ll have to find something else. But there are still unseen episodes of Better Call Saul and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 158

The Spanish-American War Rough Riders, featuring publicity hound and future U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.

Wednesday, October 14

Yesterday, Emily watched a Zoom panel discussion, sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, on the subject of the “presidential transfer of power,” and I eavesdropped a bit. Just what will happen after the election? A zillion thorny issues are likely to arise thanks to our screwy system. What if there’s confusion over the result of a popular vote and a state sends two sets of electors to the electoral college? What if a state legislature (majority Republican maybe) and a state’s governor (a Democrat perhaps) disagree about the result?

Many of these questions are likely to arise where it matters most—in such swing states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where Democratic governors and Republican-dominated legislatures are sure to clash. Both parties are almost certain to take their grievances to court—after shopping for venues they think will be most likely to favor their arguments. So one goes to state court, the other to federal court—and the whole matter can only be solved in the U.S. Supreme Court, where currently there is a four-to-four partisan split.

In Texas and Georgia, early voting has already begun, and there were places where lines of voters stretched for blocks, thanks to intense voter interest, complicated ballots, and, I believe, rampant suspicion that officials intend to suppress the vote. In one Atlanta suburb, there was an eight-hour wait to vote, according to the Associated Press. A record 128,000 people turned out on the first day of early voting.

All of this in the midst of a global pandemic, a Black Lives Matter mobilization,  and a bitter fight over a Supreme Court seat, presided over by a mentally ill, rabidly narcissistic motormouth of a president.

As Charlie Brown might say: Aaaaugh!

It certainly makes one long for a simpler time. I recently watched an episode of the classic 1950s TV show The Twilight Zone on Netflix. It featured a harried urban commuter whose train once or twice made an unscheduled stop at a place called Willoughby. He’d never heard of the town, nor did he recall the train ever before stopping there. But when he glanced out of the window, he could see a Gay-1890s small town, featuring quaint shops, kids playing with ancient toys, and a bandstand featuring a cornball local musical group. Finally one day, he decides to get off and live in the peaceful village. I probably don’t have to tell you that, this being The Twilight Zone, the results are hardly what he expected.

In fact, the far-from-Gay 1890s were—much like our own time—a period of wild and unanticipated social upheaval. Urban and industrial growth, the appearance of vast private fortunes belonging to Astors and Vanderbilts, and depressed farm prices led rural Americans to feel that they were being slighted. A radical farmers movement, spearheaded by the Populist Party, threatened to upend American politics.

Meanwhile, there was startling industrial strife. A late 1880s general strike prompted a half-million workers across the U.S. to down tools. Police and workers battled at Haymarket in Chicago, resulting in numerous deaths, followed by the conviction for murder and the hanging of four “anarchists.” In 1892, a steel strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania featured a day-long gun battle between strikers and company-hired Pinkerton security men. The following year saw the beginning of a economic depression second only to that of the 1930s. The 1894 Pullman strike turned into another nationwide general strike with violence, deaths, and prison sentences for such national figures as socialist Eugene Debs. At the end of the decade came the Havana harbor explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine and war against Spain. 

Maybe there never were truly calmer times…but it’s pretty clear that a majority of today’s Americans are longing for such a period. 

Dinner: Lentil soup with wheat berries and kale, plus a green salad.

Entertainment: The penultimate episode of the excellent Danish political drama Borgen, plus a calming episode of All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year–chapter 157

The Donald’s new look.

Friday, October 9

To my way of thinking, if Trump is going to kill off all further stimulus money and overthrow Obamacare with its protections for those with pre-existing medical conditions, then he should be required to adopt an accent like that of the villainous Boris Badenov of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.

I mean, Melania already sounds a good bit like Boris’s co-conspirator Natasha. Every so often Melania could chime in with: “Boris—I mean Donald—you are so evil!” 

Meanwhile, Bill Barr could announce: “Moose and Squirrel—I mean Biden and Harris—must die!”

Wouldn’t that clarify everything for any remaining undecided voters?

It complicates things a bit that Boris, or Donald, is also playing the part of the duo’s much-referenced Fearless Leader. But things were already complicated thanks to the existence of Trump runnin’ buddies Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, who also play Fearless Leaders. Then there are Jair Bolsanario of Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Viktor Orban of Hungary, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey. Maybe the world can’t have too many Fearless Leaders.

At our house, the strongmen tend to be mechanical. The dictatorial thermostat was overthrown yesterday when it failed to impose order on the furnace; a new fearless thermostat had to be placed in power. Afterwards, Emily and I celebrated by taking our absentee ballots to the post office, getting ice cream, and sitting outside at the admirable but mysteriously now-overgrown Pussy’s Pond, across the street from the legendary Springs General Store. (The Pussy in question has nothing to do with Goldfinger, Billy Bush, or Access Hollywood, I believe, and is simply a name given in a more innocent time, when pussy willows were in bloom.)

Trump says Kamala Harris is a Communist. Yet for some months, one Twitter meme has proclaimed that “Kamala Harris is a cop.” There are, perhaps, Communist cops, although we didn’t see any at all while we were in Cuba a couple of years back. Communist cops perhaps tend to keep a lower profile than candidates for the U.S. vice-presidency. So maybe Trump is wrong…although I wouldn’t want to make any hasty judgments.

“I’m a senior,” Boris/Donald confided in a video yesterday. “I know you don’t know that. Nobody knows that.” I mean, who would have guessed?

Looney, too, is the group that planned to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The 13-member strong Wolverine Watchmen had summertime weapons-training sessions and occasional meetings in a shop basement that was accessible only via a trap door concealed beneath a rug. They spied on Whitmer’s vacation home, planned to buy explosives, and hoped to spark a civil war. “I just wanna make the world glow dude,” exclaimed one member of the apparently less-than-shadowy conspiracy. 

This afternoon I have conspired to make a pie crust that will house a quiche for tonight’s dinner. I used to make pie crust all the time with no problem, but in recent years I have lost the knack. Today’s went O.K., although rolling it out required lots of huffing and puffing. I have also been planning dinners for the next dozen days, so we can figure out what must go on the list for Peapod, whose next delivery is scheduled for October 20. The most challenging innovation in days to come will be ropa vieja—a Latin beef dish that I’ll put together after the Peapod delivery.

So, tonight’s dinner: quiche aux lardons and a lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: More episodes of Better Call Saul, Borgen, and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 156

Tempus fugit.

Wednesday, October 7

Days glide past almost seamlessly. It’s a bit like those scenes in old movies indicating the passage of time: You see the pages of a calendar ripping out, then swirling away one after another. At one moment, it’s August, then suddenly December. Here, it’s time for breakfast—then, whoops, dinner’s ready!

News reports show the pandemic worsening in places that once thought themselves exempt. In North Dakota, where locals probably regarded COVID-19 as a myth or maybe a big-city problem, the few hospitals are now full to bursting. States in the Midwest and Great Plains, from the Dakotas to Montana and Wisconsin, are now feeling the brunt of the plague. Yet North Dakota, which has only 762,000 total residents, is one of 20 states where there is no mask mandate.

Trump claims that he is fully recovered but cannot help but cough a bit whenever he jumps in front of a camera. Meanwhile, the White House seems like a setting out of a Hot Zone movie. Guys in hazmat suits spray disinfectant on the walls and furniture, and residence staff are costumed in yellow gowns, surgical masks, and disposable protective eye covers. The latest victim of COVID is the Nazi-wannabe Stephen Miller. In all, there are 14 members of the MAGA inner circle who we know to be infected. Almost the entire military Joint Chiefs of Staff are in quarantine.

Already erratic to say the least, Trump’s behavior—including canceling any further congressional negotiations over more economic stimulus—may be affected by the cocktail of drugs he is taking. One of these, the steroid dexamethasone, is said to bring on mood swings and a sense of euphoria.

The fauna out here don’t require any mood-enhancing drugs. The birds come nonstop to the feeder, while the squirrels seem engaged in some kind of Jets vs. Sharks gang fight on the roof of our house. Yesterday, a young deer raced around in our yard, cutting right then left in a seeming imitation of NFL running back maneuvers. When he/she got to the adjoining vacant lot, the sport changed to steeplechase, as the deer leaped again and again over fallen trees. Is there something in the cooler, fall weather that prompts this frenetic activity?

Contrary to advice on YouTube, I just planted some daffodil and tulip bulbs in the yard. Eight of each in four different spots, with a topping of rich bagged soil that has been sitting unused in the basement for a couple of years. The idea, I always have to remind myself, is to plant the bulbs in the mid- to late fall, then they’re supposed to cooperate by blooming in the first warm days of the spring. You’re told to wait until the fall weather is appropriately cool, so the bulbs don’t sprout early. Today is likely a bit too warm, but I just got tired of waiting.

Boy, is yard work difficult. I also dug a bit in the lawn, where there are bare spots that have resisted grass seed year after year. So, I put some of the bagged soil on several such places, hoping for better results with the grass next year. Now, I am exhausted.

Dinner: an adaptation of beef with broccoli—chicken with broccoli along with leftover eggplant with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. 

Entertainment: The vice-presidential debate plus one episode of All Creatures Great and Small.


A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 155


Sunday, October 4 

The coronavirus-infected Trump has taken a turn for the worse. He rolls over in his hospital bed, and, like the dying Citizen Kane, he whispers one mysterious word: “Covefe!” An object tumbles from his fingers and smashes on the floor.

What is that object? A clue to the meaning of the mysterious word, perhaps? OH…a coffee cup!

I, too, have had troublesome dreams. In one last night, which seems to last a long time, I am making my way home across Manhattan. I wander through a vast and abandoned warehouse, in and out of vacant lots, past burned-out cars, broken machinery, and a derelict, six-door bank of washing machines. Up and down empty staircases, beyond weedy grounds. The area—about where Alphabet City stands—seems a giant wasteland, soon to be turned into a modern development no doubt.

A man in a tattered black suit and wide-brimmed hat writhes past me, all shoulders and elbows. He seems to think I mean him harm, but I am as eager to escape him as he is to elude me. On and on, the dream goes.

The mystery writer Raymond Chandler was likely troubled with dreams too. In his novel The Lady in the Lake, fictional detective Philip Marlowe dreams that he is “far down in the depths of icy green water with a corpse under my arm. The corpse had long blond hair that kept floating around in front of my face. An enormous fish with bulging eyes and a bloated body and scales shining with putrescence swam around leering like an elderly roué. Just as I was about to burst from lack of air, the corpse came alive under my arm and got away from me and then I was fighting with the fish and the corpse was rolling over and over in the water spinning its long hair.

I woke up with a mouth full of sheet and both hands hooked on the head-frame of the bed….”

Trump in his dreams should be wrestling with the corpses of the many pandemic victims who are dead as a result of presidential denial and incompetence. But of course, he is not.

Dinner: Bulgogi style steak, baked potatoes with sour cream, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of season four of All Creatures Great and Small on Britbox, along with an episode of Borgen via Netflix.