A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 143

Sunday, September 6

I can report that there are plenty of vacated storefront spaces along once-busy Broadway near 23rd St. and also along Park Avenue South.  Many of these are former “fast casual” food outlets—three spaces in a row along Park Avenue South near 23rd St.

It’s easy to see how you could let your COVID-19 guard down in the city. There seem to be many fewer people around—although since it’s Labor Day weekend, maybe that’s to be expected. Many people are wearing masks—although there were plenty of maskless folks enjoying the late summer sun today in Madison Square Park. 

And why should we arrange to have food delivered given that there’s a well-stocked supermarket right across the street from our apartment? Yesterday I went to the greenmarket and got Italian prune plums for a dessert, then into the Food Emporium for milk, chicken, scallions, and Pecan Sandies.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping—not sure just why.  Free-floating anxiety…dislocation? There is more noise here than out in East Hampton, but I was waking early out there, too. Yesterday I got up at around 6 a.m., went out shopping early, then felt crummy for the rest of the day, unable to nap. It’s possible that the body aches and disorientation I experienced were a delayed reaction to the flu shot that I got on Friday. Today I did much better, waking at 7 a.m., but then going back to sleep until nearly 9 a.m. I had one dream that placed a cast of former BusinessWeek characters at a Bridgehampton antique store (one was painting a self-portrait), and another dream involving a dangerously careening, model airplane-size drone. How could any of this be wish fulfillment, Mr. Freud? Am I wishing to be reunited with my former BW colleagues—at a Hampton’s antique store?

More likely it is the “reverse learning” designed to remove batches of “neural garbage” from the brain, as Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison suggested in a classic Nature magazine article.

While I am rattling on about our comfy diet, many Americans are really suffering as an article in today’s Times Magazine illustrates. It has a short overview of hunger in America since the 1930s, making it clear that any “emergency” shortages are in fact permanent, often-overlooked problems.

Dinner: broiled eggplant slices with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese, cold noodles with sesame sauce, and a plum and graham cracker crumble for dessert.

Entertainment: more of Netflix’ Young Wallander.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 118

Marcello floats in 8 1/2.

Wednesday, July 22

“And might it not be… that we have appointments to keep in the past, in what has gone before and is for the most part extinguished…?”

—W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

And might it not be that we keep such appointments via our dreams?

“One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations… It is, thus, discontinuities, the great discontinuities in life that we seek to bridge.

—Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars

In a dream, it is night and I am with my mother (who died in 2005) at the Memphis house where I grew up. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling “Geneva” out the back door, then up into the attic via a closet that contains the furnace, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response. I look out the front and just see the grassy lawn—no one is around.

Freud says all dreams are attempts at wish fulfillment. So maybe this was an attempt to get my mother to return. But my dreams are quite varied and only a few can be interpreted as wish fulfillment.

Places that often appear in my dreams: my grandmother’s dark old house, my childhood home, Macy’s department store and its quaint old wooden-stair escalator, jazz and classical music concerts, and trains—particularly subways both in Boston and New York. What’s with the trains? Is there a sense of movement in sleep, as with Marcello Mastroianni’s floating in the air at the beginning of Fellini’s 8 1/2? And what’s with Macy’s??

It is not unusual for me to make angry, incoherent noises in my sleep—and for Emily to wake me up. In a recent case, I dreamed I was asleep, stretched out somehow inside a car—probably my mother’s Plymouth Valiant. The covers are comfy—then somebody breaks into the car and snatches away the blanket. I begin shouting for this person to bring back the covers. 

Another such case: I dream there is an intruder. I see him standing in the living room, turned in profile to me, and behind him I can see the oval, gold-framed mirror that stood on the wall at my childhood home. I can also see Emily in the next room, lying in bed asleep. Angry and afraid, I begin to shout at the man, and to throw things at him, including lightweight barbells. My shouts cause Emily to wake me up.

And yet another night terror: At our house on Long Island, I am looking out the side door. It is dark, but I can see that the trees are filled with large, threatening birds, flapping their wings and cawing ominously. I begin yelling at them to go away. Wake up, Hardy, says Emily.

She says that in such circumstances, she isn’t sure what to do. Should she wake me—or will that just frighten me more?

Not all of my dreams are terrors. Here’s another, peaceful reverie.

I go for a walk after dark, accompanied by a dog and a cat. I give the dog a pat on its belly. But I realize that the duo wants to go home, so we go back. Almost immediately, I see the cat on the bed alongside another cat, both fast asleep. The dog has disappeared, perhaps gone to an adjoining room. I am not sleepy, so I stay awake, content to watch.

Dinner: cold pasta salad with snap peas, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and parsley.

Entertainment: More episodes of Rebus on Britbox.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 60

Along East Hampton’s Main Street.

Thursday, May 7

I am back at BusinessWeek, working on the copydesk. I have at least three stories to turn around, some handed down to me by one slacker colleague who has finagled some way of leaving early. I am laboring at a very antique, manual machine, which seems unlikely to have any way of being part of the magazine’s electronic network. When I try to utilize the system’s query mechanism, which is supposed to let you track a story’s progress from writer to various editors, of course that doesn’t work. Another grueling shift looms.

Time to cast aside such sweaty dreams and wake up!

Just what will the Hamptons’ economy be like once things reopen? Typically, it is a very peculiar scene: On East Hampton’s main street, beginning at the Hampton Jitney stop and running up to Newtown Lane, real estate offices and designer-label stores predominate, an ever-changing cast of toffee-nosed boulevardiers.

Whether Polo Ralph Lauren or Eileen Fisher, these are not so much like genuine stores as they are luxe advertisements—the kind you see on the opening pages of Vogue or Vanity Fair. Their presence allows the companies to post “Paris * New York * East Hampton” on their plus-size shopping bags. Will such outfits return—or will many of the storefronts be vacant? 

Is there any chance that genuinely useful stores will appear instead? The pandemic and economic collapse has meant, at least theoretically, the possibility of remaking the local scene. Why not an interesting art gallery or an affordable, ethnic eatery? Most of the restaurants out here are just variations on one theme: mid- to high-priced Italian cuisine, grilled branzino or braised veal osso buco. What about some lower-priced Asian fusion or Vietnamese grub? What about a store selling clothing that working people might actually wear? Or a performance space for edgy theater or dance? Maybe some of these storefronts should revert to residences, as many of them once likely were.

Many of the local full-time residents probably like things as they are. They’ve come to depend on the seasonal tourist trade and business from the wealthy who own vacation homes here. If not for the resort-town economy, East Hampton would probably resemble seedier and less-developed North Fork burgs such as Mattituck or Flanders. Moreover, the true locals have their own mostly separate institutions, including the volunteer fire department, the VFW post, the community Presbyterian church, and less-posh restaurants such as Springs Tavern.

It’s a beautiful if still cool, sunny day. As I have said Peapod is due to make an afternoon delivery—they typically send a text message a short while before they expect to arrive. Beforehand, we’ll have to set up a socially distanced table outside for them to leave stuff on, then make a space to put groceries on inside the house. Anything that doesn’t need refrigeration will be left unhandled in its own quarantine for three days.

And sure enough, the Peapod delivery arrived around 3:50 p.m. We got many of the things we ordered, but 18 were missing, including scallions, cabbage, boy choy, walnuts, cucumbers, napkins, and Pepcid.

Dinner: leftover black beans and rice, Asian green beans, green salad

Entertainment: Two episodes of The Valhalla Murders.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 46

What, me worry?

Thursday, April 23

According to the Times, the pandemic is leading to mass starvation around the world—and here I am fixated on our lack of walnuts and lemons. Some 135 million people could face starvation. Already in South America, India, and Africa there are protests over the lack of food. Parts of Africa also confront extreme drought and flooding, along with giant swarms of vegetation-eating locusts.

For my part, I’m thinking about going to the town dump—then maybe risking going to a small store to get stuff that Peapod failed to deliver.

I’m also fixated on paying bills. When we came out here seven weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be staying for so long, so didn’t give a lot of thought to bills. Now, I worry about just what I am forgetting and what would be the negative consequences of not paying. You can cover most bills online or over the phone, dealing with a voice-activated robot. But you generally need your account number to pay in those ways—and who has their account number? For that, you need the paper statements, which are waiting patiently in the mailbox back in Manhattan. 

This morning, I was able to make arrangements to pay the Suffolk County Water Authority, which will henceforth send paper bills to our East Hampton address. But Con Edison—and fuck them, any damn way—is virtually impossible to deal with. I doubt that they will shut off our electricity back in the city, even if we don’t pay for a few months. But it would ease my mind just to get it over with.

Question: When you are trying to pay, why do these automated systems demand passwords, account numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, and more? They seem to think you are trying to rip them off when you are simply trying to give them money. 

I made fair progress with the Con Edison online-pay function, but then they wanted to send me a security code via text…and the phone number they wanted to send it to is our land line back in the city. There was no alternative offered, other than to telephone their payment center. And there, I was stuck in telephone hell, punching 1 for this and 4 for that. I got close again, but when I wanted to pay with a credit card, they transferred me to their payment “partner,” who demanded the account number.

I’ll try again on another day. I did find out that we owe Con Ed $151.43 as of the end of the current month. So, it’s not very much.

We have 15 must-be-paid bills, and every one of them—including our three Verizon accounts—utilizes a different payment system.

And as Emily will certify, nothing drives me crazier than dealing with these telephone robots. 

Turns out, I’m not the only one having lots of dreams during the quarantine. The Guardian says the condition is, uh, epidemic. Apparently, Google searches for “weird dreams” have doubled since this time last year. I wonder how many people dream about ice cream or tomato sauce?

And speaking of food…tonight’s dinner will be chicken paprikash (made with some pretty old paprika), egg noodles, and spinach and avocado salad.

Entertainment: The final episode of Babylon Berlin and one episode of Nordic thriller The Hunters.