A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 190

Monday, February 1

It showed overnight—by 9 a.m., only about an inch, but it’s still continuing to snow off and on. The National Weather Service says that by early afternoon, there will be a combination of rain and snow that could be heavy at times. Also, it’s supposed to be very windy and cold. Total accumulation could be from 3 to 7 inches. Tomorrow, though, there’s supposed to be light rain, and the low is to be only 35F—so maybe any accumulated snow will melt. Then, there could be more snow, with little accumulation.

In the city and points west, it’s colder than it is here and total snow could be up to 14 inches. By Thursday, temps should be in the upper 30s.

Just before I awoke, I had the following dream: We are staying at a large, colonial house with a big front porch. When we drive up, we find that there are three dogs waiting on the porch. Two are German shepherds and one is a small English bulldog. (Could these be the Bidens’ dogs? Hmmm, a large colonial house….) No humans are around. The shepherds, with their expressive faces, seem a bit unhappy. Do they belong to the owner? Do they want to go inside? We leave and when we come back again, they are still there waiting. I find a couple of buckets and put water in them for the pups to have a drink. What to do?

The New Yorker has a sad and frightening article by a Midwestern professor whose wife one day begins having hallucinations. An art lecturer, she takes students to museums for discussions of paintings—and the students tell him, confidentially, that she has been describing figures in the paintings who aren’t in fact there. She also begins imagining people in their house, such as The Flowery Man (in actuality, a hallway flower pot).  Having read that it does no good to deny the presence of such figures, he plays along, even providing a place setting at the dinner table for one such visitor.

Then one day, the police and an ambulance arrive at the door. It seems the woman has been having over-the-backyard-fence conversations with neighbors about her visitors. They take her away to a hospital, but by now the pandemic has hit and the husband is not allowed to visit. After a bit, though, he is discovered to be suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion, and he is admitted to the same facility but not allowed to see his wife. Before long, he is sent to a psychiatric hospital and his belt and shoelaces are taken away from him. Their daughter having signed the proper forms, the wife is driven away to a different state where she is to live in a long-term care residence. There, she will die of COVID-19. The professor has been allowed to return to his home, and his last communication with his wife is a phone call in which he reads her a poem.

Horrifying, no? Could my dreams turn to such hallucinations? Could Emily and I be forcibly separated for some reason?

We’re doing O.K. for now, but the article’s subtle description of these folks’ slow drift into mental illness, old age, decrepitude, and institutionalization—well, you know, it’s likely to happen to all of us. The only really new wrinkle in the story is the addition of COVID-19. I’d just as soon avoid that, thank you very much, but no vaccines seem available to us. It can seem as though only the likes of Mia Farrow,  Queen Elizabeth, and those whose institutional affiliations—such as our twentysomething niece or a friend of Emily’s—are getting the shots.

Emily reads that the snow has led to closing of the state’s vaccination sites. So all those lucky enough to have an appointment for a shot will now have to reschedule. Do they have to go to the end of the queue?

At night we lost electricity at around 8 p.m. But it came back on at 9:36. Then came a succession of five phone calls from PSEG-LI, the utility, saying that the electricity had come back on, then that it was expected to come on by 4 a.m. or maybe 4:30 a.m. One phone call’s robot voice said simply: “System error. Try again later.”

Dinner: turkey chili and a salad.

Entertainment: half of an episode of The Bay on Britbox. Then the electricity failed. 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 65

A roadside sculpture in Springs, N.Y.

Wednesday, May 13

You see it at every time of year on the East End, particularly in our East Hampton neighborhood of Springs: ART.

Situated in driveways or front yards, there are a lot of metal sculptures, often painted a first responder orange or some other eye-catching hue. There are beach-ball size metal spheres, metal-beam uprights, even an abstract cut-out that in some Marcel Duchampesque world is said to resemble a deer. There are frequent shows of local artists’ work at the former schoolhouse that’s now an exhibition and lecture space known as Ashawagh Hall.

This past weekend, 52 artists from Hampton Bays to Montauk staged an exhibition on their porches and lawns, “Drive-by-Art (Public Art in This Moment of Social Distancing).” One artist’s contribution consisted of steel-wool octopuses positioned in her hedgerow. Another offered canvas-wrapped posts set six feet apart along her lawn. Art-world shock jock and Whitney museum fave Eric Fischl provided life-size sculptures of dancing nymphs at his Sag Harbor home. All of the works were meant to be admired by art lovers who were socially distanced from each other inside their vehicles.

Ever since the late 19th century, artists have been coming out to the East End, drawn by the light, the isolation, and the presence of wealthy buyers. Portraitist and landscape painter William Merritt Chase followed his rich friends out in the 1890s, setting up a studio and a school near Southampton. Belmonts, Carnegies, Astors, and Vanderbilts helped defray his costs.

The successful impressionist painter Childe Hassam purchased an East Hampton house in 1919, joined the Maidstone Club, and tooled about in a chauffeur-driven limo.

More famous today are the abstract expressionists who began arriving some twenty-five years later. These folks experienced the same lures as previous artists—plus that of the then-cheap real estate. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner lived in Springs from 1945 until Pollock died drunk in a car crash along Fireplace Road in 1956. Pollock created his anarchic, improvisational drip paintings both on a concrete slab in the yard behind the couple’s farmhouse and also in a nearby barn. Today, the house is the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, administered by Stony Brook University. You can visit the place, wander through the small cottage, and even enter the barn, where the floor is considered such a work of art that visitors must don protective rubber shoes.

Krasner produced widely varying work—including abstract art, collage, and postmodern pieces—into the 1970s. She died in 1984 at age 75.

Willem de Kooning also lived in Springs, not far from Pollock/Krasner starting in 1961. He, too, is remembered as an abstract expressionist, but on the East End, he developed a new style, erotic and lyrical. He built a large, industrial-style studio across from the Green River Cemetery. And his work was the subject of a series of major shows in New York and Europe.

 By the late 1980s, De Kooning was still painting but suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1997, at 92 years of age.

Other creative people also lived nearby in Springs, including New Yorker writer A.J. Liebling and his wife, novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning short story writer Jean Stafford. The very funny Liebling is one of my favorite writers, and his New Yorker “press clips” columns offer an indelible look at 20th century American journalism.

Enough with the local history. 

I’ve fallen into this subject as, like everyone else, I have so little to do these days. You wake up, read the paper, have a small lunch, take a walk, and then it’s time to make dinner and watch videos. The weeks scamper by—we’ve been out here for almost ten weeks now and it’s hard to ever imagine a return to NYC.

Dinner: leftover lentil soup, and salad.

Entertainment: More episodes of Bordertown.