A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 52

Cilantro or parsley? you decide…

Wednesday, April 29

We received two Fed Ex shipments today: a drug prescription that Emily ordered and a little lap desk to support my laptop when I’m sitting in a cushy armchair. Some masks that she ordered have not arrived—even though Etsy sent a message saying that they had been delivered. Not good, there. Were they delivered somewhere else? Are they just lost? Who knows, but our hopes are not high.

More Americans have died during this three-month-plus pandemic than died in twenty-plus years of the Vietnam War. That boggles everybody’s mind. No Kennedy, no LBJ, no Nixon–just the Donald. How will the damage to the economy and to our political system stack up?

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg and Mother Jones have reported, the Trump administration will shortly invoke the Defense Production Act to make meatpacking companies stay open, even as some state governments are requesting that these pandemic hotspots close. (Big Macs all around!)  Some 5,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19 and 20 have died, the United Food & Commercial Workers told Mother Jones. So the meat companies are worried that they could be sued by workers’ families over a failure to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The federal order would provide the companies with some legal cover against such lawsuits. 

I’m off to the grocery to get a half-dozen needed things, including walnuts, eggs, canned tomatoes, and chicken stock. We need parsley for tonight’s dinner—but, of course, the bin labeled Italian parsley turns out to contain cilantro. Often you can only tell the difference by tasting, and of course I was wearing my “disposable medical mask,” which prevented me from putting anything in my mouth. Hmmm, how would meatballs taste with cilantro instead of parsley? Maybe not so good….

In mid-afternoon, the store wasn’t crowded. There were maybe four other shoppers, a couple of counter workers, and one check-out person. Few of the goods have any prices attached, but I have learned just to pay up and not worry about it. $44.06 for ten items? Here’s the credit card.

Dinner: Marc Bittman’s spaghetti and drop meatballs with tomato sauce and a green salad.

Entertainment: Two more episodes of Occupied.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 51

Lost in a masquerade.

Tuesday, April 28

The pandemic face masks are really a pain. I can’t stand to wear one for more than a short while, but some people seem to have them on all day long.

Up until now, I’ve worn only what 3M calls a “home dust mask,” appropriate for use against “non-harmful dusts encountered during household activities such as sweeping, dusting, gardening and yardwork.” These are “not for use at work in a hospital.” They seem to be made out of some kind of lightweight foam, but the label doesn’t reveal much. Dispose of mask “when breathing becomes difficult,” says the label—which to me means never wear this mask.

For a while, this kind was all we had. They are what I see most workers wearing, including the cable guys who came to equip the next-door house with HBO and other necessities of the quarantine.

Then, a few days back, we received via eBay a package of “disposable medical masks.” These fit me better, with elastic straps that hook behind the ears rather than stretching behind the head. But they still make it difficult to breathe. After only a few minutes of wearing one, I began to feel dizzy. So I took it off and only put it back on when I went into the town recycling center.

This label says they are “double-layer non-woven with melt-blown non-woven filter layer.” (Again, they appear to be made of some synthetic stuff.) They originated in the Chendian Industrial Zone, Chaonan District, Shantou, Guangdong, China.

All of these masks seem most appropriate for attending a COVID-19 costume party or a bank robbery. They suggest that the wearer is making an effort, but I suspect that they do little else, other than fog up one’s glasses.

We are still supposed to receive some cloth masks, shipped from California ten days ago. I hope they work better. At least they will be more decorative.

Thousands of masks in a wide array of styles and patterns are available via the internet.  Maybe this is good. Emily says she thinks we will be wearing masks for the rest of our lives…which, you know, might not be too long.

Apropos of my recent jottings on the National Debt Clock, economist Paul Krugman has an op-ed in today’s times asserting that “while we will run very big budget deficits over the next couple of years, they will do little if any harm.” Those who fulminate about deficits and the federal debt are largely intent upon cutting social programs in the name of financial responsibility, he suggests. Republicans never seem to worry about red ink when they push for tax cuts—only when spending on safety-net initiatives goes up. 

At 11:02 a.m., I am still reading the paper, and Emily is also reading news reports on her Android phone. I’ve eaten my oatmeal, but she seems to put breakfast off as long as possible, often eating only two meals a day. Then, somehow, she is able to focus on reading legal treatises on federalism. I’m only on page 144 of a 1,089-page e-book version of Crime and Punishment

This afternoon is sunny and somewhat warmer, so we go for a short walk in nearby Maidstone Park, which abuts Three Mile Harbor. There are a good many people, several walking dogs, oblivious to others. After our walk, we go for a short drive over to Amagansett. Again, plenty of people are out walking or biking. Altogether, I’d say about half of the people we see are wearing some kind of mask and half have no masks. Very few bikers wear any. Emily and I have on our “disposable medical masks.”

I can tell you that dinner tonight will be an innovation: Progresso canned onion soup with croutons of melted cheese on homemade bread. Also baked spuds and green salad.

Entertainment: Enough with flawed Euro-thrillers such as Hinterland or Bordertown. A futuristic Norwegian political thriller, Occupied, is pretty good.