A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 268

A movie still from George Lucas’ THX 1138.

Sunday, June 19

The NYU medical facility that I visited on Thursday is a strange, futuristic place. It has taken me a few days to come to grips with just how alien the edifice truly is.

First of all, the NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Center is located at the intersection of 41st Street and the hyper-literally named Tunnel Exit Street. (The latter could serve as the title for its own, DeLillo-esque novel.) A very sterile, anonymous building suitable for an IRS office or Postal Services headquarters, you enter via self-operated revolving doors: An artificial intelligence seems to sense your presence. 

Proceeding through a capacious lobby, you go to the elevator bank that’s specified for your floor.  In an ordinary building, you’d just press the UP button. But here, that’s only the first step: Don’t avert your gaze, the button has questions. Enter your floor number please—then it will tell you which of four lifts you should enter, A1, A2, A3, or A4. 

(It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the elevator bank was expecting someone like me to go to floor 15 at around this time of day. A computer likely links the elevators to a schedule of appointments.)

I am the only passenger on A4, and it takes me directly to floor 15—no escape to another floor is possible since there are no numbered buttons inside the elevator. Once on 15, I find myself in another large, mostly empty lobby. Here and elsewhere, NYU has these handprint ID machines. It looks like you just place your palm on the mechanical palm-print insignia, and you are recognized and given entry. But I have never been able to make these devices work.

Fortunately, there’s one other human present. Behind a very long counter sits a lone receptionist—a Black woman with preposterously extended artificial eyelashes that curl up and touch her forehead. She asks if I have an appointment and what is my birthdate. Once cleared, I am directed to go to the waiting area, another substantial area filled with tidy rows of auditorium-appropriate furniture. There I will be the only human in sight. 

Not to belabor the point, but doesn’t all this seem rather Kafkaesque—or perhaps like a venue appropriate to an early George Lucas flick? I am also reminded of W.G. Sebald’s description of the simultaneously pharaonic and ultra-modern Bibliothèque nationale de France, a place that seems violently antithetical to the very notion of anything so quaint as a book or a word constructed of mere letters.

I survived my own encounter with the NYU machine, met with a doctor, and left in under an hour. No security-uniformed android interrupted my progress.

Dinner: wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, couscous, and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ You Don’t Know Me.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 267

Bring on those pistol-packin’ pedagogues!

Friday, June 17

Think back about your high-school teachers. Can you imagine any one of them wielding a Glock 9mm handgun?

It has been decades ago, I admit. But most of my high-school teachers were overweight and ungainly, nearsighted and middle-aged. One English teacher spoke of herself in the third person, in the mode of Ricky Henderson—so perhaps she wasn’t especially empathetic towards other people. 

There were a half-dozen football coaches—but that skill alone wasn’t enough to justify a job, so for some reason they were all given the extra task of teaching history. One such coach couldn’t be bothered to prepare lectures, so he simply read the textbook out loud to us in class. Meanwhile, the students daydreamed or misbehaved, throwing chewing gum or paper airplanes at one another. 

Imagine if this 300-pound-plus embodiment of distraction were confronted by a AR-15 toting miscreant. A catlike, Jason Bourne-esque first response? No, ‘fraid not.

The GOP governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine thinks such pedagogues would do just fine with weapons, so long as they had 24 hours of training. He has just signed a state law that empowers school districts to arm teachers as a preventive against Uvalde-like massacres. Vanity Fair writer Bess Levin—is she privy to some inside information?—writes in her Levin Report that Ohio “school districts could have armed art, history, and math teachers starting this fall.” Is this to be taken literally? Is there something about these disciplines that singles their teachers out as the best likely marksmen? Math-teacher-like precision? The longue durée perspective of history scholars? Or maybe the enhanced sensibility of would-be art appreciators? Go figure.

I just Googled “Glock handguns” and immediately was referred to several websites that will ship an automatic handgun to you overnight. The cheapest model was a mere $499. The same website also trades in a variety of Bushmaster long guns—the XM-15 Quick Response Carbine will set you back a mere $599. Hmmm—maybe a scope to go with that?

Emily and I are back in Manhattan, and so far in my rambles, I have not seen any heat-packing tourists. Maybe they’re all in line, buying up the last tickets to the soon-to-close Broadway crowd-pleaser “Come From Away.” I myself have had my eyes examined and met with a neurologist, and next week I’m due for a dental checkup. The handgun training will have to wait.

Dinner: the ever-agreeable pasta bolognese.

Entertainment: The Netflix courtroom drama You Don’t Know Me.