A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 175

Monday, November 30

I hate shopping.

I always have. I particularly hated going shopping for clothes with my mother. 

I’ll just wait in the car.

The universe of online shopping and delivery has opened a new world of angst for me. There’s always some bit of fine print waiting to snare you. And there’s a bit of a game involved, especially on eBay. Maybe something has a low price—supplemented, you’ll discover, by a large shipping price, and you sense that the seller is simply making money on the shipping. Then there are the auctions and bidding—things that Emily is good at, but which for me seem calculated to trigger buyer’s remorse. 

I’m risk-averse and prefer to see what I am buying. Will those apples be bruised? Will those size 36 jeans fit like the last size 36? (No, you fool.) No two clothing makers seem to use the same tape measures. Will that electric toothbrush really survive the shipment and work all right? (No.)

Many in today’s shopping public seem to think little of acquiring something, then quickly returning it. But for me, that just adds another layer of hassle. You gotta repack the dingus, make out a shipping label, then go to the post office or someplace to send it. Better to have never bought anything at all.

Recently while washing my french press coffee maker, I tipped it over in the sink and smashed it. Damn: I’d only had it for 40 years!

So I looked for a new one on eBay, and after lots of deep reading of fine print, comparisons of apples and oranges, I bought one—a Bodum. It was advertised as holding four cups. 

Then it arrived. It was tiny, holding only two cups, I found out. Well, I thought, it’s sort of cute so maybe I’ll keep it. But what if an occasion arises when I need to make coffee for company? (We should only be so lucky as to ever have social gatherings again.)

How dare they misrepresent the device’s size? Closer inspection of all Bodum devices shows that—by American standards—they are all misrepresented. “Eight cup” machines actually make only four cups. Bodum is a Danish company with headquarters in Switzerland (!). So perhaps “cup” to them always means a demitasse. 

In French movies, I’ve seen tough guys like Belmondo or Lino Ventura go into a bar and get a coffee—and, true enough, it always seems to be a tiny little thing. 

Here in the Land of the Free, we want a Mug of Java. A Jolt of Joe. Not a thimble, SVP.

So, I complained to the eBay vendor, and they were perfectly nice about taking the product back. They even emailed me a pre-paid label for the return.

Problem No. 2. We don’t have a computer printer here, so I had to find a place to print out the label.

This is turning into a shaggy pup of a story. All I mean to say is: I hate shopping. 

Dinner: A pearl barley and mushrooms casserole, Brussels sprouts, and a green salad.

Entertainment: More episodes of the Swedish version of Wallander on Kanopy, plus As Time Goes By season 5.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 47

Friday, April 24

When I saw the Times headline “Goofing Around as a Way of Life,” I assumed the article was a look at the way most corinavirus-quarantined people are existing today. Instead, it examines a documentary film on the rap group Beastie Boys. But the headline could be applied broadly: Most Americans are now just whiling away their days—or as one friend put it, “Netflixing through the apocalypse.”

We’re all confined to quarters, much like misbehaving adolescents or soldiers who overstayed their weekend passes. Maybe pandemic living would be much the same under any social system, but to wax pretentious for a moment, it has made me recall a classic Marxist work, Henri Lefebvre’s multi-volume The Critique of Everyday Life. Perhaps existence would be less tedious had capitalism not turned everyday life into a zone of sheer consumption. We have come to expect to be diverted, fed, dosed, or sexually stimulated on a regular basis. At the same time, to quote French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, middle-class life has been stripped of almost all adventures—except for adultery, as Godard suggests in several pictures. Even prior to the pandemic, life for most people in the developed world was just damn boring. 

Speaking of zones of sheer consumption, the pandemic seems about to put the final kibosh on department stores. Lord & Taylor closed its Manhattan flagship store some months back, and now the glamorous Neiman Marcus is declaring bankruptcy. All consumption seems to be moving into the Jeff Bezos zone.

In step with that zeitgeist, yesterday we received five shipments via U.S. Mail: two law books for Emily, a new can opener, a set of towels, and some disposable face masks. More fashionable face masks are yet to arrive. And thanks to my clumsy ordering, eBay has shipped a large Johnson & Johnson’s bath powder to the NYC apartment. We are still dwelling in a zone of sheer consumption—although we’re consuming some different things thanks to COVID-19.

Today, for the third day in a row we’ve had cream of wheat for breakfast. Items from our last Peapod order can be released this afternoon from their own quarantine—meant to facilitate the death of any viruses left on their containers. So our diet may improve a bit. But thinking ahead, I believe we will continue to have some meals consisting of Progresso soup, potatoes, and green salad. Despite all of the mandated sloth, I may have lost a bit of weight.

It is raining hard. Emily is about to listen to a Weill Cornell Hospital podcast on cancer and COVID-19. Pretty cheery stuff, I must say. Maybe I will attempt to read chapter two of Crime and Punishment, also a cheery prospect.

Our bread machine is working away, producing a loaf of light whole wheat bread. It will be ready around 2 p.m., and that is something to look forward to.

Beyond that, there’s tonight’s dinner: more chicken paprikash, noodles, and salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: More of The Hunters and one episode of Four Seasons in Havana, a policier set in Cuba.