A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 220

Wednesday, June 23

I highly recommend the Alice Neel show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was an expressionist portrait painter (1900-84)—there may be a couple of landscapes in the show—a leftist, and a bohemian mother of at least three children, all by different fathers I believe.

Like most museum shows, there is just not enough detail about Neel’s life. But the Met curator apparently found it difficult to omit all biographical particulars, especially since Neel’s portrait subjects include her children and various Communist and leftist acquaintances. Neel lived in Harlem and “Spanish Harlem,” and apparently at times had digs on the Upper West Side and on the New Jersey shore. Two of her most engaging paintings are of black children from Harlem; others include a gay couple and a nude self-portrait painted when she was around eighty. She didn’t shy away from reality.

Could this exhibit have been hung before the lockdown, without anticipating the social distancing that would be wanted? Although the Met tries to limit the number of guests, paintings are grouped pretty close together and people still crowd around just as they did in pre-pandemic times. Especially worrisome are a number of small paintings crammed into corners which at any given moment tended to draw a crowd of a half-dozen viewers. I skipped a lot of these. Everybody had masks, though, and all were well-behaved.

The Metropolitan remains frightfully expensive: $25 for adults, $17 for seniors although “the amount you pay is up to you” if you are a New York State resident. We got in for free thanks to my McGraw-Hill retiree arts card.

During these days in the city, I am finding that I remain a pandemic paranoid. I flinch when people get too close—even when other pedestrians just follow too closely behind. I am especially wary of tailgating pedestrians who speak in loud voices and who seem anxious to get around me. I have had space to myself for months, even when going out for solitary walks. Today, we’ll go on a jaunt to the Apple Store—and that should put my patience to an extreme test.

Dinner: we are reduced to hot dogs accompanied by beans and cold cucumber soup.

Entertainment: Netfix’ policer Unit 42.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 219

Socially distanced brunching on East 9th St.

Saturday, June 19

You know things are bad when the Salvation Army store is forced to close. Today, there’s not even any indication that S.A.’s Fourth Avenue emporium ever existed.

Even more shockingly, the large Food Emporium supermarket at the corner of 14th St. and Union Square East is shuttered—a victim of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, each of which has a store a stone’s throw away. But those Johnny-Come-Latelys are themselves far from crowded. The Food Emporium—once an A&P—had been at the Union Square location since 1987, when the Zeckendorf Towers building that housed it was completed.

Still, some neighborhood brunch goers seem into the cheery, post-pandemic swing of things, although many restaurants still seem focused on outdoor dining. Plenty of East Villagers are right now sipping their Saturday lattes at the makeshift tables set up along 9th Street and St. Mark’s Place. It was already getting hot by 10:30, but nice-ish weather may have encouraged them.

My idea to visit several doctors over a concentrated period—and cross them off of the to-do list—has run up against cruel reality. The dentist wants to see me two more times, spread out over a period of several weeks. My GP wants me to get an ultrasound—but West Side Radiology has no time slots available for weeks. Since we fully intend to go back to Long Island shortly, these appointments may simply not happen. And I will have to try to arrange physical therapy in Sag Harbor. 

Baseball is totally back. The Mets game is currently in progress at Nationals Park in Washington, which has been allowed to accommodate full-capacity crowds since June 11. 

By my standards, there’s not much at the major museums. Both MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum are open but lacking in exciting exhibits other than that of American painter Alice Neel at the Met. The listings section of The New Yorker seems to acknowledge this by concentrating on small galleries. 

Yesterday, we had a very pleasant visit with our 25-year-old niece Montana, who now lives in the city. Other than conversations with plumbers and carpenters, it was the first visit we’ve had with anyone since the lockdown began. And admittedly, it was a bit strange to be merely having an extended conversation; my mouth had trouble forming words. Strangers in a strange land.

Dinner: Another Chinese dish, Ma Po Tofu, white rice, and avocado.

Entertainment: Episodes of the German mystery Allmen on Mhz.