A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 234

Monday, October 11

It’s impossible to get away from discussions about climate catastrophe nowadays. Even some New Yorker short stories assume a bleak, terrifying future with an all-but-uninhabitable planet: The Oct. 11 issue includes Karen Russell’s “The Ghost Birds,” which depicts a world with constant West Coast forest fires and depleted of all avian critters. 

Today, as I drove to the East Hampton recycling center to unload a bunch of rotting garbage and empty plastic bottles, BBC Radio aired a program that seemed aimed directly at me, the small-time eco-criminal. Richard Deverell, the head of London’s Royal Botanic Gardens (otherwise known as Kew Gardens), discussed climate change and his institution’s role in educating the public on the matter. Deverell offered one observation that struck home: Quoting the Financial Times columnist Tim Hartford, he noted that a key problem arises whenever one seeks to call climate change a crisis. 

When you get up and see that it’s a lovely, cool fall morning, the world certainly doesn’t seem to be in crisis. You don’t run out the door screaming as you would if the house were on fire or if you were under attack from a violent intruder. But that’s probably just how we should be reacting. Climate activist Greta Thunberg certainly thinks so.

And when it’s not raining, it certainly has been lovely here on Long Island. Our heating technician recently called and pronounced our furnace ready to face another harsh winter. There are plenty of acorns around and lots of berries on the holly trees—indications, some say, of a cold and difficult season on the way. I already have a store of burlap in waiting to wrap the boxwoods as protection against moisture-robbing winds. I also have plans to re-pot and bring inside some of the thyme and basil that are still flourishing outside. 

Our grocery delivery service continues it’s uneven performance. This week, they said our requested sun-dried tomatoes, camomile tea, and gelato were all out-of-stock. These shortfalls, along with our reduced supplies of cash money and coffee, mean that we will shortly be forced to venture into downtown (hah!) East Hampton and go to the bank and fancy-food emporium Citarella. But such are the crises we face here in Lotus Land. After forty years of living in Manhattan, where every day entails a sweaty subway scrum and street-crossing deathmatch, it’s hard to believe that millions of Americans live this life of ease…at least until the next flash flood or hurricane hits.

Dinner: turkey meatloaf, Brussels sprouts, and a green salad.

Entertainment: Having completed a many-episode viewing of the excellent 1990s Britbox drama Our Friends in the North, we’ll have to come up with something new. There’s Hulu’s Reservation Dogs (Native American kids shoplift and scrimp as they plan their escape from a run-down Oklahoma res) or Netflix’ Gentefied (a Los Angeles chicano family tries a variety of ploys to save papa’s taco restaurant). Netflix also has Kim’s Convenience, which features a Korean family’s efforts to keep its Toronto store afloat. Hmmm–all of these seem somewhat alike, don’t they?

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 77

The D-Day landing.

Monday, May 25

It’s Memorial Day, dedicated to the memory of U.S. veterans. 

My father fought in World War II, the last American war that wasn’t an ill-conceived fiasco. He was part of the D-Day landing in France, amid the first wave on Omaha Beach, as my mother was always quick to point out. How anyone survived that, I cannot guess. 

Anyway, he was a captain at the time, having enlisted in the army in 1941 when, as a high school dropout who wasn’t much interested in work, his job prospects must have seemed minimal. By the time he was demobilized in 1945, he’d risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. But he still wasn’t interested in work: He tried a small cabinetmaking business, but that failed. He spent the rest of his life employed as a salesman at a lumber yard. That gave him access to what he really liked: wood that he could use in making everything from candlesticks to furniture. He died of a heart attack in 1962, at age 54.

Both he and my mother lived through some rotten times. Her life in particular was crap: She was born in 1914 and came of age just in time for the Great Depression. Her mother died when my mom was a teenager. Soon her father remarried, and she was required to help raise a set of step-siblings. After high school, she went to work as a sales clerk in a men’s clothing store, where she met my father. They delayed their marriage for several years, as they had to help their families through the Depression, finally marrying in 1942.

While he was off fighting the war, my sister was born, in 1944. Twelve years later, she died of polio.

As you can see, my mother’s wasn’t exactly a life of ease and privilege. Nevertheless, she was an optimistic, can-do sort who, after my father’s death, quickly went out and got a job in the public school system, where she worked as an elementary school secretary. She kept plugging away until she couldn’t take it anymore, retiring sometime in her 70s. Even then, she took on little gigs, working in a daycare center. She lived to age 91.

With all the hardships she encountered, I’m sure she could never have imagined the string of surreal horrors we’ve experienced in the 21st century: the terror attack on the World Trade Center, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the 2008 banking collapse and Great Recession, the election of the mentally ill television personality Trump as president, and now a global pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans.

As climate change continues to worsen, I suspect we will experience ever more dramatic and fatal catastrophes in the years to come. 

Happy days! as Samuel Beckett’s characters were wont to exclaim.

Here’s a joke to lighten the mood. Why did the little moron throw the clock out of the window? Answer: He wanted to see time fly.

Now, let’s look forward to dinner: spaghetti with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and toasted walnuts plus a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: More episodes of the Netflix production Safe.