A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 240

Harry S and feathered pal.

Thursday, November 25

Thanksgiving is a holiday more or less created during the administrations of Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as a way to stimulate American consumer spending. In the 1940s, economists worried that, with the end of World War II, the economy could slide back into the Great Depression. 

(Abraham Lincoln had declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1863, hoping to foster reconciliation of the Civil War antagonists. But Lincoln’s proclamation never mentioned the Pilgrims, the Indians, turkey, pumpkin pie, etc. of today’s myth.)

Midwestern and Southern agribusiness benefitted from the sale of turkeys, suddenly heralded as the national bird in place of the warlike American eagle. The New England economy, still flat since the collapse of the region’s textile industry, got a boost from the sale of the previously unheralded and profoundly sour cranberry. Batista’s Cuban sugar industry got a gift as well, as every kind of sticky treat joined the new feast’s menu.

All the stuff about the Pilgrims and the Indians—that’s just pablum for school children. Every holiday requires  dramatis personae, whether Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, or the Halloween ghost.

In fact the Wampanoag Indians did save the starving Pilgrims, who had little notion of how to cultivate the sandy Plymouth plantation soil. Such English staples as sweet peas and barley were hardly suited for the area. The Indians’ reward for their dietary gifts: smallpox, years of a slow, unfolding genocide, and the theft of their lands.

Within 50 years, the English colonists would come to outnumber the Native Americans and friction led to the devastating King Philip’s War. The head of one chieftain, Metacomet, better known as King Philip, was mounted on a pike outside Plymouth Colony as a warning.

The Indians had their own revenge, though they may not have appreciated it: the obesity, heart disease, and diabetes that plague the food-obsessed Americans today.

Our Thanksgiving treat: We’re now out at our house, discovering that a number of large oak trees were apparently decapitated while we were away during a November 14 windstorm. The damage is quite startling…and has been waiting for us while we were in the city enduring days of dentistry and other bits of medicinal displeasure. Now, we’ll have to find somebody to come and cut down at least two trees and trim the injured limbs off of a couple of others. Always something.

Dinner: a slimmed-down Thanksgiving meal consisting of packaged ham, microwaved Kabocha squash, salad, and cookies.

Entertainment: episodes of Britbox’ Shetland.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 239

Break out the Burma Shave.

Friday, November 19

Bearded men haunt my dreams. 

I toss and turn amid visions of bewhiskered men thronging the city sidewalks. Everyone has a beard but me. I know that I must grow one—but worry that my face will fail to produce a respectable growth. 

The bearded men are menacing. No one is recognizable.

When I wake up, I realize that the beards in my dreams are no more than the COVID-prevention face masks that you’re supposed to wear. In fact, many unmasked people are walking around the city streets. That’s even more worrying.

I’ve visited the dentist, my GP, and a urologist. I have another serious dentist visit upcoming on Monday, when I am supposed to get a root canal and have a temporary crown replaced with a permanent one. Emily spent hours at her dentist, also getting crowns. She has visited her GP and must go back there again in December.

Surely we will begin to see NYC not as “fun city,” in the much-derided words of onetime Mayor John Lindsay—but as a site of annoying, painful doctor visits and Rx pick-ups. 

I am also plagued with anxiety…mostly that I am going to forget something. (It’s not that my memory is bad; I don’t really have that problem yet.) 

It’s all little stuff. If I have one appointment scheduled for, say, Thursday, I fret that I will somehow be late or miss the appointment altogether. A single item on the mental to-do list weighs like a nightmare on the brain. Oh, I must remember to get cranberries and cornbread mix—but WHEN will I have time for that? And Thanksgiving is ONLY SEVEN DAYS AWAY!!

I discussed this anxiety with my doctor. He assures me that I am not alone. The pandemic has also led to an epidemic of worry among the general population. You can try drugs or meditation, it seems.

After my GP visit, I went to a nearby Whole Foods to get a bagel and a few hard-to-find items such as dried shiitake mushrooms. When I went to the seating area to scarf down the bagel, a small female security guard asked to see my proof of vaccination. This made my day! I whipped out the iPhone and showed her my recently downloaded New York Excelsior Pass. It was the first time I’d gotten to use it. And, despite my anxiety, it worked!

Dinner: Braised chicken with lemon and olives.

Entertainment: The Scientology-inspired movie The Master.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 238

New York City’s skyline at Union Square.

Sunday, November 14

“The time in bed was more work than rest,” writes Nick Paumgarten in a recent New Yorker article.

I often feel that way—the result probably of my grueling, sweaty-sheet-inducing dreams, which make me want to get up and get out of bed and drag the comb across my head. 

But if I get up, I need a nap.

Paumgarten’s article is about how these days, many people say they frequently feel tired and wonder how they might get more energy. The article is a fairly deep dive into the science of humans’ metabolic system, with little visits to the research of Columbia University behavioral-medicine doctors, California cardiologists, and blast-from-the-past psychic frontiersmen like Franz Mesmer and orgone box inventor Wilhelm Reich.

You remember Reich, no? His orgone accumulator drew Age of Aquarius public attention because it was said to enhance orgasms, among other things. He was around in the 1950s, when such sex talk was scorned and drew the attention of our very own Torquemada, a.k.a. J. Edgar Hoover. Reich was ultimately jailed for shipping orgone boxes across state lines and died in the federal pen in 1957.

Anyway, anyway. 

Emily and I are back in Gotham, experiencing our very own Inquisition at the hands of a variety of dentists and physicians. Between us we have something like ten appointments scheduled near term. The dentist appointments—which feature numerous fillings, crown-fittings and root canals—are particularly pressing since my former employer, now wearing the guise of S&P Global, recently announced in an 8-point-type form letter that they were canceling our dental insurance. 

The other day, I walked over to my Eighth Avenue gym, where thanks to United Health Care I still enjoy a membership, and was denied admission since I did not have proof of COVID vaccination with me. 

Now on the one hand, I endorse their uncompromising, pro-science stand. On the other hand, since in the past my locker there has been broken into and possessions stolen, I wouldn’t dare carry the much-envied “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” anywhere near New York Sports Club.

So I came back to the apt and downloaded an app for the New York State Excelsior Pass, which certifies that I have indeed had the jabs. I hope that will do the trick.

Mind you, it does suggest that Big Brother is watching, just as the anti-vaxxers say. Precisely what other info does the Excelsior pass contain, I wonder?

The time approaches for the visit of our niece, Montana, who intends to get a COVID test on her way over. Then, we will have a feast of croissants, Italian prune plums, guacamole, fresh apple cider, and more. You just can’t get these things in Kansas City, no matter how up to date that place is. (Maybe Cinnabon or Dunkin’ is just as good. You bet.)

Dinner: If we’re not too stuffed from brunch, it will be spaghetti Bolognese and salad.

Entertainment: Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries via Kanopy.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 237

An early winter for this guy.

Wednesday, November 3

With the first frost of the year predicted for tonight, I got busy this morning with yard tasks that may or may not have been necessary. First, I trimmed our now-bedraggled looking rose bush, following the instructions of a horticulture professor’s YouTube video. Then, I planted 16 tulip bulbs that I hope will blossom spectacularly next spring. 

You’re supposed to plant the bulbs in sunny spots. But the sunlight wanes in the autumn, making it difficult to recall just which are the yard’s sunniest spots come spring.

We’ll be going back to the city for at least three weeks beginning next Monday, November 8. The dreaded end to daylight savings time comes on November 7, so our return will coincide with the beginning of short, wintry days.

And the reason for our trip is also dispiriting: visits to dentists. My McGraw-Hill retiree dental insurance is being canceled thanks to M-H’s successor company, S&P Global. 

“There are many options available through insurance companies,” S&P Global declares in the form-iest of form letters dated September 30. As if this is a recent discovery!! OH, you could simply buy it for yourself! They strongly recommend that we “reach out” to such insurance companies for replacement coverage.

Are they allowed to cancel retiree benefits like this under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, one friend asks? I guess they must be….

Anyway, both Emily and I will be getting new dental crowns next week, then seeing some other doctors while we have the opportunity.

We’re also weighing insurance options for next year, since the Medicare open enrollment period has begun. Always a pain in the neck. According to the Times, most people just continue with their existing plans, failing to weigh options that could save them many dollars. So much for economists’ rational-choice theory and the notion that people maximize utility. 

Dinner: a Latin American picadillo stew and a green salad with avocado.

Entertainment: the final episode of the weird French policier Nox.