A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 215

New to our yard: Cherry Frost climbing roses.

Friday, May 28

The lockdown appears to be drawing to a close. Out on the streets of the East End, you see a mix of people with and without masks. Theaters are reopening—albeit with lots of kiddie movies. Regal UA East Hampton Cinema has the horror movie A Quiet Place Part II and the Disney comedy Cruella, along with racing drama Dream Horse and action flick Godzilla vs. Kong, the poster for which reads “in theaters March 31.” Whoops. 

(Presumably, the youth suffer less from COVID anxiety than do older people, but then this theater has always featured lots of adolescent-appropriate, disposable flicks.)

Restaurants, too, are in the process of reopening. The former Michael’s is now Rita Cantina—no menu posted yet on any website, but I bet its South-of-the-Border fare is every bit as authentic as that of Taco Bell…if a little more pricey. There’s also an “extensive Agave-focused bar program.” Oye, que loco!

All of which raises the question of just what Emily and I should do. Do we want to revert to our former habits, where we viewed our East End house primarily as a getaway destination and our Manhattan apt as our real residence? Or do we completely reverse that pattern?

 Over the past one year-plus, we’ve established new ways of coping with the demands of everyday life, including Stop & Shop food deliveries, FedEx conveyance of Walgreens prescriptions, libraries for e-books and a little more, and streaming videos from a variety of sources. 

Over the past several days Emily has watched Zoom videos of panels dealing with numerous legal topics, and right now, she’s having a telephone conference with her primary-care doctor. Yesterday, I went and got a very good haircut at Vinnie’s Barbershop in Amagansett—so that’s one more tie to the city that’s been broken.

Vinnie is very agreeable and interesting. His house is in Sag Harbor, and I gather he has always lived there. I went to the shop—a long-running fixture in Amagansett—signed his wait list, and loitered outside 45 minutes for my name to be called. I wore a mask. He didn’t but said he absolutely would if anyone asked him to. 

There are only two barbers in the shop, Vinnie and his son Nick. Vinnie’s corner of the shop is festooned with dozens of bits of paper money—notes from England, Iraq, Iran, Africa, and every corner of the globe. He was acquainted with Cuba’s two currencies—the peso for locals and the CUC, or convertible peso, for tourists. I didn’t ask for his opinion of Bitcoin, Monero, or blockchains—why make trouble?

Emily discussed a possible return to the city with her doctor. The doctor’s advice: stay put. The pandemic isn’t completely over, she said, plus there has been an alarming rise of violence in the city, some of which the doctor had witnessed.

So summer is practically here, and it’s easiest just to stay where we are. I guess that’s what we’ll do…for a bit longer anyway.

Dinner: a grilled eggplant, peppers, and onions salad along with mac ’n’ cheese.

Entertainment: the Christian Petzold “terrorists-on-the run” movie The State I Am In, via streaming service MUBI.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 200

Thursday, March 11

We are back in NYC, and tomorrow we’ll be going to get our second dose of the Pfizer anti-COVID-19 vaccine. I am now more apprehensive about post-pandemic life than I am about getting the sickness. And I doubt that I am alone in this: Today’s Times compared life in contemporary Manhattan to that in the classic dystopian sci-fi flick Blade Runner

Just what is to come ultimately is hard to imagine.

Earlier this week, the CDC issued guidelines saying “fully vaccinated Americans can gather indoors in private homes in small groups with other fully vaccinated people, without masks or distancing. They can gather with unvaccinated people in a private home without masks or distancing so long as the unvaccinated occupy a single household and all members are at low risk for developing severe disease should they contract the virus.” 

Whew. Does everybody have to sign a waiver?

And just who will feel safe doing this? I for one am not rushing to go out to restaurants or to the homes of the unvaccinated—or even the homes of the vaccinated.

Much will depend, I suspect, on just how others behave. At first at least, I think I will view public gatherings with great trepidation. It’ll take a while to get used to seeing people in groups.

The fact that Republicans have politicized mask-wearing and other sensible behavior will also make anti-GOPers reluctant to adopt any change. Going anywhere without a mask will seem like wearing a Trump button.

Dinner: lentil soup, a green salad, and Persian rice pudding.

Entertainment: More episodes of Fargo on Hulu, and more episodes of Call My Agent! on Netflix.

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.