A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 159

Santa’s Helpers reporting for store duty.

Friday, October 16

The year continues to produce developments that in any other time would be astounding, gobsmacking—but that nowadays one just tends to accept. 

Case in point: Stores are giving employees special holiday-season training for what to do if there are conflicts over mask-wearing.

In short, just what workers should say if customers fight against attempts to save their lives.

I read about this and at first thought, well, what else is new? Then I thought twice—whatttt?

I guess this kind of thing has happened before in hyper-individualistic, I-know-my-rights America. Flight attendants have had to deal with passengers who refuse to return to their seats even as the plane rolls and tosses in rough weather. Drivers refuse to put their kids in lifesaving booster seats. 

So what should a retail employee do if, despite signs instructing that you must wear a mask to enter this store, someone comes in sans mask and makes a scene about the matter? What if a mother with child confronts said nonmaskwearer and a screaming match ensues?

Counselors say to give the belligerent customer a choice: Would you like to step out of the line and speak with a manager, perhaps? 

Yeah, or maybe you’d like to step outside and talk it over with Thor here.

Who’d have imagined that the local Walmart would need muscled-up bouncers?

I mean, “Sorry, Kris Kringle, we’re gonna have to let you go. We’ve had some unexpected personnel expenses this year.”

Then, “Right this way, Sonny Barger.”

Oh, well. The social distancing wasn’t working too great in Santa’s Corner anyway. And little kids aren’t so much into Zoom, either.

In Britain, Great Grottos, which operates over 200 Christmas-themed displays in shopping and garden centers, announced a delay in the planned hiring of 500 Santas and elves.

As if unemployment weren’t already an issue. Father Christmas seems to have become a stepchild.

Dinner: Pasta with drop meatballs and a green salad.

Entertainment: We’ve exhausted all episodes of Borgen, so we’ll have to find something else. But there are still unseen episodes of Better Call Saul and All Creatures Great and Small.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 150

New York City after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Photo: David Shankbone.

Sunday, September 20

Nothing says Crisis like the obviously empty apartments across New York City. Looking at One Union Square South—the much-hated building that has both a giant, spinning digital clock and a smoking hole gracing one outside wall (The New York Observer said it was “a site … where the death of aesthetics can be contemplated”)—I can see a dispiriting number of vacancies. That’s the building that also contains the mega movie theater known as Regal Union Square, and it is topped by at least 16 floors of apartments, each floor with at least a dozen units. There are empty apartments on every floor—in some cases, at least four empty units.

On another corner, the mega development known as Zeckendorf Towers also has an eye-popping number of vacancies.

But it’s always hard to know what’s happening in New York big buildings. There are likely several vacancies on our own floor. I seldom see anyone, including neighbors with whom we are friendly—such as those right next door.

I haven’t been out yet today, but it seems windy and coolish as compared with last week: Temps are now in the 60s and the 40s at night. I can see that people outside are wearing coats and heavier clothes. The weatherman says everyone should beware of dangerous rip currents and stay out of the ocean, as I intend to do.

The Times has an article on altercations over mask-wearing. There are reports of such conflicts taking place in various public places—restaurants, stores—but the most vicious ones seem to be happening on New York buses. Although “mask compliance has been generally high in most indoor settings” in the city, “dozens of drivers have been attacked after trying to enforce the rules.”

This is the anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, the weatherman says.  In that year “one of the most destructive and powerful hurricanes in recorded history struck Long Island and Southern New England.” The peak storm surge (in Rhode Island) was 17 feet higher than normal, and a reported two billion trees and 8,900 homes were destroyed. 700 people died. Ten new inlets were formed between Fire Island and East Hampton including Shinecock Inlet. Montauk temporarily became an island.

I mean, we could use another disaster. As October approaches, the traumatic memory of Hurricane Sandy returns. We were in Manhattan for the unlikely 2012 event, when a hurricane came up from the Caribbean to smash New Jersey and New York City. A nearby Con Edison power plant exploded, and lower Manhattan was without power (and consequently in our building, without water) for many days. The gas stove still worked, so we could sort-of cook whatever grub we had on hand, but we lived in the dark. Emily reminded me that, looking out into a building across the way from us, we could see a weird, inexplicable light moving around in one unit—jetting about like a tiny, aimless UFO.  It turned out that a guy was wearing a hat with a light on the top—the kind that you see some miners wearing. As he moved his head, the light zoomed around. He was the UFO.

It turned very cold as the storm moved away, and there was no heat here. So for a few nights, we moved out, staying in spaces we were able to borrow. We were afraid of what we might find at our East Hampton house, so we only went out there some days later.

We have to keep our fingers crossed, but who could be surprised if a hurricane hit during this year of gobsmacking events: a Presidential impeachment, an international pandemic that has killed over 900,000 around the planet, a severe economic recession, police killings and Black Lives Matter demonstrations/riots, hellish West Coast wildfires, the Beirut explosion, Justice Ruth Ginsberg’s death, and, very likely, a near civil war over the coming Presidential election results. Next!

Dinner: We’re emptying out the larder as we prepare to return to Long Island. Lentil soup with hotdogs and a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: The twisty and entertaining crime drama Ozark on Netflix, along with one episode of Borgen.