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.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 51

Lost in a masquerade.

Tuesday, April 28

The pandemic face masks are really a pain. I can’t stand to wear one for more than a short while, but some people seem to have them on all day long.

Up until now, I’ve worn only what 3M calls a “home dust mask,” appropriate for use against “non-harmful dusts encountered during household activities such as sweeping, dusting, gardening and yardwork.” These are “not for use at work in a hospital.” They seem to be made out of some kind of lightweight foam, but the label doesn’t reveal much. Dispose of mask “when breathing becomes difficult,” says the label—which to me means never wear this mask.

For a while, this kind was all we had. They are what I see most workers wearing, including the cable guys who came to equip the next-door house with HBO and other necessities of the quarantine.

Then, a few days back, we received via eBay a package of “disposable medical masks.” These fit me better, with elastic straps that hook behind the ears rather than stretching behind the head. But they still make it difficult to breathe. After only a few minutes of wearing one, I began to feel dizzy. So I took it off and only put it back on when I went into the town recycling center.

This label says they are “double-layer non-woven with melt-blown non-woven filter layer.” (Again, they appear to be made of some synthetic stuff.) They originated in the Chendian Industrial Zone, Chaonan District, Shantou, Guangdong, China.

All of these masks seem most appropriate for attending a COVID-19 costume party or a bank robbery. They suggest that the wearer is making an effort, but I suspect that they do little else, other than fog up one’s glasses.

We are still supposed to receive some cloth masks, shipped from California ten days ago. I hope they work better. At least they will be more decorative.

Thousands of masks in a wide array of styles and patterns are available via the internet.  Maybe this is good. Emily says she thinks we will be wearing masks for the rest of our lives…which, you know, might not be too long.

Apropos of my recent jottings on the National Debt Clock, economist Paul Krugman has an op-ed in today’s times asserting that “while we will run very big budget deficits over the next couple of years, they will do little if any harm.” Those who fulminate about deficits and the federal debt are largely intent upon cutting social programs in the name of financial responsibility, he suggests. Republicans never seem to worry about red ink when they push for tax cuts—only when spending on safety-net initiatives goes up. 

At 11:02 a.m., I am still reading the paper, and Emily is also reading news reports on her Android phone. I’ve eaten my oatmeal, but she seems to put breakfast off as long as possible, often eating only two meals a day. Then, somehow, she is able to focus on reading legal treatises on federalism. I’m only on page 144 of a 1,089-page e-book version of Crime and Punishment

This afternoon is sunny and somewhat warmer, so we go for a short walk in nearby Maidstone Park, which abuts Three Mile Harbor. There are a good many people, several walking dogs, oblivious to others. After our walk, we go for a short drive over to Amagansett. Again, plenty of people are out walking or biking. Altogether, I’d say about half of the people we see are wearing some kind of mask and half have no masks. Very few bikers wear any. Emily and I have on our “disposable medical masks.”

I can tell you that dinner tonight will be an innovation: Progresso canned onion soup with croutons of melted cheese on homemade bread. Also baked spuds and green salad.

Entertainment: Enough with flawed Euro-thrillers such as Hinterland or Bordertown. A futuristic Norwegian political thriller, Occupied, is pretty good.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 50

Are postal workers an endangered species? Photo credit: Labor Notes

Monday, April 27

Today, four Democratic members of Congress began advocating for what they term an Essential Workers Bill of Rights. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Ro Khanna, and Deb Haaland appeared online as a group to urge proper protective equipment, better pay, and sick-leave rights for such essential workers as those at grocery stores and pharmacies, office cleaners, postal workers, delivery drivers, and frontline health care employees. Pressley cited the involvement of two unions, Service Employees’ 1199 unit and Local 509—and significantly, Haaland cited the efforts of “gig workers,” the marginal and often part-timers who do much of this work. Such people are “overwhelmingly women of color,” added Pressley.

The very limited involvement of organized labor in this effort is telling: Few of those we now understand to be essential workers are represented by unions. Why? American unions hardly represent any workers anymore—officially, only 10.3%—and unions do a very poor job of sticking up for those they are supposed to represent. 

The big and very regimented United Food and Commercial Workers Union—“the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in healthcare, grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries,” according to the union website—is a remote and grey dues machine, whose non-charismatic officials don’t rate even a nod from Warren and the other members of Congress. 

Several meatpacking plants, some of which are represented by the UFCW, have been singled out as among the most horrific hot spots of the pandemic.    The UFCW seems proud of the achievements it has made for such workers during the pandemic: These range from one-time bonuses of $300 to $500 at such companies as Pilgrim’s Pride, Hormel, and ConAgra to a $2 per hour pay increase covering the period from late March to early May at Cargill. At this last company, there will be increased factory-floor spacing between workers and no co-pays for coronavirus testing.

A one-time bonus of few hundred for risking your life? Well, thank God for small favors, I guess. 

Dinner: avgolemono soup (with meat!) and a green salad.

Entertainment: One episode of Wales-based policier Hinterland.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 49

Darkness in the city of light.

Sunday, April 26

If Sunday is a day of rest what was yesterday? For that matter, what is Monday?

During the stay-at-home order, writing this blog and cooking have become my primary work. Sometimes I take a walk or run the vacuum cleaner, but mostly I just laze around. I also put a bit of effort into worrying.

The East Hampton Star’s daily newsletter says that during the 24-hour period ending late yesterday, there were 934 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Suffolk County. There have been 32,454 confirmed cases in the area since March 18. But the paper also suggests that the East End has less than half the number of cases in the rest of Suffolk.

The Times has a haunting article about an all-but-empty Paris. Closed down brasseries, empty squares, the Champs-Élysées with nary a pedestrian. It’s the conceit of the article that longtime Paris residents can almost imagine the city as it was decades back,  half-empty and sans the waves of tourists. Or even the city as it was in the 1940s under German occupation. 

That’s a period I have become fascinated by thanks to the work of Nobel-winning author Patrick Modiano. Many of his stories and novels focus on a group of small-time crooks and Nazi collaborators that included his father.  The settings are often crummy bars or shady hotels, places characterized by “insipid luxury” and a sickly-sweet smell that is “the very odor of anxiety, of instability, of exile, of phoniness.” (Villa Triste

Memory and dreams also figure prominently in Modiano’s writing: “He lacked the courage to go into the house. He preferred that it should remain for him one of those places that have been familiar to you and which you occasionally happen to visit in dreams.” (From So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood

Also: “Sometimes I dream that I am with her, in the middle of the reception lobby. The night porter is wearing a threadbare stationmaster’s uniform. He comes over to hand us our key. The elevator no longer works and we climb up a marble staircase…. We end up in an old waiting room lit by a single naked bulb in the ceiling. We sit on the only surviving bench. The station is no longer operational, but you never know: the train for Rome might pass through, by mistake, and stop for a few seconds, just long enough for us to climb aboard.” (From After the Circus)

It could be this Fellini-like preoccupation with dreams and the past that draws me to Modiano. In one novel entitled Missing Person, it turns out that the missing one is the writer himself, who has lost his memory and is searching for his identity. The clues seem to stop during the Second World War. 

Today once again, it is cloudy but one can imagine the sun burning through. The weather is supposed to be like this, with off and on periods of rain, over the next several days. The next fully sunny day will supposedly be Saturday.

Every year, I am surprised at just how long winter lasts in the East. For some reason, I have a distinct memory of my first year in graduate school, at Stony Brook. A fellow history student showed up at a house that I shared with others, out on a jaunt with some pal in a fancy sports car. Even though it was mid-May, it wasn’t really the balmy day suited to cruising about in a convertible. In the South, May temps are often suited to short sleeves. April and May in New York, much like the Democratic Party, never fail to disappoint.

Tonight’s dinner: In spite of the cool weather, we’re having cold soba noodles with sesame sauce and a salad of lettuce, avocado, and tomatoes.

Entertainment: I think I have had it with Bordertown, so three episodes of The Hunters.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 48

The bill for your family’s share is in the mail.

Saturday, April 25

I’ve been wondering about the National Debt Clock. Is it keeping up?

You may have seen the clock. It’s a billboard-size dingus, with spinning, electric-lit numbers. It sits along Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets in Manhattan. Wikipedia says that it first appeared in 1989, and that the idea came from real estate developer Seymour Durst, who worried that future generations would be crippled by the U.S. debt burden. (Yes, you may have heard the name, thanks to a recent, sensational HBO program.)

But I suspect that the true inspiration for the clock came from the professional worriers over the debt.  

One of the all-time great worrywarts in this line was President Herbert Hoover, who warned during the Great Depression that “prosperity cannot be restored by raids on the national treasury.” Hoover—and Franklin D. Roosevelt, for that matter—campaigned in 1932 on a platform of balancing the federal budget.  (Nearly 24% of the population, or over 12 million people, were unemployed at the time.) As the New Deal, with its deficit financing and many government programs, progressed, Hoover’s warnings became ever more frenzied.

But of course, neither Hoover nor FDR are around today. 

As recently as 2008, rich guy and onetime Presidential candidate Ross Perot raised alarms about the debt, saying “not since the Great Depression have we seen an economic crisis of the magnitude that we are facing today.”

And in 2010, a “bipartisan” commission headed by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Democratic Senator Erskine Bowles looked to reduce the federal debt by implementing tax hikes and a number of cuts in federal spending. These included lowering federal spending on health care—hah!—and trimming social security benefits for some recipients. Congress regarded the Simpson-Bowles report with the same enthusiasm it might have shown for mandatory junkets to Chernobyl. Only 11 of the commission’s own 18 members endorsed the recommendations. One who did endorse the commission report: then-Vice-President Joe Biden.

Now, with the federal government throwing money hand-over-fist at pandemic-hammered businesses, health care facilities, and taxpayers, you might think some of these debt-obsessed types would have been agitating to reign in spending. (One organ that is: conservative magazine National Review, which warns that Congress’ massive spending packages “put us farther down the road to fiscal ruin.”) At the moment, though, no one is really paying attention to such voices so far as I can tell.

In any case, you can go to an online version of the National Debt Clock at https://usdebtclock.org

There, you will see the numbers spinning wildly. As of right now, the moment when I am writing this, the clock says the national debt stands at $24,715,691,000,000. Check back in 30 seconds for a much-inflated update. Most ominously of all, the clock has a second figure: Your family’s share of this debt!!!

Expect a bill in the mail any day now!!!

The national debt, it should be said, is just an estimate of how much the federal government is owing to government bondholders and to itself, including to such accounts as the Social Security Trust Fund. And it has seldom been cheaper for the government to borrow money. The wisdom of spending our way back to economic health has seldom been more evident. Yes—throw money at all of our problems! Please!

Today’s dinner: Yay, more leftovers—chicken paprikash and noodles, green salad, and potatoes maybe.

Entertainment: Two episodes of murky Finnish thriller Bordertown and one episode of The Hunters.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 47

Friday, April 24

When I saw the Times headline “Goofing Around as a Way of Life,” I assumed the article was a look at the way most corinavirus-quarantined people are existing today. Instead, it examines a documentary film on the rap group Beastie Boys. But the headline could be applied broadly: Most Americans are now just whiling away their days—or as one friend put it, “Netflixing through the apocalypse.”

We’re all confined to quarters, much like misbehaving adolescents or soldiers who overstayed their weekend passes. Maybe pandemic living would be much the same under any social system, but to wax pretentious for a moment, it has made me recall a classic Marxist work, Henri Lefebvre’s multi-volume The Critique of Everyday Life. Perhaps existence would be less tedious had capitalism not turned everyday life into a zone of sheer consumption. We have come to expect to be diverted, fed, dosed, or sexually stimulated on a regular basis. At the same time, to quote French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, middle-class life has been stripped of almost all adventures—except for adultery, as Godard suggests in several pictures. Even prior to the pandemic, life for most people in the developed world was just damn boring. 

Speaking of zones of sheer consumption, the pandemic seems about to put the final kibosh on department stores. Lord & Taylor closed its Manhattan flagship store some months back, and now the glamorous Neiman Marcus is declaring bankruptcy. All consumption seems to be moving into the Jeff Bezos zone.

In step with that zeitgeist, yesterday we received five shipments via U.S. Mail: two law books for Emily, a new can opener, a set of towels, and some disposable face masks. More fashionable face masks are yet to arrive. And thanks to my clumsy ordering, eBay has shipped a large Johnson & Johnson’s bath powder to the NYC apartment. We are still dwelling in a zone of sheer consumption—although we’re consuming some different things thanks to COVID-19.

Today, for the third day in a row we’ve had cream of wheat for breakfast. Items from our last Peapod order can be released this afternoon from their own quarantine—meant to facilitate the death of any viruses left on their containers. So our diet may improve a bit. But thinking ahead, I believe we will continue to have some meals consisting of Progresso soup, potatoes, and green salad. Despite all of the mandated sloth, I may have lost a bit of weight.

It is raining hard. Emily is about to listen to a Weill Cornell Hospital podcast on cancer and COVID-19. Pretty cheery stuff, I must say. Maybe I will attempt to read chapter two of Crime and Punishment, also a cheery prospect.

Our bread machine is working away, producing a loaf of light whole wheat bread. It will be ready around 2 p.m., and that is something to look forward to.

Beyond that, there’s tonight’s dinner: more chicken paprikash, noodles, and salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: More of The Hunters and one episode of Four Seasons in Havana, a policier set in Cuba.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 46

What, me worry?

Thursday, April 23

According to the Times, the pandemic is leading to mass starvation around the world—and here I am fixated on our lack of walnuts and lemons. Some 135 million people could face starvation. Already in South America, India, and Africa there are protests over the lack of food. Parts of Africa also confront extreme drought and flooding, along with giant swarms of vegetation-eating locusts.

For my part, I’m thinking about going to the town dump—then maybe risking going to a small store to get stuff that Peapod failed to deliver.

I’m also fixated on paying bills. When we came out here seven weeks ago, I didn’t expect to be staying for so long, so didn’t give a lot of thought to bills. Now, I worry about just what I am forgetting and what would be the negative consequences of not paying. You can cover most bills online or over the phone, dealing with a voice-activated robot. But you generally need your account number to pay in those ways—and who has their account number? For that, you need the paper statements, which are waiting patiently in the mailbox back in Manhattan. 

This morning, I was able to make arrangements to pay the Suffolk County Water Authority, which will henceforth send paper bills to our East Hampton address. But Con Edison—and fuck them, any damn way—is virtually impossible to deal with. I doubt that they will shut off our electricity back in the city, even if we don’t pay for a few months. But it would ease my mind just to get it over with.

Question: When you are trying to pay, why do these automated systems demand passwords, account numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, and more? They seem to think you are trying to rip them off when you are simply trying to give them money. 

I made fair progress with the Con Edison online-pay function, but then they wanted to send me a security code via text…and the phone number they wanted to send it to is our land line back in the city. There was no alternative offered, other than to telephone their payment center. And there, I was stuck in telephone hell, punching 1 for this and 4 for that. I got close again, but when I wanted to pay with a credit card, they transferred me to their payment “partner,” who demanded the account number.

I’ll try again on another day. I did find out that we owe Con Ed $151.43 as of the end of the current month. So, it’s not very much.

We have 15 must-be-paid bills, and every one of them—including our three Verizon accounts—utilizes a different payment system.

And as Emily will certify, nothing drives me crazier than dealing with these telephone robots. 

Turns out, I’m not the only one having lots of dreams during the quarantine. The Guardian says the condition is, uh, epidemic. Apparently, Google searches for “weird dreams” have doubled since this time last year. I wonder how many people dream about ice cream or tomato sauce?

And speaking of food…tonight’s dinner will be chicken paprikash (made with some pretty old paprika), egg noodles, and spinach and avocado salad.

Entertainment: The final episode of Babylon Berlin and one episode of Nordic thriller The Hunters.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 45

A gentleman at his leisure

Wednesday, April 22

Amid the pandemic, everyday life with its attendant tragedies goes on. Yesterday, Emily’s best friend experienced a non-coronavirus death in her family: Ollie, her cat, died of lymphoma. He was an interesting guy—charismatic and nosy; athletic; and prone to eating the victuals that really belonged to his sister, Violet. A departure before his time. Emily’s friend and Violet are very upset.

Peapod continues to be frustrating. They delivered a great deal of stuff, but it’s hard not to focus on the things they left out. We received 52 requested items, but 28 others were “out of stock.” We got a surprising amount of chicken—more than we asked for, 10 cutlets in two packages. But we’re missing some ingredients needed to turn those cutlets into familiar dishes, including walnuts, mushrooms, lemons, canned tomatoes, scallions, and wine vinegar. Also no lettuce, napkins, or raisins—but lots more frozen green beans, which Peapod seems to regard as an acceptable substitute for a wide range of other vegetables.

We worried a lot about a predicted thunderstorm, then the delivery came just minutes before the heavens opened. Rather than wiping things down outside as the experts recommend, we brought everything just inside the front door. Then we wiped all the cans down with paper towels soaked in diluted bleach. Boxes got a dry wipe, fresh vegetables only a rinse in the sink.  Everything not needing refrigeration is condemned to remain for a couple of days in an area we can largely avoid. All of this behavior is per a doctor’s Youtube video on how to manage your deliveries.

A question for today: Can I really get myself to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or is that classic opus just too punishing for right now? The work, and its protagonist Raskolnikov, are frequently mentioned in films and articles—and surely the people who mention them are no smarter than I am. I’ll give it a try but probably fail. 

One obscure short story collection that I can recommend: The Word of the Speechless by Julio Ramon Ribeyro (New York Review Books). A back-cover blurb from Mario Vargas Llosa calls the author “a magnificent storyteller.” One nifty example is the six-page “Doubled,” all about a man’s journey to the antipodes (yes, I had to look that up) and an experience with his doppelganger.

Tonight’s dinner: With our recently delivered eats in quarantine, we’ll have leftover black beans and rice, okra from the freezer, and coleslaw.

Entertainment: One outrageous episode of Black Mirror, two of Babylon Berlin, and one of Darkwater Fell.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 44

Once a Union Square mainstay.

Tuesday, April 21

Every day I get up, make coffee and oatmeal, and at least make a start on reading The New York Times. When in New York City—I live right on Union Square—I may go out early to Trader Joe’s or perhaps to a doctor’s appointment. Other errands may include a walk to the post office, to the Fed Ex at Astor Place where I make photocopies of this and that, and to the gym on Eighth Avenue for yoga lessons. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I generally go to the Union Square greenmarket, where farmers from New Jersey and upstate New York sell fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, cheeses, and bread.

Right now, it seems I may never perform any of these New York City errands again.

One Times story suggests that New York itself may never be the same: The article revisits a number of previous calamities to hit the city, including the September 11 terror attacks and the 1970s fiscal crisis. In the latter case, says Kathryn Wylde, president of business group The Partnership for New York City, “It took four or five years for a lot of the city to empty out,” then “it took three or four decades to bring them back.”

Empty out? Well of course, New York City is always in the process of emptying itself out and refilling. It’s not the same from one day to the next. New York’s ever-changing nature is one of the things that makes the city interesting. New restaurants and stores are always popping up. That little hole-in-the-wall place that you went to for years is likely to disappear. But then, something new, and almost as interesting, may well crop up. Tycoon Donut is long gone, but the croissants at Pain Quotidian are a pretty good if pricey replacement.

Back in the 1980s, when I first moved to New York, the Union Square area was quite dangerous. Drug deals went down regularly in the park, and the cops would go into surrounding office buildings and peer out of the windows in order to direct drug busts there. In a few years, that version of Union Square went away—taking with it such quaint and past-their-prime institutions as Luchow’s restaurant, Amalgamated Bank, and the Cedar Tavern. On the upside, replacements included such trendy if expensive hangouts as the Union Square Cafe—and, on the downside, big-box retailers including Barnes & Noble books, Kids R Us, and Staples. 

Now, facing the square, there’s little besides large retailers and mega-banks such as Chase and Citibank.

But on the side streets, there are still little shoe-repair shops, second-hand clothing places, dance studios, and an ever-expanding number of coffee joints. Within walking distance, such long-running survivors as coffee roaster Porto Rico Importing Co., Strand books, and Astor Wines & Spirits have been hanging in there. Nonetheless, in February, I began noticing a great number of vacant storefronts. Rents were to blame, I assumed—the ever-more-greedy landlords pushing the small-fry out. The landlords seem willing to suffer several months of vacancy in order to get new tenants who are able to pay market-rate prices.

And rents have risen astronomically over the decades. My dentist, whose office is in a building facing the square, told me that when he first located there back in the 1980s, his rent was a few hundred dollars a month. Now, I believe he said, the rents on his office suite run $15,000 a month. It’s anybody’s guess just how he can afford it.

Will this change? Will landlords see that they have no choice but to accept lower rents—allowing small-fry enterprises to return? And just how does this work? What invisible hands tap the landlords on the shoulder, saying: “Hey, buddy, it’s time to let the rents slide a bit.”

A few years back, Emily and I traveled to Vienna, Austria, where we stayed in a small guest house in the Neubau neighborhood. The largely residential area included a number of coffee shops, bakeries, beisls (or restaurants), the Naschmarkt (produce stalls), and innumerable little purveyors of candy, meats, toys, and so forth. Everything seemed very quaint and charming, like a visit to the early 1960s in an American town. Perhaps after a period of near-death, the East Village can become such an idyll, with a flowering of small enterprises. Maybe even Tycoon Donut will return. Stranger things have happened.

Dinner tonight (presumably after the Peapod delivery!): Black beans and rice along with a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: There are five remaining episodes of Babylon Berlin—so a couple of those plus one Lovejoy and one Twilight Zone.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 43

What dreams may come?

Monday, April 20

We waited in the office lobby. When the meeting ended, Sir Andrew rushed past us dismissively, then continuing to walk toward the stairs, he indicated that Gareth should come with him. Pointing at a typed page he carried, he angrily singled out a paragraph:

You’ve got to pick up every stihch. You can’t miss even one. Every stihch. 

This must be corrected, he said.

A squeamish looking Gareth nodded. Sir, he said, in terms of the work. We’re pretty stretched at the moment. Must this be tended to immediately?

I’m telling you, said Sir Andrew. Do this first. Whether you should receive a significant posting or just a lower level one depends upon getting it fixed.

Why should I have such strange dreams at 4:30 a.m., with arrogant, aquiline-faced aristocrats and their squirming underlings? It must have to do with watching too much British TV, but there may be echoes here of Babylon Berlin as well.

We’re anxiously awaiting our Peapod delivery of groceries, scheduled for tomorrow between 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. Such is life under the quarantine—it’s supposedly heroic to do nothing but wait.

Emily is worried about the weather—rain is predicted, and the delivery guy has to leave our stuff outside where we can wipe off any viruses before transporting things inside. We have our rubber gloves and a spray bottle of diluted bleach, which can be used to squirt tins of stuff. Fresh veggies are supposed to require only a rinse with water, while boxes will get only a wipe-off with a paper towel. The virus is said to be able to live longer on metal and for only a few hours on cardboard.

Emily is in charge of the Peapod list, and one can make corrections or additions until 11:59 p.m. tonight. I keep thinking of stuff that may or may not be on the list—then asking her to check. Are we due to get more onions? What about canned tomatoes? And given our experience last time, there would seem to be only a 50-50 chance that any given thing will actually be delivered. What we really need are walnuts, honey, oatmeal, and any sort of meats. I figure that after Peapod comes and goes, I will likely have to go down to a nearby bodega and get several of these things.

For some time, I have had lots of dreams, probably due to a prescription drug that I take. These dreams are not often scary, and sometimes just entertaining. Over the past years, many have taken place at my childhood home, on one or two occasions featuring an intruder who’s trying to get in through the back door. Here, just to keep things lively, are a few examples:

I am spreading tomato sauce on a concrete walkway in a basement (not a familiar place). This seems odd even to me, but I had seen someone doing it and that made it seem a good idea. Still, I want to hurry in case someone sees me and asks what on earth I am doing. I use a spoon and just splash the stuff around, then spread it out evenly as you would with a pizza.

Before bed, I consider having some ice cream, but I fall asleep instead. Then, in the middle of the night after getting up to go to the bathroom, I dream that I hear Emily clanking her spoon against her bowl: It seems she got ice cream and I didn’t.

It is night, and I am at my childhood home with my mother. Distantly, I hear her say something like “I’ll be right back.” And she disappears. I search for her in the dark, calling her name out the back door, then up into the attic, then out the front door into the darkness. There is no response, but I am sure she will reappear. (In fact, she died in 2005.)

And finally, a quote from Oliver Sacks’ “The Landscape of His Dreams”: “One may be born with the potential for a prodigious memory, but one is not born with a disposition to recollect; this comes only with changes and separations in life—separations from people, from places, from events and situations.…All of us, finally, are exiles from the past.”

Tonight’s dinner: Linguini with asparagus pesto and a lettuce salad with cucumber. Lots of cookies.

Tonight’s entertainment: one Twilight Zone and two episodes of Babylon Berlin.