A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 227

Friday, July 30

Another NIMBY squabble is underway on the East End—this time over a proposed cell-phone tower.

Last week’s headline-grabbing fracas involved noisy flights in and out of the East Hampton airport, with a group of middle-class residents saying the airport should be shut down. They’ve had it with all the din from the 1%ers’ helicopters and private jets.

Now, an even less affluent group of homeowners are up in arms over a plan to install a 185-foot cell-phone tower right in the middle of their modest Fort Pond Boulevard neighborhood in the working-class area of Springs. 

The East Hampton Town Board says there are few alternatives. And believe it or not, in this day of ubiquitous cell-phone jabber, there are some areas of East Hampton where it’s nearly impossible to get a cell-phone signal.

That’s particularly problematic in the middle of our current health emergency. First responders have trouble communicating with each other, and calls to 911 don’t always go through.

Previous plans would have placed cell towers elsewhere—but those have been frustrated as well. Negotiations were underway to place a tower at Camp Blue Bay, a Girl Scout enclave on Three Mile Harbor. But the Scouts backed out saying they didn’t want such a tall tower on their patch. The town’s communications consultants say a shorter tower wouldn’t provide the needed connection between Springs, Montauk, and Wainscott.

Just what are the Fort Pond residents so concerned about? Is it simply the looks of the proposed tower, which could loom over 60-foot-tall oaks? The impact that such a tower might have on property values? Or maybe it’s 5G paranoia—the idea that there could be unknown health hazards connected with cell-tower radiation.

Fans of the Breaking Bad sequel Better Call Saul will recall the suffering of Chuck McGill, brother of the sleazy lawyer “Slippin’ Jimmy” McGill. Chuck is plagued by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”—a possibly psychosomatic malady that leaves him cowering beneath a space blanket in his house and unable to work or function normally. Although the medical establishment and the World Health Organization pooh-pooh the notion of such a malady, claims about it continue to circulate—probably even in Springs.

The Fort Pond Boulevard folks say they will sue to block the cell tower…just as other residents sued and successfully shut down a different tower located at the  not-very-far-away Springs Fire Department.

Meanwhile, it’s not unusual to see would-be cell-phone users standing out in the middle of local streets, fruitlessly attempting to locate a cell-phone signal.

I think what’s going on is a conflict about the future of the area. The place is rural and woodsy—but newcomers, in flight from the pandemic and in search of pristine beaches, want to bring their urban amenities with them. Like the conflict between local wildlife and the SUV—and between the polar ice caps and climate-change-inclined Big Oil companies—there can be little doubt of the ultimate victor.

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

Entertainment: the winning if slightly mysterious Japanese feature Asako I & II.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 226

“The Fog Warning” by Winslow Homer. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Friday, July 23

My cousin Fred writes that he has acquired a rowing machine, which he enjoys. It helps build core body strength without hurting his knees.

I, too, once had a rowing machine—back in the 1980s. I used it for a bit, then after a couple of years it got propped against the wall where it gathered dust. During one move or another, I threw it out.

Fred’s note makes me think of a story from the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces:

Galeano describes how his friend, the ex-pat writer Alastair Reed, found an advertisement for a rowing machine amid the voluminous mail that got forwarded to him. Reed was then living in the Dominican Republic, and he showed the ad to his neighbors, all fishermen.

“Indoors? They use it indoors?” said one.

The fishermen couldn’t believe it.

“Without water? They row without water?”

They couldn’t comprehend it.

“And without fish? And without the sun? And without the sky?”

The fishermen told Alastair that they got up every night long before dawn and put out to sea and cast their nets as the sun rose over the horizon, and that this was their life and that this life pleased them, but that rowing was the one infernal aspect of the whole business:

“Rowing is the one thing we hate,” said the fishermen.

Then Alastair explained to them that the rowing machine was for exercise.

“For what?”


“Ah. And exercise—what’s that?”

Dinner: grilled hamburgers along with a plethora of leftovers—sesame noodles, a cold lentils and goat cheese salad, and American Picnic potato salad.

Entertainment: The impressionistic and colorful Angolan indy Air Conditioner and one episode of Britbox’ just-posted Ashes to Ashes.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 225

Be my little baby..basil.

Saturday, July 17

A year and some months since the COVID crisis officially began, I am still racked by anxiety whenever I have an appointment scheduled. The concern about coming into contact with other humans in public spaces has merged with worry that I will forget about or miss the appointment…that the person/doctor/functionary that I am supposed to see will cancel the appointment…or that another crisis will intervene. 

They used to talk about free-floating anxiety, but this is not that. It’s largely rooted in pandemic-related issues: It’s frequently hard to even get an appointment. Then what about mask-wearing and social distancing? Should I? Will others?

Then there are the crowds associated with summer on the East End. Hordes of summer people come here, perhaps more this year than in previous seasons, with everyone looking to recapture the good times. Auto traffic can be nightmarish, especially amid the current heat wave, so it’s best to schedule things early…or, then again, maybe in mid-afternoon, when lots of folks will be courting skin cancer down at the beach.

On Thursday, I went to Amagansett and got a haircut and picked up a pound of coffee. I worried a lot about the haircut experience ahead of time. There are no appointments, you just show up, sign onto a waiting list, and loiter outside till they call your name. Would I have to wait for a long time?

Vinnie, the barber, told me that there were several people waiting at the door when he arrived to open at 6:30 a.m. (I got there around 7:45.) Everything went fine. At the coffee place, there were six baristas busily filling orders, and a line of twenty-something folks ordering fancy lattes, etc.

On Friday, Emily and I drove over to the the East Hampton post office and then to the library. We ventured out around 1:30 p.m., and the traffic wasn’t too bad—certainly not nearly so bad as it had been at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. There was a bit of a line at the P.O., but things went O.K.

In the coming week, I have a physical therapy session scheduled for midday on Wednesday in East Hampton. And an appointment for a state-required auto inspection on Friday at 10 a.m. Now, I worry that either or both of these could be canceled.

And—maybe I have said something like this before—if both of these go off without a hitch, I will likely begin worrying that I am forgetting something. What could it be?

I still have to acquire a new battery for my laptop, and we have to go back into the city in mid-August for Emily to see her dermatologist again. It’s all more stuff to worry about.

Dinner: leftover meatballs with pasta and a green salad. Emily’s increasingly severe acid reflux has begun limiting our food options—no more tomatoes, it seems.

Entertainment: old episodes of Inspector Morse and Bergerac on BritBox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 224

The predator lurks.

Sunday, July 11.

Along with the local deer, who stroll nonchalantly through our yard, there is a family of alarmingly large hawks living nearby, sometimes also venturing onto our turf. I encountered the one shown above–some 15 inches tall at least–along with his mate and one offspring during my morning walk. He didn’t seem very concerned. Maybe he thought it would entail too much work to eat me.

He was munching on something as I approached, and I don’t think it was a bagel. Probably some innocent little rodent or fellow bird. Too bad the hawks don’t eat deer.

The primary predator helping to winnow the deer herd is the automobile, as a local newspaper once pointed out. The victim’s carcasses can frequently be seen along the sides of roads. There are human victims, too: In a freak accident some years back, an auto hit a deer and sent it flying through the air, whereupon it struck and killed a bicyclist.

I wonder if the deer was wearing a helmet. Seems like we need not only bike lanes but also deer lanes.

Meanwhile, there’s a move afoot to shut down the East Hampton airport. Middle class folks complain that the constant jet-aircraft and helicopter traffic disturbs their peace–and that the aircraft serve only the 1%. There have been heated, standing-room-only political hearings on the matter, and no doubt the local pols, recipients of the 1%’s largesse, just wish the issue would go away. Lee Zeldin, the mossback GOP congressman who represents the area, had a spokesman present who said the town should not pursue “needlessly harsh measures.”

Hmmm. If there are only a very few people flying into the airport, why then is there a noise problem?

Turn-of-the-20th-century sociologist Thorstein Veblen would likely have an answer. Veblen, author of The Theory of the Leisure Class, coined numerous witty and on-point observations about the behavior of the 1%. Why did the ancient Chinese Emperors insist that their wives and concubines sport very, very long fingernails? Well, it was a display of what Veblen termed “conspicuous waste.” It showed that the Emperor had sufficient wealth to surround himself with women who were unable to perform any useful labor. Their morbidly long fingernails wouldn’t allow them to peel a lychee nut, much less clean the bathroom or prepare bird’s nest soup. Similarly, the retinues of various kings and pashas included hugely muscled servants who did little more than stand around and scowl. With their biceps, these bruisers could have been moving mountains. Why not? More conspicuous waste, Veblen opined.

So, today, I suspect, the 1% favor aircraft that make as much noise as possible: It’s a manly display of their pecuniary strength and ability to shake the heavens. Did you think Donald Trump alone craved public attention?

Dinner: barbecued pork chops, potato salad, and a lettuce salad.

Entertainment: Eric Rohmer’s romance caper Rendez-vous in Paris.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 223

Friday, July 9

Years ago, Emily told me that her mother liked to eat radishes with butter. It then seemed to me just another excuse to add fat into the diet. Later, I learned that this is a typically French way of eating the spicy springtime morsels. And further investigation reveals that the combination goes a long ways back.

Among the friends of legendary 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys was the naturalist John Evelyn, author of the 1699 book Acetaria: A discourse on sallets [or salads]. Evelyn had been influenced by the French fashion for eating simpler things, including 82 different veggies including “Sparagus.”

As dressings for salad, Evelyn liked light oil, wine vinegar infused with cloves, mustard, and citrus peel. With radishes, you just rub one in butter, and then dip it in salt—nothing else is needed as it brings its own pepper with it, the naturalist observed.

Neanderthals had no butter, but it seems that the swollen upper part of the radish root has been eaten since prehistoric days, from Western Europe to Asia. The classical Greek historian Herodotus said that the slaves who built the Great Pyramid in Egypt ate so many radishes that they wrote an inscription about the vegetable on the side of the structure.

Radishes come in a range of shapes and sizes—including 18-inch long daikon and mooli—and in various colors. There are white, pink, purple, red, and black. One Chinese radish, Xin Li Mei, sometimes has internal crimson stripes.

You can get radishes, cheap, in every supermarket. But the best ones, and the greatest variety, are found at farm stands. Those pictured here came from the Water Mill organic veggie stand, Green Thumb.

Dinner tonight: sheet pan chicken with zucchini and basil, rice, and a green salad.

Entertainment: More old episodes of the British policier Morse.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 222

Monday, July 5

The pandemic and lockdown are still having an effect on health care demand and supply. In the city, I was unable to get a timely appointment for an ultrasound that my doctor wanted. Back here on Long Island, I am unable to get an appointment for physical therapy.

I imagine two factors at work. First, many people delayed making appointments during the lockdown—and many health-care facilities weren’t taking any appointments. Now, renewed demand is overwhelming medical offices. Moreover, some of the urban population has shifted, moving to country and suburban locations where there are fewer health-care providers. 

The East Hampton physical therapy office that I telephoned was downright rude. Another place, in Sag Harbor, was both flaky and evasive…and ultimately failed to return a promised phone call.

Tomorrow I am scheduled to report to Southampton Hospital at 11:30 a.m. for the ultrasound. I’ll probably keep telephoning the Sag Harbor PT office in pursuit of an appointment there.

Today is the day after Independence Day, and most people with jobs have this as a holiday since the 4th fell on a Sunday. For the jobless, holidays are meaningless or worse since nothing can really be accomplished on such days.

Every day lately has featured rain, sometimes torrential. That put a slight crimp yesterday in the detonation plans of fireworks possessors and would-be outdoors party-goers. Still, there were enough explosions that the deer population was forced into hiding—a good thing for new rosebush possessors such as myself. At sunset yesterday, I spied one doe chomping on our new Cherry Frost rosebush. I yelled bloody murder and Emily quickly applied some spray-on deer repellent. 

The weather is also having an impact on our grilling plans. On Saturday, I dodged the raindrops to grill burgers and some veggies. I was surprised it worked at all.

Tonight’s dinner: black beans and rice plus a green salad.

Entertainment:  Another spy drama—Netflix’ Red Joan with Judi Dench as an unlikely Soviet agent.