A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 162

Black Panther leader Bobby Seale.

Thursday October 22 

So much time can be wasted quarreling with corporate entities over their charges. Ergo, I have put in lots of time fighting with Optimum and trying to get American Express (which handles my automatic billing) to understand a dispute over an $80 charge that dates to early August. Optimum sent a postcard saying that I must pay the $80 within two days or my service might be discontinued.

All of these billing and dispute departments are undoubtedly staffed by underpaid and over-harassed staff. The Optimum guy, Greg, finally reassured me that his supervisor had told him that the $80 charge had been expunged. I doubt that this is the end of it. (At 7:50 p.m., Greg called again to say that the $80 charge had definitely been erased.)

Otherwise, a lovely day, sunny with a high of 68 degrees. Emily and I went for a walk in nearby Maidstone Park, where there were few others. Then came a drive down to Gerard Drive, where the bay beaches were unoccupied. We saw one lonely kayaker and, a bit later, one paddle boarder in the water.

Two days ago, we got our latest Stop-and-Shop/Peapod grocery delivery. The previous delivery had come at 10 p.m.—which is to say well after sunset. In the dark, we had to wrangle 12 to 15 bags of stuff into the house (they leave it outside, socially distanced from us) and then put some into our quarantine space and other stuff into the fridge. We were able to arrange a midday delivery on Tuesday, which was much easier to handle. As ever, though, we worried that they’d deliver in the middle of a rainstorm. It was sprinkling, having rained much, much harder overnight and into the morning hours. Stop-and-Shop has gotten better about their “out-of-stock” surprises: This time, there were only two ordered items missing. 

Netflix’ The Trial of the Chicago 7 is surprisingly interesting, but it leaves many questions unanswered. Some will recall the circus of a “trial” of the alleged organizers of massive antiwar demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. At the time of the courtroom antics, it was hard to say just who was more interested in putting on a theater-of-the-absurd show—the student-age defendants or the nutso federal judge, Julius Hoffman. There were eight original defendants, including Black Panther Bobby Seale, who genuinely had very little to do with the demonstrations. After being denied a lawyer, mouthing off at the judge, and being gagged and chained to his chair, Seale was allowed a separate trial. Five of the remaining defendants were each sentenced to five years in prison for inciting violence—and all of them and their attorneys faced separate contempt-of-court charges as well. But in the end, a higher court dismissed the convictions, and the U.S. attorney declined to retry the case. 

Why was the judge so off-the-wall? How did he imagine he’d get away with such flagrant violations of the defendants’ constitutional rights—including freedom of speech and the right to counsel? According to the Netflix show, Seale, whose attorney Charles Garry was absent due to emergency surgery, was repeatedly told he should just accept representation by the lawyers who were already there, William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass. This was entirely improper, and Kunstler rightly refused to play along.

I remember the televised street fighting right outside of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. But were Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis in fact as prominently involved here as Netflix suggests? And did the Chicago cops and National Guard intentionally let them into the area in order to trap them? Or did I misunderstand the Netflix script?

Dinner: Mozzarella cheese and tomatoes, accompanied by cold sesame noodles.

Entertainment: We’re not finding much of interest that’s new, so more episodes of Better Call Saul and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 152

Our new twig fence, constructed while we were in NYC.

Thursday, September 24

We’re back in East Hampton, experiencing a mix of emotions. Once we unloaded the huge amount of stuff from the car, it felt good to be back. But there are several unnerving aspects: How long will we be confined here? The last time, we stayed for six months. A similar period now would take us into March of 2021. Moreover, during our last stay, in spite of fear and trembling over the coronavirus, there was one reason for cheer: The days were growing longer and warmer as we experienced late winter passing into spring. Now, days are getting shorter and winter is coming on. 

The city wasn’t as frightening as we expected, and, with a little trepidation, it was O.K. to go into a drugstore, the supermarket, or the greenmarket and get the few items you needed. That’s harder to do here—stores are fewer and farther away. So there must be more thought given to just what foodstuffs or other supplies are needed to cover a period of several days. 

What farm stands are still open? Should we go all the way over to one in Amagansett to get plums for that yummy plum graham cracker crumble?

Dare we try to make Korean-style bulgogi steak, which involves grilling outside in the 6 p.m. gloaming?

As for outings, before it gets too cold we might strap on our masks and go to a nearby park/sculpture garden such as Longhouse Reserve or Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack.

I put out birdseed yesterday, and it usually takes the birds a day or so to discover new goodies. A few have already come today.

Also, we found that our old, dilapidated twig fence has been replaced with a new cedar fence while we were away. The distressed brick walkway was also repaired. And, miracle of miracles, Optimum has finally installed the internet cable—although they’ve overcharged for doing so. Speaking about that overcharge to a customer representative was just another exercise in maddening frustration.

Our daily bread, fresh from the machine.

The bread machine is beeping, signaling a new loaf is ready—only the second that we have made in the relatively new machine. The loaves come out pretty nice, although a bit square. They’re rising better than they did with the old machine, where I think the paddle had worn out and ingredients weren’t getting mixed very well.

As the election approaches, Trump is making ever-more-threatening noises. “Get rid of the ballots and we’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” OOOO-Kayyyy. If voters aren’t sick of all this—and there will have to be a very large majority against him to keep the Supreme Court from pulling another Bush v. Gore abomination—then the U.S.A. deserves what it’ll get. 

Dinner: wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, noodles, and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ Ozark and Borgen.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 151

Believe me, the trunk is very full of extremely heavy stuff.

Tuesday, September 22

A second wave of COVID-19 is surely coming to America.  That second wave is already happening in Europe—which means it will be here before too long.

At least 73 countries are seeing surges in new cases. France just experienced 10,000 new cases in one 24-hour period. In Britain, the government’s chief scientific adviser says that the country could see 50,000 new cases per day unless more prevention measures are taken. Over a million people in and around Madrid are under a new lockdown. Israel, too, has imposed a second lockdown. 

Nearly one million people have died worldwide since the emergence of the novel coronavirus in late 2019.

So we’re both relieved and anxious about going back to our East Hampton house today. We’ve loaded—perhaps overloaded—our car with food, heavier clothes, and other essentials.

During the six months we were out in East Hampton before, stretching from March through August, I got used to a different rhythm of life. Part of this was due to daylight-saving time changes, and part due to the shifting of the seasons. In April, the sun would start to peak up above the Eastern horizon at around 5 a.m. This would alert the birds, who seemed in a competition to be the first to sound the alarm. Some days I would try to sleep through their cacophony. On other days, I would surrender and get up, make coffee and oatmeal, and begin reading the newspaper.

In New York City, there’s noise all night long: wild men screaming or shouting their personal grievances, which echo all along the 14th Street high-rise canyons. Honking horns, blasting sirens and fire-engine klaxons, and the ambient sound of whizzing vehicles. Sometimes you get the grinding, crunching racket of huge garbage-truck compactors. Then there’s the construction noise from workers throwing up yet another—and much needed—luxury high-rise building.

Strangely, when we first went out to East Hampton, I was more accustomed to sleeping through the urban noise. It was the sounds of nature that disrupted my snoozing.

There will be new changes, related to the coming of winter and perhaps harsh weather. The heating system in the house has its own set of sounds, as the furnace comes on and shuts off.

But it can be soothing to snuggle under a down comforter during long, cold nights in the country.  

Dinner: Thanks to Halsey’s farm stand in Water Mill, we’ll be having fresh mozzarella cheese with sliced tomato and basil and fresh corn on the cob.

Entertainment: More episodes of the always surprising Ozark and Borgen.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 61

The barn (c., 1721) at East Hampton’s Mulford Farm.

Friday, May 8

Did yesterday’s post focus too heavily on the designer-label shops of East Hampton, and thereby neglect the town’s very lengthy and complex past?

The area that now composes the town dates back to 1648, when it was purchased by two Connecticut governors. In exchange for the land, they gave the Montauk Indians an assortment of goods such as coats, hatchets, and knives. The New England men, in turn, resold the area for £30 to a group they called “the Inhabitants of East Hampton.” The new settlers came here by way of New England, looking for less-settled territory where they could raise crops and pasture their farm animals. Each original inhabitant got a house lot of several acres in the center of East Hampton, plus rights to use of the common fields.

Over the decades to come, some settlers would turn to whaling and fishing. Others engaged in commerce, trading the local produce and fish for goods made elsewhere.

By the second half of the 19th century, there were new intruders: members of the leisure class, traveling out to the East End via the Long Island Railroad. The exclusive Maidstone Club was founded in 1894, and its challenging golf course was redesigned in the 1920s to occupy 130 acres facing the Atlantic coast. By 1929, when Jacqueline Bouvier was born, there was a well established enclave of the wealthy in the Hamptons. And after World War II, as vacations and leisure activity became more possible for the middle and working classes, even more visitors came out to the area, bringing with them the development that has in recent decades become rampant.

Several groups have acted as an obstacle to this development: traditionalists, environmentalists, the local fishermen who are generally called Baymen, and the organization called the Ladies Village Improvement Society, formed in 1895 to ensure that the community’s “storied charms will not be disturbed by the pressures of contemporary growth and development.” The more commercial enterprises that have sought to win a foothold here in recent decades, ranging from fast-food outlets to the bookstore chain Barnes & Noble, have found their paths blocked. But legions of McMansions continue to advance across the former marshes and potato fields.

Much of this information comes from a 1990 book by Northwestern University historian T.H. Breen, Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories. I will include more detail on the town’s history in future posts .

Today’s weather has been cloudy and, by the end of the day, rainy.

Tonight’s dinner: Avgolemono soup and a lettuce, avocado, and tomato salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: more episodes of The Valhalla Murders.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 42

There are no trials inside the Gates of Eden.

Sunday, April 19

This is a day largely focused on yard duties. 

I remove the burlap coverings that I put on about a dozen boxwoods as winter protection. Some of this covering can be saved and reused next year, but most goes into a trash bag that will then make it to the dump. I sweep up spilled seed and refill the bird feeder. A big plastic tarp that’s been covering the firewood pile has to be spread out and swept free of rainwater and various debris. The firewood is mostly rotten at this point and some day should be tossed into the woods to rot. The deer have used our yard as a latrine and lots of their leavings can be swept away as well.

We’ve had an Adirondack-style twig fence round our front yard for many years. Now it is seriously rotten and needs to be replaced—but just who can do such work? Maybe we’ll have to settle for some other type of wood fence…split-rail, maybe?

The afternoon is taken up with reading William Faulkner’s Knight’s Gambit, a collection of mystery tales—or at least mystifying tales. Several are hard to figure. All feature a Harvard- and Heidelberg-educated lawyer, Gavin Stevens, as Faulkner’s sleuth. This Sherlock ostentatiously sports a Phi Beta Kappa key on his watch chain, and in his youth has written letters to would-be sweethearts in both German and English. I’ve been to northern Mississippi many times, and it’s hard to see how such a person could be content living there.

Dinner: Progresso tortilla soup, baked potatoes, leftover corn pudding, and lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: The Coen brothers’ very odd movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and one episode of Babylon Berlin.