A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 82

A New York police car on fire in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Sunday, May 31

It seems we’ve been missing all the action.

A set of Marella Gayla photos on The New Yorker website shows intense protests at Union Square—right outside our apartment window on 4th Avenue at 14th Street.

Where hundreds of demonstrators confronted uniformed cops on Thursday, you can see Zeckendorff Towers looming in the background. Another photographer’s work shows demonstrations a block away at 5th Avenue. In the background of photos there, you can see a telltale CVS Pharmacy.

The cause of the protests is, of course, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where there have been five nights of fierce protest. In over three dozen cities across the U.S.—from New York to Detroit, Atlanta, and San Francisco—there have been mass demonstrations, looting, and even the burning of buildings. In Brooklyn, one woman was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle. In Washington, protests compelled police to cordon off several blocks around the White House. Curfews were imposed in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago.

I have been amazed, perplexed, and outraged for years about the police killings of black youth–and the cops’ seeming impunity.

But there’s not much I can do about it out here. So, I just had a nice walk out in the sunshine. One worry is that our new little rabbit pal is being bullied by the territorial squirrels. Oh, there is also incessant noise from the neighbor’s crew of lawn-cutters and leaf-blowers.

I’m not sorry to miss the city protests. I’m too old to run from baton-wielding police. And it’s one thing to go to demonstrations of your own volition, and another to have protests taking place right at your doorstep, with no exit. 

According to reports I’ve gotten from an NYC neighbor, the building scene is weird. At times, people wait in the lobby so they can go onto an elevator one at a time. We have a rented parking space in the lot below the building, but it’s not clear that the parking lot is even open. No one answers the phone when you call. Yet on the parking service’s website, that particular lot isn’t listed as being closed. Should I pay the bill? I am of course paying rent on our apartment upstairs, where we have not been since early March.

A modest dinner tonight: Progresso canned soup, roasted potatoes, and a salad.

Entertainment: final episodes of the Britbox video A Confession.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 78

Hurricane Sandy in 2012. New York Daily News photo

Tuesday, May 26

Two more deliveries this morning, both for me: prescription drugs and a nonstick muffin tin. 

More and more, this East Hampton cottage seems like our true residence. We can only wonder what things would be like if we were still at our Manhattan apartment. How often would we encounter neighbors? Is everybody still maintaining social distance and wearing masks? Would we risk taking a potentially crowded elevator—or walk up and down a daunting 18 flights of stairs?

We managed those stairs during the electrical outage brought on by Hurricane Sandy back eight years ago. The events of that time were particularly surreal.

We were already concerned about increasingly severe hurricane seasons, but they seemed largely to affect Florida or the Carolinas. Then came Sandy, which tracked inland until it struck New Jersey and New York City. We were in Massachusetts as the storm approached, so (insanely) we hurried back to New York and arrived just in time to experience the punishing winds and the explosion at the 14th Street Con Edison power station that led to a blackout of lower Manhattan. 

The result was a divided city: Above 42nd Street, everything operated normally, but in lower Manhattan there were no lights, no nothing. One lasting memory is looking out from our 18th floor window at an apartment in Zeckendorff Towers across the way, where a tenant was wearing a miner’s hat with a light attached to the front. After dark, you would no longer see the person, just this ghostly light moving around in his space.

An 18-floor climb can be brutal, particularly if you are carrying food or other stuff. We did manage the stairs a few times, even slogging buckets of water up several flights since the lack of electricity meant our apartment had no water either.

The city ran its buses without charge. On a couple of occasions, we took a crowded bus up to 42nd Street and went to a branch of my gym there in order to take hot showers. Other people must have been doing that too: The gym ran out of bath soap, so I once washed off my body with shampoo.

Finally, as it began turning cold in late October, the lack of heat made us move out of the building altogether.

Here and now, there are many unreal aspects to existence as well. I don’t think in pre-lockdown life that my days were quite so centered on making dinner. Today, I’ve already begun cutting up vegetables and chicken for tonight’s chicken soup. And I even have begun thawing ground beef as I contemplate making hamburgers for tomorrow night. Weather forecasts play a role: Tomorrow afternoon is supposed to be partly sunny, so a cookout should be possible. Thursday is supposed to bring more rain.

Shortly, I am going out to the small Damark store to get stuff that Peapod failed to deliver: lettuce, carrots, yeast, rice, and the ever-desired, increasingly expensive toilet paper. While there, I will attempt to get more chicken stock and walnuts.

So, for dinner: avgolemono soup and salad.

Entertainment: the last episodes of Safe.