A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 71

Fighting influenza in 1918.

Tuesday, May 19

A company called Moderna has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that has shown promising results in early tests on humans. The announcement raised public hopes and sent the company’s stock soaring. But past events should prompt skepticism. 

The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic—the worst in U.S. history—saw the early development of a vaccine, too. Some 18,000 people were inoculated in San Francisco. But unlike the vaccines that had already been developed to treat anthrax, diphtheria, meningitis, rabies, and smallpox, this vaccine proved ineffective. The “Spanish flu” was a virus—and scientists knew little about viruses, which couldn’t even be seen until the development of the electron microscope in the 1930s.

I’ve been meaning to learn more about the 1918 influenza epidemic, and this afternoon I finally watched the American Experience film “Influenza 1918”  The film is fascinating.

There’s also a PBS timeline of 1918 events. It differs a bit from the CDC’s timeline.

The 1918 flu wasn’t “Spanish” at all. It probably first appeared in the spring of 1918 at a Kansas army base, Fort Riley. It spread quickly: By noon of the first day there were over 100 cases at the base and 500 in the first week. After 48 deaths, the sickness began to wane. But American soldiers traveled to the Western front of World War I—and took the infection with them. 

Soon this strain of influenza infected other American soldiers as well as English, French, and Germans.

By September, soldiers returning from the front to the U.S. brought the flu back with them. A major outbreak took place at Camp Devens near Boston. Doctors were shocked at seeing how this strain, much more potent than any flu they had seen before, turned patients’ skin blue, resulted in a bloody sputum, then led to pneumonia, and, often within only a few hours, death. The disease was carried from one military base to another. Soon, it was out among the civilian population—in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and across the U.S. Before long, it was in small towns in the Midwest and West.

The war’s exigencies had made the outbreak worse. Focused on defeating the Kaiser, Americans had pulled together in large groups. They labored in factories, attended mass rallies and war bond drives, and marched in thousands-strong parades. Then soldiers were massed together and put on troop transports.

Like today, there was no shortage of officials looking to pin the blame on foreigners. Lt. Col. Philip Doane, head of the Health and Sanitation Section of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, suggested that Germans somehow planted the infection.

Quackery flourished: Some people wore little flasks with turpentine or camphor around their necks. Others turned to prayer, following the advice of evangelist Billy Sunday who said sin was to blame and prayer would end the epidemic.

Hospitals overflowed, but many doctors had been sent to Europe. The infected had raging fevers, nosebleeds, and lungs filled with fluid, from which many literally drowned. 

Laws required that people wear masks. Public gatherings were ultimately banned. Schools, farms, and factories were shuttered, but the death rate kept rising. Oddly enough, the young and strong seemed most vulnerable, particularly those between 21 and 29 years of age.

October proved to be the worst month—869 New Yorkers died in one day and 195,000 Americans in a month. There were suicides and a wave of violence, often within families.

Then, by early November the death toll on the east coast fell. The incidence of new cases dropped abruptly. Herd immunity may have developed or the virus may have mutated to a less lethal strain.

On November 11, the armistice was declared in Europe. Thousands in the U.S. attended victory parades, most wearing masks. 

But some 500,000 to 850,000 Americans died in the pandemic. Around the world, 30 to 50 million died. 

Why have these frightening events been largely forgotten? History books have focused on the battles and drama of the Great War, although more soldiers and civilians fell victim to the pandemic than to war. The invisible scourge went away, and afterwards Americans could imagine that science and civilization had prevailed. Until now, that is, when science seems something less than all-powerful.

Tonight’s dinner: chicken paprikash, pasta, and green salad.

Entertainment: One episode of Occupied plus one installment of Our Planet.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 70

Norwegian Vidkun Quisling along with SS head Heinrich Himmler.

Monday, May 18

If you have been reading this blog, you can’t have missed the fact that we’re seeing plenty of streaming video. One show that we’ve watched a lot—two and a half seasons’ worth—is the Netflix Norwegian political thriller Occupied.

It’s like The Sorrow and the Pity as penned by Greenpeace.

And it’s a bit hard to watch because of its length and also because you are forced to ponder whether you can believe what any of the principals say or even understand what motivates them.

Here’s the idea. Norway, which controls a big portion of the North Sea oil and gas reserves, elects a Green Party government, which says it’s going to turn off the carbon-fuel taps to the rest of Europe.

Immediately, the Russian army takes over Norway’s oil and gas fields. They kidnap the Norwegian prime minister, Jesper Berg—and you see him quickly back down on his campaign pledges. Crucially, the Russians have the support of the European Union, which worries about the effect of a fuel shutoff.

Russian apparatchiki, working out of that country’s Oslo embassy, assert more and more influence over Norway’s affairs. Russia’s strong-willed, manipulative, and wily ambassador enlists the head of the country’s secret police as an ally. She bullies various members of the Norwegian political establishment and E.U. governmental leaders, always seeming to get her way.

A Norwegian resistance movement appears. Its initial rallying cry is “Free Our Soldiers,” since Norwegian coast guardsmen who attempted to liberate one fuel installation were taken prisoner by Russian troops. A more formal group that includes much of the Norwegian military appears: Free Norway. Jesper Berg joins with them.

But a lot of the show’s Norwegian principals collaborate with the Russians. Some believe they have no choice–and invent idealistic reasons for their behavior. Others do so to avoid outright war against the formidable Russian army. Still others simply follow the path of least resistance while also feathering their own nests. Compromise and collaboration infect the whole society. Before long, Free Norway appears subjugated. An opportunist politician becomes the new prime minister.

But just as his life seems in peril, Jesper Berg escapes, first to Poland and then to France. He rallies support from a number of Eastern European countries and begins making his way back to Norway aboard a Polish ship. Russian warships establish a blockade—but he refuses to surrender and the Russians give way. He returns to Oslo, appears to negotiate a coalition government with the puppet P.M.—and then, she is assassinated.

Except for the last part, doesn’t this sound a lot like Nazi-collaborationist Vichy France—and the sharp-elbowed, egomaniacal Charles de Gaulle? Or perhaps like Norway’s own experience with Nazi collaboration: the regime there was headed by Vidkun Quisling, whose very name has become synonymous with collaboration. Many of the Occupied characters see themselves as being motivated by lofty ideals—but we can see that everyone is actually motivated by base self-interest.

The Sorrow and the Pity is Marcel Ophuls’ lengthy 1969 documentary about the Nazi occupation of France and the Vichy regime. That film obliterated the notion, commonly held in France, that almost no French people collaborated with the German occupiers. But in Ophuls’ film, the many collaborators come across as wormy and cowardly. Occupied is actually more nuanced, allowing viewers to see things from the collaborators’ self-justifying points of view. 

Tonight’s dinner: pasta with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts along with a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: two more episodes of Occupied, plus one installment of Our Planet.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 69

Anyone for bluefish–or brownies?

Sunday, May 17

Having read my blog entry about the Home, Sweet Home Cook Book, a friend has emailed me information about a Hamptons artists’ cookbook, Palette to Palate. It was published by Guild Hall Museum in 1978, contained recipes from 130 local artists, and featured illustrations and autographs from Andy Warhol, the de Koonings, and Lee Krasner. The recipes tend to be a little more sophisticated than those in Home, Sweet Home: Krasner’s contribution, for example, was a “hominy puff with cheese, herbs, or crabmeat.” Art-book dealer Argosy lists a first edition of the book as available for $4,000.

Back to grimmer stuff.

Emily has e-mailed me a Twitter timeline of New York City pandemic developments starting in March. It seems that for once in our lives at least, we’ve been ahead of events.

We came out to East Hampton on March 5—the first New York City case of COVID-19 had been reported on March 1. On March 7, two days after we came out, the governor declared a state of emergency in New York State, and five days later he banned any gatherings of more than 500 people. 

That same day, March 12, Mayor de Blasio declared a state of emergency in New York City, and the next day, it was announced that New York State had the most cases of the disease in the U.S., as new cases jumped 30% overnight. (And these, as I always have to remind myself, were just the reported cases. Many people had it but were asymptomatic.)

On March 20, Cuomo ordered nonessential businesses to keep 100% of their workforces at home. By the end of the month, New York State had become the coronavirus epicenter of the world, as its number of COVID-19 cases exceeded those in China’s Hubei province where the outbreak began.

Only on April 15 did Cuomo order everyone to wear face masks. Today, epidemiologists make a convincing case that THIS and social distancing are the most important things of all. 

One problem of course was the shortage of masks. Officials were saying to leave the available masks for the professionals who really need them; don’t try to hoard masks; wear a bandana around your face, make your own mask, etc. Vendors began offering lots of homemade masks online, and Emily ordered several for us on April 16.

On May 1, Cuomo announced that public schools in the state would remain closed for the rest of the school year.

By mid-May, 1.8 million state residents had filed unemployment claims—six times the number filing claims during the 2008 financial crisis.

And that brings us to where we are. 

The timeline is a bit puzzling to me: Events seem to move both quickly and slowly at the same time. 

The first case appeared in China in December of last year. In the U.S., the first confirmed case came in Washington State in late January of this year. There was a surge of cases in Italy in February.

Still, no one in this country paid much attention until March, when events really intensified. Then—I know, I’m repeating myself—it took until mid-April for New York to make the wearing of masks mandatory. 

There must be lessons here, and I’m sure the experts will offer us lots of them in time.

Dinner: lots of leftovers that don’t necessarily go together—mozzarella and tomato salad with balsamic dresssing, corn muffins, roasted brussel sprouts, baked potatoes with sour cream, and guacamole.

Entertainment: episodes of the Netflix nature documentary Our Planet narrated by David Attenborough and more episodes of Occupied.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 68

An 1802 bill of lading for whale oil destined for the Montauk lighthouse.

Saturday, May 16

It could be a strange summer out here. Realtors see upbeat signs: The market for summer rentals is booming, with urbanites looking for a place where they can escape the pandemic. Meanwhile, paranoia strikes deep. In the local hardware store, not far away from the bags of potting soil and cans of paint, there’s a display of stun guns. (Hey, are these essential services?)

According to one real estate broker, the “mass exodus” of folks from New York City is continuing. Those who’d arranged a rental for late summer are looking to come earlier. Meanwhile, some owners who’d arranged before the pandemic to rent their homes have decided they want to cancel such rentals and stay on. And one lawyer reports seeing a commercial-property lease tying the date for paying rent to the lifting of the New York State’s business-activity limits.

Worried that those banned from Main Beach may trespass into your swimming pool? Well, for $29.99 you can acquire a Mace brand stun gun that doubles as a flashlight. Stand your ground, refugee!

I understand that out on the left coast, certain businesses are being allowed to reopen: pet groomers, dog walkers, car washes, appliance repair shops, and any retailer who provides curbside pickup. So, the bottom line is in L.A., Fido can get a trim and a workout but a human cannot.

The East Hampton Library has a link to a Digital Long Island Collection of historical materials. It’s quite extensive, containing letters, diaries, photographs, deeds, drawings, and lots more.

Each week, there’s an “item of the week,” highlighted in an e-mail sent out  from the library. This week’s item is a ship’s captain’s bill of lading for 13 casks containing “753 gallons of best head matter pressed” whale oil delivered to Sag Harbor but ultimately destined for use at the Montauk lighthouse.

Since much of what we do here is cook and eat, I’ve been taking a look at another of the collection’s digital holdings, a 1939 “Home Sweet Home Cookbook” produced by the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society. 

Not many of the recipes hold much appeal today. One curiosity, though, is the section entitled “Suggested Menus for Large Gatherings.” Here, typical ingredients might include “one peck of tomatoes” or “20 lbs. of sweet potatoes.” There’s a chicken pie and a cranberry salad, each of which serves 50. A “molded pineapple carrot salad” that uses 3 lbs. of carrots and serves 60 to 70. And a “medium-priced luncheon or supper dish that serves 100.” That recipe uses eight lbs. of spaghetti, 4 loaves of bread, and 2 gallons of milk.

I suspect that these were recipes for a more rural, and more churchgoing society than we have today. Nor would there have been much social distancing at gatherings where these dishes were served.

Tonight’s dinner: Fresh mozzarella cheese with tomatoes and a balsamic dressing, along with cold sesame noodles.

Entertainment: Two episodes of Occupied.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 67

Scallions rooting around in my kitchen.

Friday, May 15

Life goes on. I began writing this blog with the idea that an accounting of daily life during the pandemic could be of interest to our friends and to people in the future. But, for those not on the front lines, daily life is monotonous—that’s how it’s supposed to be. We’re isolated and avoiding social contact—and in this world, social contact is what’s interesting.

Anyway, today I’ll have breakfast, read the newspaper and various news reports, write this post and figure out what photo to include with it (the photo question provides one of the most interesting issues each day), have a little lunch, read some more, maybe take a walk, then make dinner, and watch a video.

The photo above is of scallions that I am rooting in my kitchen. I learned to do this online, from someone who claims never to buy scallions. I’m not sure that my efforts will really produce enough to serve in a recipe—but they’re cute and fun.

Yesterday, I learned in an e-mail that my work has been quoted in the Michigan State Law Review, in an article entitled “Janus v. AFSCME: Triumph of Free Speech or Doom for Unions?” by George Washington University law professor Marc Klock.

The author several times cites my book on U.S. company towns, as he dissects the harsh conditions that once faced miners and other private-sector workers. But that serves largely as a prologue to an attack on public employee unions. He accuses Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan of entertaining “a laughable idea that could only be formed inside an ivory tower perspective.” After that coup de grace and near the end of a 52-page article, he asserts: “Public-sector unions are not working for the public interest. They are working for the self-interest of public-sector employees.” Was I surprised!

Emily was due to have a Zoom teleconference with her doctor yesterday. She downloaded the Zoom app on her Android phone. Then, for some mysterious reason, they just had a phone call instead. So we remain among the non-Zoomers.

Spring has arrived. After nighttime showers, it’s partly sunny today with a high near 68. Next door, some maintenance guys are getting the swimming pool ready for action. Imagine doing laps while wearing both swim goggles and a face mask.

During my afternoon constitutional, I see lots of folks out walking the dogs. The pooches seem a bit weirded out, too—they want to play with each other but aren’t sure that they should, canine social distancing and all.

The wild dogwoods are blossoming like mad. From now on, it’s going to be very hard to keep everyone indoors. 

News flash: Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that state beaches can open next Friday, provided there are no group activities such as volleyball, no concessions stands open, that there is social distancing, and there are masks worn when social distancing isn’t possible.

Dinner: leftover stuffed green peppers, Asian green beans, salad.

Entertainment: Jazz musicians Arturo O’Farrill and Adam O’Farrill streaming live from WNYC’s The Green Space, one episode of Secret City, and Kon Tiki, a short movie about the cross-Pacific trek of explorer Thor Heyerdahl.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 66

Buddy Guy needs to read this blog post.

Thursday, May 14

The demise of clothing retailer J. Crew threatens to leave us with a cultural void: color-branding.

J. Crew, particularly in its catalog, was in the vanguard of color-branding. They were never satisfied to have a pair of shorts or a shirt in Olive or Khaki. No, instead the item would be listed as available in Basil or Sand—maybe even Mojave. (These are just fictitious examples I’ve come up with, mind you.)

So, the question arises: What would be some new color names appropriate to our fraught moment? Yesterday, I came up with one: First Responder Orange. Today, I’m thinking of others: Gilets Jaunes Yellow, for the French vest-wearing, economic-justice protest movement. And Pandemic Green, for that color that you might see in photos of microscopic slides. 

Trying to come up with an appropriate name for a blue hue, Emily hits upon another notion: Shouldn’t we have some blues songs associated with our quarantine experience? Forget “Hesitation Blues” or “Crossroads Blues.” How about “Peapod Perplexity Blues”?

Got my pencil and paper, babe,

I’m gonna jot me down a list.

Yeah, I got a pencil and paper,

I’m needin’ you to assist.

Artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes,

without such stuff, we just can’t exist.

[next verse]

Maybe green peas and Jarlsberg,

eggs and walnuts we really need.

Garlic, yeast, and lemons,

cabbage, cukes, and cheddar cheese.

But that Peapod manager

he’s always giving us more green beans.

(and we’ve got three packs already!)


Haagen-Dazs and Keebler Sandies,

wheat flour and bread crumbs too.

Chicken broth and shiitakes,

and some of that Tahini goo.

[final verse]

Yes, I got my pencil and paper, baby

I’m ready to make us a list…

Hmmm, maybe Buddy Guy could use this.

Other ditties could include”Dr. Fauci’s Lament” or maybe “Damark Disappointment Blues,” named for the small store that I go to when Peapod fails. Damark also has been known to fall short, notably when it comes to ramen. But they do just fine when it comes to fresh vegetables, walnuts, and napkins.

Ramen? They say no man,

this store ain’t where that’s at.

You want that Asian foodstuff

better go back to Man-hat [tan]

I got my pencil and paper, baby

but a list ain’t all we lack.

Takes more than hopin’ and wishin’

to end this here virus attack.

O.K., enough of this now. The blues ain’t nothin’ but COVID-19 on your mind.

Tonight’s dinner: stuffed green peppers, roasted brussel sprouts, and salad

Entertainment: Two episodes of Austrialian journalism-politico thriller, Secret City, plus one episode of Twilight Zone.

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.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 64

Sag Harbor whaler and ferryman Pyrrhus Concer.

Tuesday, May 12

Reading the obits for Little Richard makes me reflect on Trump, believe it or not. Like Mr. MAGA, Little Richard was full of braggadocio: He apparently once told talk-show host Arsenio Hall “I’m not conceited, I’m convinced!” It was far from the only sort of over-the-top behavior for Richard Wayne Penniman, but it’s a blustering style that has appeared again and again among show-biz figures, from wrestler Gorgeous George to Muhammad Ali and on to our orange-topped leader. 

Yes, Trump is forever proclaiming that he’s the greatest, the smartest, the whatever-est. But very quickly, you sense the insecurity behind the bragging—he doesn’t buy it himself. That’s why Trump has to surround himself with yes-men and cannot abide the presence of any real expertise: Someone like Fauci immediately demonstrates what true knowledge and insight are about, exposing Trump to the bright light that kills not only coronaviruses but also phonies.

Back to history: As for East Hampton’s African Americans, until recent times there were only a few, beginning in the late 17th century. A 1687 census lists 25 “slaves” and says that just under 5% of the town’s population was African American. One landowner’s will lists two slaves—valued at £58 and mentioned just after the listing of his 100 sheep, which were valued at £25. Historian T.H. Breen speculates that the blacks were domestic servants, possibly brought here from New York City.

Other records suggest that there was an African-American community on the north side of East Hampton. But I haven’t been able to find out much about that.

There were black whalers living in Sag Harbor, including Pyrrhus Concer, who was born in 1814, worked on whale boats, and later ran a ferry on Lake Agawam. Nearby Shelter Island was largely occupied by the 8,000-acre Sylvester Manor, which up until 1820 was one of the largest slaveholding sites on Long Island.  There’s also a slave burying ground there that includes over 200 unmarked graves.

And in the 20th century, there have been several predominantly black neighborhoods in Sag Harbor. Such neighborhoods as Azurest, Ninevah Beach, and Sag Harbor Hills were largely populated by well-to-do African Americans, including Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and more recently, restaurateur B. Smith.

Other Southampton sites notable in African-American history include the St. David’s AME Zion church and the fledgling Southampton African-American history museum. The museum is the former Randy’s Barbershop located on North Sea Road, which for many years served as an African American gathering place.

Tonight’s dinner: lentil soup with frankfurters and a green salad.

Entertainment: episodes of the Finnish policier Bordertown and one of The Twilight Zone.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 63

Stephen Taukus “Talkhouse” Pharaoh

Monday, May 11

The most visible minority presence in the Hamptons nowadays is Latino. But of course, it wasn’t always that way.

Latin American immigrants have been coming to the Hamptons for decades, drawn here by the promise of construction and other work. Decades back, Colombians, Costa Ricans, and Mexicans were the first Latinos to arrive, followed by Ecuadorians, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Venezuelans, and others.

 I’m quite aware of the Ecuadorian presence, as a result of conversations with construction workers and waiters, and thanks to the presence on East Hampton’s North Main Street of a bodega called Mitad del Mundo—named after a place in Ecuador that’s near to the equator.

Some 15% to 20% of East Hampton’s current population is Latin, along with over 25% of the school population. Between 1980 and 2000, according to the U.S. Census, the Latino population grew tenfold, to 2900. Such figures, of course, are likely a huge underestimate.

In earlier decades, the larger minority groups were Native American and African American.

As I described in an earlier post, it was the Montaukett Indians who sold the East Hampton land to whites in the 17th century. For many years thereafter, that Native American group kept to itself, concentrated in the Montauk area. The white settlers in East Hampton stuck to farming and occasionally harvesting a “drift whale,” a leviathan who’d somehow beached itself. By law, householders were required to turn out and help with the smelly, disgusting labor of hacking up a dead whale, whose blubber could be turned into valuable lamp oil.

This whale fat gradually became an important source of income for the farmers. And by 1670, they realized that they didn’t just have to depend upon fate to send a whale their way—they could go out to sea and kill the right whales that ventured near to the East Hampton coastline.

The East Hamptonites began forming private whale companies, outfitted with sturdy boats, harpoons, oars, a drogue (or sea anchor that got affixed to a wounded whale), and huge kettles for cooking down blubber. Each boat required a crew of six strong men.

Re-enter the Montaukett Indians. In a move that would be the envy of many gig-economy workers today, the Indians began negotiating labor contracts with the East Hampton whites. These contracts generally committed individual Montauketts (who made their marks on the dotted line) to a season of whale hunting, in exchange for which the Natives would get half of the harvested whale meat.

Why did the Montauketts do it? There’s evidence that they were gradually drawn into a kind of debt peonage, promising to labor until they’d paid off what they owed. Like the whites, the Indians had come to appreciate the finer things in the way of European-made goods that could be obtained for hard cash.

This sort of whaling seems to have come to an end after about sixty years, circa 1730. There had been massive overfishing of the shallow-water whale population, and after the mid-1700s, all that remained was deep-water whaling, as was conducted out of Sag Harbor and Nantucket. Along with the waning of East Hampton whaling came that of the Montauk tribe. By the 1770s, there were only thirty Indian families remaining, the others having wasted away due to poverty and white-men’s disease. (Most of the above information is drawn from T. H. Breen’s Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories.)

One exception: Stephen Taukus “Talkhouse” Pharaoh, a late 19th century survivor. Talkhouse, a prodigious walker, claimed a variety of exploits, including prospecting for gold in the California gold rush, serving in the Union army, winning a walking race from Boston to Chicago, and participating in P. T. Barnum’s circus. His name lives on thanks to local monuments and to the Amagansett rock ’n’ roll club named for him.

Tonight’s dinner: grilled pork chops, baked potatoes, and brussel sprouts.

Entertainment: back to Occupied, the Norwegian futuristic thriller that contemplates a Russian power grab of Norway’s North Sea oil. 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 62

Hotel-ready: An ultraviolet virus-killing wand.

Saturday, May 9

Unemployment is at scary levels, it seems. But, hey, that’s not so bad for everyone.

If actual U.S. unemployment is around 20%, as some at the Labor Department admit, employers will have no problem filling low-wage jobs. Those recently enacted laws mandating a $15 minimum wage? Fuggetaboutit. They’ll be undercut by the underground-economy reality.

And consider the other evils of prosperity. When demand is high for goods and services, suppliers can more easily raise prices—and that can mean inflation across the economy. When raw materials are eagerly dug and mined, when the seas are plundered of fish, and when forests and jungles are stripped of their trees and wildlife, the planet comes under ever greater pressure. In fat times, stores are crowded, highways are crammed with traffic, and the skies are darkened with pollution. Recession can be a cure for all such woes.

But will some of today’s unemployment be permanent? Already a lot of people had lost permanent jobs and had only marginal slots within the so-called “gig economy,” where you make do with one small project after another. I know many such people—and I myself have taken on several such projects in the past 10 years. Gig posts can be eliminated at the drop of the hat.

On top of all this, technological job displacement is on the rise. One example: A number of sources, including the Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation at the University of Minnesota, point toward job loss resulting from only one labor-saving innovation, driverless vehicles. In a majority of U.S. states, the most common job is truck driving.

Take those jobs away, and the argument for a guaranteed annual income becomes absolutely compelling. Come back, Andrew Yang!

No matter what anyone says, East End guesthouses are anticipating the summer season. The East Hampton Star has interviewed management at Baker House 1650 and other swank hostelries and found them ready to reopen. “The new must-have amenities will include face masks made from luxurious fabric, chic dispensers for hand sanitizer, body temperature scanners, aesthetically pleasing dividers to ensure people maintain six feet of social distance, and other items that allow people to feel safe and pampered,” says The Star

Common spaces will be cleaned on an hourly basis, and rooms will get zapped with an ultraviolet light-sanitizing wand. Maybe we could stick that down your throat while we’re at it, eh Mr. President? Shine a light inside the body?

Earlier I ventured out to nearby Maidstone Market, hoping to make up a bit for the shortfall in Peapod’s delivery. Until very recently, you’d go to a window at Maidstone Market and just tell a staffer what you wanted. But suddenly, they’re allowing patrons to come inside the store so long as you’re wearing a face mask. Boy, they had lots of stuff—and boy do you pay for it. I got some cornbread mix, a dozen eggs, and two rolls of antacid—for a measly $11.85. Them that’s got shall get, and them that’s not shall lose.

Tonight’s dinner: Ziti with roasted red pepper, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts, plus a green salad with avocado. 

Tonight’s entertainment: the final episodes of The Valhalla Murders