A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 26

Out of the past, another roadside attraction.

Friday, April 3

Homebound, escapism-seeking Americans have made Netflix’ Tiger King the streaming service’s No. 1 show. It’s a documentary of sorts featuring a country singing zoo owner, Joe Exotic; an animal rights activist who’s also a possible murderer; huge lions and tigers; Joe’s ex-husband; and scenes from inside the prison where homicide-plotting Joe is being held. And that, it seems, is just the beginning.

Do I hear a distant echo? When I was a child, my family drove from our hometown of Memphis down to Miami. It was the 1950s, prior to the completion of the interstate highway system, so the entire trip was on what would now be back roads. The journey through Alabama was pretty boring, with relief coming only in the form of the little staggered roadside Burma-Shave advertising signs. (“Dinah doesn’t//treat him right//but if he’d shave//Dyna-mite!//Burma-Shave”)

Then we got to Florida, which back then was a different, much stranger and less wrinkle-free place. Joe Exotic would have fit right in—or perhaps, he might even have been too slick. I think—although I might have imagined this—that we went to a roadside show where a Seminole Indian wrestled a live alligator. I know we went on a voyage in a glass-bottomed boat, where the tour guide described what we were seeing down below in a Jamaican accent. All of this was pretty Joe Exotic to me, for whom an outing to Topp’s Bar-B-Q was a huge adventure.

Back here and now, U.S. unemployment claims have doubled in one week, up to 6.6 million from 3.3 million. National Public Radio says the jobless rate could hit 15%—and such figures always under-count the true level of unemployment. Around 3.5 million have also lost their health insurance in recent days.

Russia sends a plane with 60 tons of medical supplies to the U.S. Thanks, Vladimir, and forget anything we said about election meddling, OK?

Travel patterns vary widely from region to U.S. region. Data from 15 million cellphone users show that residents in the West, Midwest, and Northeast have largely complied with directives to self-quarantine. But in Florida and elsewhere in the Southeast, where local officials have refrained from issuing stay-at-home orders, people still go out a lot, perhaps triple the amount of locked-down states.

Not long ago, Trump began promoting a COVID-19 “cure” consisting largely of malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin. Trump called the elixir “the biggest game-changer in the history of medicine.” But medical experts have been less sanguine. Turns out, the idea of using the medicinal cocktail is from a family doctor who resides in the Hasidic Jewish settlement of Kiryas Joel in upstate New York. Dr. Vladimir Zelenko has flacked his “cure” on YouTube and Fox News has promoted it over 100 times, but recently Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have expelled endorsements from the likes of Rudi Giuliani and the execrable Bolsonaro. (You have to wonder: Do these guys have personal investments in the hydroxychloroquine manufacturer?) No matter—other miracle cures are sure to pop up.

Two more famous COVID-19 fatalities: Ellis Marsalis, the pianist patriarch of the New Orleans-based family of musicians, and jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli.

In mid-afternoon, I watch a short documentary film, Dieorama, which was scheduled to be shown at the SXSW festival and is now posted online. https://mailchimp.com/presents/sxsw/about/  And, no, it’s not about coronavirus; its subject is a set of small, toy-soldier-size mock-ups of grizzly murders. The artist, who is an investigator in the public defender office in Bellingham, Washington, offers the pieces as commentary on our violent times. We see her walk around, positioning some of her works in public parks and near the seashore, freebies aimed to thrill an unsuspecting public. Like the film, the artworks have also been posted online, where half the viewers admire them and half loathe them. 

Today, the National Rifle Assn. has sued the state of New York over its ruling that gun shops must close during the epidemic. The group has also pushed, successfully, to get the U.S Department of Homeland Security to classify such stores as essential businesses. The pandemic “has brought new people into the gun rights movement,” says a spokesperson for the organization. Apocalypse, now.

Dinner: spaghetti with fried eggs and parmesan again (see recipe above in chapter 20), and more lettuce and tomato salad. Supplies are running pretty low now, and we await the Peapod delivery on Monday with trepidation. 

Evening entertainment: More of The Crown; Berlin Babylon, which is really starting to grow on me; and Detectorists.

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