A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 232

Thursday, September 16

Lucky is back!

Or at least a relative of Lucky’s is. The much-missed rabbit–last seen in June of 2020–appeared on Tuesday, happily chomping on the weeds that sprout between the bricks on our patio, just like old times.

The post-Labor Day withering away of the East End’s human population has encouraged all sorts of wildlife to re-consider their relationship with our yard. A deer family of a mom and two very little ones visits every day. Another returning visitor is a chipmunk that we’ve dubbed Thelonious in honor of another Monk, the legendary jazz pianist. (Thelonious feasts on the shells of birdseed that the avian visitors have spilled under their feeder.) Then there are the squads of birds who come to our feeder and two bird baths. Some of these particularly enjoy the latter, both as a place to drink and really scrub their feathers.

The early fall months generally bring lots of birds to the area, perhaps as they prepare to migrate. Geese fly over in V-shaped formations, and hoardes of blackbirds circle, squawk, bicker, and peck at the ground. Even the squirrels are somewhat intimidated.

Yesterday I was able to strike off another item from my to-do list: I got a new battery for my Mac laptop, just as the machine had been urging me to do for weeks. This was not so easy. I had to take the computer to a shop in Sag Harbor and leave it there for several days as they replaced both battery and the attached keyboard. After retrieving the computer, Emily and I went to an admired Water Mill farm stand to get cantaloupe, corn, winter squash, lettuce, tomatoes, and apples–all stuff that’s simply more authentic and tasty when it comes from farm stands rather than the supermarket.

I’ve been reading Danish poet Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, The Copenhagen Trilogy. (Nordic noir videos have encouraged an interest in Scandinavia.) Much of the book is an account of her struggle to get published and win recognition as a writer. But she also describes her romantic relationships with a number of guys…and her three pregnancies, two of which ended with abortions. The events described take place in the late 1930s and 1940s, a period that includes the Nazi occupation of her homeland.

Of course, I’m reading Ditlevsen’s description of unwanted pregnancies and abortions during a fraught period in the United States, when state legislators and courts are making it ever more difficult to get an abortion. Abortion was illegal in Denmark during Ditlevsen’s lifetime. Why? The religious establishment? A general sense that life was sacred–and that the sexually active should be punished? A sense that women are evil and unclean and get what they deserve? The more you ponder it, the more mysterious the matter becomes.

The New York Times yesterday published a very insightful opinion piece on the history of the abortion-rights struggle in the U.S. According to Thomas B. Edsall, back in the 1970s and ’80s, the majority of Republicans and conservatives were no more stridently anti-abortion than other Americans. But a handful of conservative activists changed that. After a “long and contentious debate,” the likes of Phyllis Schlafly, Richard Viguerie, and Jerry Falwell abandoned the issue that had first drawn them into political activism–the desire to defend the tax advantages of religious, whites-only schools. Instead, they settled on a concerted effort to politicize abortion in part because “it dodged the race issue and offered the opportunity to unify conservative Catholics and Evangelicals.” Anti-abortion politics, they found, provided a chance to attract a mass base to their otherwise flakey, beyond-the-fringe politics.

Dinner: Blistered broccoli pasta with walnuts, cheese, and herbs plus a lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: the often-imitated Swedish/Danish version of policier The Bridge, season three.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 231

A friend’s Westchester County parking garage after the recent flooding.

Tuesday, September 7

It seems Emily and I have been successfully dodging climate-change bullets. But, with another couple of months to go before the official end of hurricane season, how long can our luck hold out?

Anxious about Hurricane Henri, which was projected to hit the East End of Long Island, we fled the area and went back to New York City on August 21. (In the event, the storm stayed largely to the east of the island.) We remained in the city for a week, during which time Emily got her third COVID vaccination shot. Then gauging the likeliest low-traffic travel window, we returned to Long Island on the morning of Sunday, August 29.

Three days later, New York City was hit by what Governor Kathy Hochul called “Niagara Falls-level water” in the streets, the result of Hurricane Ida.

On the East End, that tropical storm was largely a rain event that simply dumped a bunch of leaves in the yard. 

In the city and in New Jersey, severe flooding resulted in massive property destruction, mass evacuations, cancellation of 500 flights from airports, 150,000 homes without power—and 43 deaths. Many of the dead were people who got stuck in basement apartments (many of them illegal) or in their cars when flood waters rose.

“The storm dumped a record 3.15 inches of rain in just one hour in Central Park, topping the previous high of 1.94 inches in an hour set just 11 days earlier during Hurricane Henri,” said the Times.

Some city neighborhoods were submerged in chest-high water. Subway stations were flooded and the system was shut down.

Highways turned into rivers. A tornado in Southern New Jersey leveled a stretch of houses, and both the Elizabeth River and the Passaic River flooded.

Had we tarried, we easily could have been stuck in the city—our car in a flooded basement garage.

As luck would have it, our car simply got a nice wash, thanks to Ida.

One friend, who lives in the Westchester County town of Hartsdale, has sent photos showing her building’s garage flooded and her car totaled. That could easily have happened to us.

Dinner: Szechwan eggplant, white rice, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of Netflix’ lightweight crime drama Only Murders in the Building and more episodes of Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–Chapter 230

A Unification Church mass wedding.

Monday, August 30

People today are looking frantically to relinquish responsibility. 

There’s just too much to feel responsible for. There are the unending weather/climate disasters including Hurricanes Henri and Ida—and their link to your gas-guzzler and plastic-bag addiction. The decision about whether you and/or your dependents should get the COVID vaccination. The failed military adventures from Iraq to Afghanistan, which thanks to W.’s administration many Americans supported. The fool’s gold promises of globalization, which said that trade competition and lost industrial jobs would all balance out to everyone’s advantage. And the refugee crises from Italy to the Mexico-U.S. border. Lots of people just can’t take it all and long for somebody else to give them direction.

The novelist Don DeLillo has long understood Americans’ desire to let somebody else for god’s sake make the decisions. Even planning what’s for dinner or what to watch on the boob tube is just too much…not to mention how to find or commit to a mate.

DeLillo’s Mao II begins with a depiction of a 1980s mass marriage ceremony of  Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s followers—an event in which over 4,000 people got hitched to the absolute strangers that Master Moon dictated they should wed. In the vast audience, the father of one bride ponders the bridal parties: “They are a nation, he supposes, founded on the principle of easy belief. A unit fueled by credulousness….They follow the man because he gives them what they need. He answers their yearning, unburdens them of free will and independent thought.”

Surely this is the impulse at work in some people’s substitution of Ivermectin, a de-worming medication intended for livestock, for the science-supported COVID vaccine. FOX News’s personalities Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham have all recommended Ivermectin as a COVID cure—as they seek a similar blind-faith audience response to that commanded by Rev. Moon and, for that matter, to the loyalty so many have given to Trump.

But Carlson et al. should take warning: Today, Moon’s Unification Church has withered. With no more than a few thousand members, it has split into three, with the largest of these led by Moon’s wife, Had Ja Han Moon. (Moon himself died in 2012 after declaring his church closed.) Smoke and mirrors will only take you so far.

Dinner: cold sliced roast beef, corn on the cob, and a green salad with yogurt dressing.

Entertainment: Episodes of the Italian courtroom drama The Trial (Il processo).

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–Chapter 229

“Midnight Diner,” the manga on which Netflix’ series is based.

Sunday, August 22

At first I was blasé about Henri. 

But as the storm got nearer to Long Island, it seemed better to make tracks. So Emily and I left for that haven of tranquility—the welcoming haven for refugees, the mother of exiles and huddled masses—New York City.  

We departed at around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. We passed scenes of panic, with long lines of cars waiting to fill up at gas stations and crowds grabbing provisions at stores and farm stands. The traffic wasn’t too bad; I think maybe we were among the early departures.

And here we are in Gotham. It’s raining hard, but there’s not much wind here.

At midday on Sunday, it’s hard to find out much about the storm damage so far…just lots of Accuweather generalities about storm surges and power outages. On Twitter, one can see video of floodwaters rushing down the streets of Brooklyn on Sunday night. But at this moment, utility provider PSEG-Long Island reports only six electrical outages affecting 23 people in East Hampton. 

There could yet be more outages and falling trees, etc. The eye of the tropical storm now seems to be nearing Rhode Island—but the storm is widespread and for all I know, the worst is yet to come on Long Island’s East End.

We’ll likely stay in the city through much of the coming week. That will give Emily an opportunity to seek a booster COVID shot, now available to the immunocompromised. I’ll go to H Mart and score some Asian food ingredients that are hard to find on Long Island. We won’t go back until it’s clear that the electricity is on.

Dinner: leftover sheet-pan chicken with zucchini and a warm lentil salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of Netflix’ strange and charming Japanese series Midnight Diner.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–Chapter 228

Menacing, no?

Thursday, August 5

A year and a half since we evacuated New York City due to COVID-19, it has become clear that we’re unlikely ever to resume our old relationship with the city. 

We still pay rent on our apartment in lower Manhattan, but I have canceled our monthly parking space. All our mail comes out to Long Island, and it may not be long before I cancel other New York City utilities.

We’re not going back for a planned August visit due to the emergence of the Delta variant of COVID, which The New York Times says “now accounts for more than 80 percent of new infections” in the United States. Inevitably, more variants will emerge soon. Emily’s regular doctor says that given her damaged immune system—compromised by anti-cancer medication—she should stay out in the country, away from public transportation and crowds.

Emily hasn’t actually seen that doctor for over a year but speaks to her often over the phone.  She was expecting to see her dentist and dermatologist this month…but now those visits are likely off, too. In time, we may be compelled to find new doctors out here on Long Island.

Back to the NIMBY dispute over cell-phone towers. 

You may recall that a few days ago I wrote about how the Town of East Hampton had announced plans to erect an 185-foot cell-phone tower on a vacant, wooded lot in the working-class area of Springs—prompting howls of protest from nearby residents.

Most recently, though, an attorney for the Springs Fire District has proposed an alternative—a 100-foot-tall, temporary tower on wheels, placed down the street at the fire department property. Such a temporary tower, he said, would pose no threat to safety and require no clearing of trees, according to The East Hampton Press.

But would such a tower in that location really fulfill the technical needs of both emergency personnel and citizen cell-phone users? And hasn’t a previous lawsuit already shut down a cell-tower at the firehouse location?

And isn’t it likely that fights like this–and spotty cell-phone service–are the norm all across the United States?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but someone will doubtless tell us soon.

Dinner: hot dogs, a leftover chicken and sugar snap pea salad, and boiled baby potatoes with sour cream.

Entertainment: episodes of British policiers Shetland, which features a heroic cop, and Bancroft, which features a sinister, manipulative, and murderous woman officer. She’s like the twin sister of Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley–a very effective psychopath.

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?”

“Exercise.”

“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.