A Journal of the Plague Year 2020-chapter 125

Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower.

Saturday, August 1

Maybe it’s a condition of rural life or something, but I seem to fall asleep early and wake up with the dawn. Rarely can I sleep as late as 7 a.m. and I am often up at 5. And that reminds me of summers in the 1960s, when my job as a copy boy at the daily Memphis Press-Scimitar sometimes required that I report by 5:30 a.m.

I was privileged to have this union-wage job—acquired strictly via nepotism—although I didn’t much like it at the time. I wanted to have the summers off as I had during my childhood. Only later would I realize that the newspaper was interesting, and that I had been exposed to a vanishing way of life at one of America’s soon-to-be-extinct afternoon papers.

Reporting at 5:30 meant going in to the paper’s downtown office at an hour when few people were around. If I turned on the radio while I downed a little breakfast, I’d hear the farm report, consisting of news about the latest commodities-exchange crop prices and advertisements for herbicides. 

(An aside: During my childhood, schools in neighboring Mississippi and Arkansas had springtime cotton-chopping holidays. Rural kids had to join in the workforce to help rid the cotton fields of weeds. But before long, herbicides would do this work. That had a profound effect, even expediting the migration of rural laborers, most of them African American, to Midwestern cities.)

On the drive in to the office, I’d see few people around other than milkmen or other early-to-rise laborers. Once at the office, my work largely consisted of getting stuff ready for others who’d arrive later. That meant sorting mail or attending to a variety of machines that few remember today.

For example, there were the wire-service teletype and photo machines. In those pre-Internet days, Associated Press and United Press International teleprinters—which seemed like ghost-operated typewriters—would run all night, knocking out printed copies of stories generated around the world. There’d be foot after foot of printed-out news stories, which I had to rip off of the machines and deliver to the desks of the editors who’d consider using them in the Press-Scimitar.

I don’t remember what outfit was behind the photo machine, but it produced reams of photos of global news coverage. Newspapers are always trying to anticipate newsworthy developments, so when the photo machine wasn’t busy delivering shots of such happening events as civil rights protests or Vietnam combat, it would fill in with other stuff. And in the summer of 1968, that meant photo after photo of former President and Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

What was going on? Ike had long suffered from heart problems, and news outlets imagined that he might well expire that summer. He didn’t die until the following spring, but the papers were sitting on ready just in case.

Dinner: a mozzarella-cheese and sliced tomatoes salad, with asparagus on the side.

Entertainment: Episodes of Netflix’ Tabula Rasa and Britbox’ River.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 106

Around Jack’s Coffee, precautions remain ongoing.

Tuesday, June 30

States that had eased off of the lockdown are reimposing restrictions. In the U.S., the pandemic appears to be reasserting itself, and this has us pondering what the months ahead hold. 

On June 29, Suffolk County reported its first 24-hour period without a COVID-19 death since June 12.

Meanwhile, there were 46 new reported cases in Manhattan on June 27, and a total of 26,707 cases in that borough during the pandemic. A pilot program has only now gotten underway, selling face masks and hand sanitizer from vending machines in subway stations. So the end is not in sight.

We figure that we’ll probably hang on in East Hampton until the fall at least. Perhaps in September, we’ll go back to the city, at least to pick up more clothing, perhaps the computer printer, and kitchen equipment and spices. Then after a few days, we could well turn around and come back here.

There’s been talk for a while of a second wave of COVID-19. No one knows anything, but that second wave might come in the fall or winter.

Deep winter months out here—and I mean January through March—can be a tad bleak. Would we really want to be here, especially if it’s a harsh winter? But there’s really no place else for us to go…

As an adult, I’ve never before lived through a crisis at all like this. It’s so open-ended, so unclear when there might be any resolution. Our national expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, still maintains that there will be a vaccine by the end of the year. But even if that’s true, just how will it be administered? Who will get first dibs? For the time being, everything is up for grabs.

I might have died in the mid-1950s polio epidemic that claimed my sister, but I didn’t. I was only a child, and had little sense of the passage of time. But in my recollection, the vaccines that appeared within a few years meant an end to the crisis…of which I was mostly unaware anyway.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, the Vietnam War seemed to go on and on, year after year. Always more escalation, no real resolution in sight. More and more deaths. But neither I nor anyone I knew very well was directly involved. Other political crises—Watergate for instance—came to a head after some months and then ended without violence. 

The days after 9-11 could have included more terrorist events—but they didn’t. Instead, the Bush Administration used the attacks to generate wars in other parts of the world. And those went on and on—the Afghanistan conflict is still continuing. But again, I’ve never been directly affected.

So as I am writing this, I realize that I have lived through other open-ended, slow-to-be-resolved crises—I simply wasn’t very affected personally. Yes, the periods were worrisome, frustrating, even maddening. But I never imagined that I would die as a result. 

This time is pretty different in that regard: I went out this morning to buy more coffee, and I was anxious the whole time I spent in Jack’s Coffee store. Was I standing too close to others? Were they too close to me? I hate the masks—you can’t make yourself understood, nor can you breathe very well. But get used to them. We’ll probably have to wear masks for a long time to come.

Dinner: leftover spaghetti with meatballs and a lettuce salad.

Entertainment: Final episodes of Alias Grace.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 52

Cilantro or parsley? you decide…

Wednesday, April 29

We received two Fed Ex shipments today: a drug prescription that Emily ordered and a little lap desk to support my laptop when I’m sitting in a cushy armchair. Some masks that she ordered have not arrived—even though Etsy sent a message saying that they had been delivered. Not good, there. Were they delivered somewhere else? Are they just lost? Who knows, but our hopes are not high.

More Americans have died during this three-month-plus pandemic than died in twenty-plus years of the Vietnam War. That boggles everybody’s mind. No Kennedy, no LBJ, no Nixon–just the Donald. How will the damage to the economy and to our political system stack up?

Meanwhile, as Bloomberg and Mother Jones have reported, the Trump administration will shortly invoke the Defense Production Act to make meatpacking companies stay open, even as some state governments are requesting that these pandemic hotspots close. (Big Macs all around!)  Some 5,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19 and 20 have died, the United Food & Commercial Workers told Mother Jones. So the meat companies are worried that they could be sued by workers’ families over a failure to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The federal order would provide the companies with some legal cover against such lawsuits. 

I’m off to the grocery to get a half-dozen needed things, including walnuts, eggs, canned tomatoes, and chicken stock. We need parsley for tonight’s dinner—but, of course, the bin labeled Italian parsley turns out to contain cilantro. Often you can only tell the difference by tasting, and of course I was wearing my “disposable medical mask,” which prevented me from putting anything in my mouth. Hmmm, how would meatballs taste with cilantro instead of parsley? Maybe not so good….

In mid-afternoon, the store wasn’t crowded. There were maybe four other shoppers, a couple of counter workers, and one check-out person. Few of the goods have any prices attached, but I have learned just to pay up and not worry about it. $44.06 for ten items? Here’s the credit card.

Dinner: Marc Bittman’s spaghetti and drop meatballs with tomato sauce and a green salad.

Entertainment: Two more episodes of Occupied.