A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 202

Zero Irving–and zero P.C. Richards.

Wednesday, March 17

After a week’s stay in New York City, we’ve returned to East Hampton. We’re each relieved to have gotten our two anti-COVID vaccinations and to be back on Long Island.

The city just isn’t what it was—and it may never again resemble its old self. The predominant motifs are the same as in September: empty storefronts, a much reduced population (at least the number that come out of hiding is reduced), and even the grime seems, well, merely grimy and lacking in its former glamour. 

In hopes of continuing in business, over the past year many restaurants erected out-of-door dining spaces on the sidewalks or out in the streets. Now, in many cases the restaurants have closed down and the plywood-and-plastic sheeting, outdoor dining spaces remain. Boulevards of broken dreams, indeed. 

If you leave your apartment to run an errand, you’re not sure whether a shop that you intend to visit will still be functioning. Fortunately, three key places were still operating: Porto Rico Importing’s coffee-bean shop on St. Mark’s Place; the Kalustyan’s spice emporium on the so-called Curry Hill stretch of Lexington Ave. near 28th Street; and a little organic foods store on 3rd Avenue at 16th St., where I got the gluten flour we need for bread-making. Also, the Strand bookstore is still open and busy. Without it, New York would simply be unimaginable.

Somehow, the city remains plenty noisy. This may seem weird, but I was looking forward to sleeping on our very comfortable mattress and foam-and-gel pillows in the city. Instead, I have apparently gotten too used to the quiet of far Long Island and was disturbed by the sirens, horns, truck noise, and middle-of-the-night yelling on 14th Street. The loonies haven’t departed, it seems.

Incongruously—and probably pointlessly—there’s still plenty of construction going on in Manhattan. The existing buildings, particularly office structures but residences too, are at least half empty. But the construction continues. The onetime site of a two-story P.C. Richards appliance store now features a huge high-rise with the odd monicker of Zero Irving Place. (Irving dead-ends at 14th Street, just where the building now sits.) According to the building’s bullish website, Zero Irving is an “ecosystem ideally engineered to foster growth, flexibility, productivity, and the evolution of new ideas in Manhattan’s ultimate live/work neighborhood.” We’ll see if anyone wants to live/work there anytime soon.

I passed the Strand while on the way to the bank and, with a measure of trepidation, ventured inside. There, I snagged a copy of a book whose glowing reviews have intrigued me: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a spy story, coming-of-age tale, and political drama all about a Viet Cong undercover agent’s life during the Communist takeover of South Vietnam and his migration to the U.S.A. with other Vietnamese refugees. Here, he’s supposed to keep an eye on the exiles, who of course scheme to return to their Asian home and resurrect their anti-Communist regime. In the interim, they work as cab drivers, liquor store proprietors, and clerks at universities. I’m racing through the 385-page book, anticipating getting to the sequel, The Committed, which has just been published in hardback.

Dinner: a frozen Amy’s pizza and a green salad.

Entertainment: concluding episodes of the second season of Fargo and an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

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