A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 203

Tuesday, March 23

Things to worry about after you’ve gotten your two anti-COVID-19 shots (including some things I simply don’t understand):

  • Officials are urging people to get vaccinated before any more new coronavirus variants emerge. Why? How effective will the existing vaccines be in warding off new strains? Or is the idea that you need to ward off the existing strain of COVID-19 before it morphs into a new strain, using your body as a host?
  • I have participated in NO zoom calls—none. Am I now hopelessly antiquated?
  • My brain is flooded with memories from the past. I dream about BusinessWeek colleagues and scenes that never took place. I daydream about embarrassing moments, some of which took place when I was in junior high school. Why?
  • I think about my mother, my uncles and cousins, my old friends all the time. What?
  • There are the ever-present anxieties about death. How much longer do we have on Earth? Isn’t true old age worse than death?
  • Things to fix at the house: a leak in the bathroom ceiling that shows up when it rains hard; stuff in the basement to throw out and insulation to be fixed; driveway pebbles to be replaced.
  • Do I need to get the car’s oil changed even though it has traveled only a little over a thousand miles since the last oil change?
  • Other health anxieties too gruesome to list
  • The squirrels are eating the tulip shoots as soon as they come up in the yard or planters outside? What can be done?
  • I’ve finished reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Viet Cong spy novel, The Sympathizer. Should I try to get his sequel, The Committed—or maybe Kazuo Ishiguro’s new book, Klara and the Sun?

Dinner: black beans and rice and a green salad

Entertainment: one episode of the German show Anatomy of Evil on Mhz and episodes of season three of Fargo.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 198

Thursday, March 4

Emily stirred herself early today and called Walgreens at 7:30 a.m. Her mission: to find out if we could move our vaccine appointments up a week—in order to accord with the recommended interval of three weeks between Pfizer shots—and if not, to see if the First Avenue location, where we are scheduled to go on March 12, will in fact have the Pfizer vaccine. Back in February that branch only had Moderna.

She called the Walgreens head office and—hooray!—actually got a human on the phone, something she spent two-and-a-half fruitless hours trying to do the day before. However—boo! The human in this case was, Emily later reported, the most unhelpful person she’s ever encountered in such a situation.

Could we move up the appointment? Only if we cancelled the existing appointment. “Do you want me to cancel your existing appointment?”

The representative said she’d never heard that the recommended interval between the two Pfizer shots was three weeks as opposed to four. She had handled many calls, she said, and no one else had raised the idea that they’d been scheduled for one of each vaccine.

Will the First Avenue branch actually have the Pfizer vaccine? The customer service rep said she could find that out only by canceling our existing appointment.

So we gained nothing. My current thinking is that we should go back to NYC next Wednesday and immediately go in person to the First Avenue branch of Walgreens to see if they have the Pfizer vaccine. It seems they may not know in advance just what vaccines are being delivered.

(Later in the day, a visit to the Walgreens website showed the First Avenue location as having only the Pfizer vaccine. So, go figure.)

You can see that we worry about all of this almost constantly. Try not to think about it for a while, and in an hour or so, with little else of importance on your mind, your thoughts drift back to the matter of the vaccinations.

The stony indifference, abject profit-seeking, and downright cruelty exhibited in the current case has prompted a memory from my childhood. I always dreaded trips to the pediatrician when I was a child. If you went there with a mere cold, they’d give you a penicillin shot—even though we now know that would have had no effect on a cold. But, hell, they got paid for giving the shot. 

And most punishing of all, the shot-giver was a beefy woman with the scarier-than-Ratched name of Miss Bledsoe!

You could cry—you could shout and scream—but you could not defeat Miss Bledsoe and her five-inch needles destined to put a sanguinary dent into your backside.

Tonight’s dinner: BLT sandwiches, leftover penne with asparagus, and a pear salad.

Entertainment: more of the advertising-rich Hulu’s suspenseful and insightful Apple Tree Yard and of Netflix’ French comedy Call My Agent!

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 196

Wednesday, February 24

Despite rising temperatures, there is still a bit of accumulated snow on eastern Long Island. Last night was clear with a bright moon, and at 1 a.m. the snow-covered back yard glowed like neon.

Two mental hiccups of the current period. When I have something that needs doing—whether paying bills, moving a March doctor’s appointment to a later date, or constructing a mildly demanding dinner—I tend to procrastinate. Tackling any such tasks seems horribly demanding. Better to climb back into bed.

And if there are no such tasks loitering on my mental to-do list, I suffer from a strong feeling that I am being irresponsible. I know that I am supposed to do something—but what is it?

It was somehow easier to do meal planning and a quick grocery shopping in the city. But I longed to be back on Long Island; nature and natural beauty are just closer here, even if cloudy and damp conditions prevail. Today is sunny, and I can hear the sometimes absent birds chirping. In due course, they may even return to the bird feeder. One of the squirrels just scampered up a shrub, jumped onto the roof, and raced around up there, his little footfalls offering percussive amusement to those of us below.

For months, I have relied on the local library for e-books. But while in the city I recovered my New York Public Library card. Now, I can log in to NYPL and draw from their somewhat larger stock of e-books. I have begun reading John Banville’s latest policier, Snow. Mysteriously, the author has published this one under his own name rather than using the pen name of Benjamin Black that he usually employs for his less-serious works. Yet some of the characters seem familiar from his Quirke series, published under the pseudonym. At first, this book seems like a prototypical English country-house mystery—featuring a murder in the library, no less—but I feel sure that the plot will soon turn unconventional.

There is still no prospect of straightening out the Walgreens second-vaccine confusion. Emily has had a telephone conversation with the pharmacy manager at the Walgreens branch where we are due to report on March 12—and they say they may not know just which brand(s) of vaccine that store will have until the week in question. Emily isn’t worried that we’ll be given one each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines—but that we’ll be denied a second shot altogether.  She’s quite concerned about this—I just divert my mind to other stuff. Now, what’s missing from the grocery list for the Stop & Shop delivery that’s scheduled for Friday?

Dinner: cornbread tamale pie and a green salad.

Entertainment: Episodes of The Sinner and Call My Agent! on Netflix, capped by a viewing of the classic Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 195

Life persists in our apartment window.

Saturday, February 20

A catastrophic winter storm has swept down from the arctic and smashed its way into the lower South and Texas, leaving four million enduring bitter cold without power while killing at least 58 people. That groundhog, who predicted six more weeks of winter back on February 2, seems to have engaged in a bit of understatement.

Here in New York City, conditions are more or less on par for the late winter: dirty piles of snow at the street corners, day after day of snow showers and flurries. And the pandemic continues. Some 42 million Americans have gotten shots, including us; but the muddled situation regarding our second injection remains muddled. Walgreen’s called last evening to say that they are aware of the problem and still working on a solution. Our contact said she believes that like us, a dozen people got a first dose of Pfizer and are still scheduled to get a second dose of Moderna—even though the two aren’t supposed to be mixed. Our second appointment is still scheduled for March 12.

Biden says he believes everyone will have gotten vaccinated by mid-summer. Others say December is a more likely date for such an achievement.

We’ve been taking care of small issues such as haircuts, adjustments to Emily’s eBay account, getting tax papers to our accountant, shopping at the much-missed and now strangely empty Trader Joe’s, and overcoming the lingering affects of the first anti-COVID-19 injection. Now, we’re expecting to go back to East Hampton tomorrow, when it’s supposed to be cold but finally sunny.

The airwaves are strangely still without broadsides from MAGA man and unhinged Republicans. The Times says that 7 in 10 Americans favor Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus program, which Democrats plan to push through Congress this week. The best the GOP opposition can offer is to label the plan, with its billions in benefits for the unemployed and small business, a “payoff to progressives” or a “blue-state bailout.” 

The much-loathed Senator Ted Cruz made headlines with his temporary Escape from Texas—and shamefaced rapid return—all of which he blamed on his in-need-of-a-break kids. And Twitter-less Trump has been largely silenced.

By some measures, Biden is doing pretty well. By this point in 1932, with millions unemployed and banks collapsing like dominoes, FDR was still backing his counterproductive plan to cut veterans benefits and federal employees’ pay. Ex-President Herbert Hoover sought to blame the Great Depression on Europe and debts from World War I, and believed the best hope of recovery would come from reestablishing the international gold standard. It would be several years before the New Deal’s celebrated public works programs would kick in. So at least now there’s a clearer focus on what must be done.

Dinner: pasta with Bolognese sauce and a green salad.

Entertainment: episodes from season two of the French farce Call My Agent! on Netflix.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 194

Sunday, February 14

On Friday, Emily and I each got our COVID vaccination shots. Yesterday, the Senate voted in the impeachment trial to acquit Trump.

Who says life is dull during the lockdown?

“If only because they last so long, real misfortunes are monotonous,” Camus wrote in The Plague.  Yes, there has certainly been monotony, but then lots happened in the past few days.

The adventure of our vaccinations involved some monotony. We had traveled back to our NYC apartment on Thursday; then on Friday, I reported for my 12:30 appointment at a Duane Reade drugstore, around a block away from our apartment. I was about 20 minutes early. There was a check-in, during which I answered lots of questions about any current maladies, etc. Then 15 minutes of waiting outside of the vaccination room; then another 20 minutes of waiting inside for the shot-giver to appear. 

She gave me the jab and a certificate stating, to my surprise, that I had gotten the Pfizer vaccine. I had imagined I would be getting the Moderna version, since my appointments arranged via the Walgreen’s website are four weeks apart—the interval recommended for the Moderna jab. It was 1:15 p.m. before I was able to leave.

Emily went over to the same drugstore one hour later. And, fortuitously, while she was there two people came in to announce a serious problem: They had gotten the first shot of Pfizer, then went to another location weeks later—only to find that the second place was giving out Moderna shots. The two aren’t supposed to be mixed. So these people had been turned away, and had now returned to the site of their first vaccinations.

We face the identical problem: Our second appointments, slated for March 12, are at the location that has only the Moderna stuff. So somehow, there will have to be an adjustment. (I telephoned the second vaccination location, told them of the problem, gave them my name, and await further instructions.)

In the hours after the shot, I felt some soreness in my arm and a little dizziness and fatigue, but not much else. Emily, though, experienced a very sore arm and lots of nausea. Two days later, she still doesn’t want to do much other than to take lots of naps.

It has been gray and cold, threatening snow every day since our return. New York seems as depopulated as it did in September, when we were last here. 

I have sorted through the vast pile of waiting mail, dispatched various tax documents to our accountant, listened to 20 voice mail recordings, and prepared various simple meals. This afternoon we visited ourdoors with our niece, Montana, in Madison Square Park. There were plenty of people with kids and dogs wandering around and playing in the accumulated snow.

We’ll probably drive back to our Long Island house on Thursday.

Does this sound tedious? For people who for several months have done little other than read the New York Times or do its word-game puzzles online, I assure you that all of this is quite taxing.

Dinner: leftover pasta with asparagus pesto and an avocado and lettuce salad.

Entertainment: episodes of the French comedy Call My Agent on Netflix.