A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 268

A movie still from George Lucas’ THX 1138.

Sunday, June 19

The NYU medical facility that I visited on Thursday is a strange, futuristic place. It has taken me a few days to come to grips with just how alien the edifice truly is.

First of all, the NYU Langone Ambulatory Care Center is located at the intersection of 41st Street and the hyper-literally named Tunnel Exit Street. (The latter could serve as the title for its own, DeLillo-esque novel.) A very sterile, anonymous building suitable for an IRS office or Postal Services headquarters, you enter via self-operated revolving doors: An artificial intelligence seems to sense your presence. 

Proceeding through a capacious lobby, you go to the elevator bank that’s specified for your floor.  In an ordinary building, you’d just press the UP button. But here, that’s only the first step: Don’t avert your gaze, the button has questions. Enter your floor number please—then it will tell you which of four lifts you should enter, A1, A2, A3, or A4. 

(It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the elevator bank was expecting someone like me to go to floor 15 at around this time of day. A computer likely links the elevators to a schedule of appointments.)

I am the only passenger on A4, and it takes me directly to floor 15—no escape to another floor is possible since there are no numbered buttons inside the elevator. Once on 15, I find myself in another large, mostly empty lobby. Here and elsewhere, NYU has these handprint ID machines. It looks like you just place your palm on the mechanical palm-print insignia, and you are recognized and given entry. But I have never been able to make these devices work.

Fortunately, there’s one other human present. Behind a very long counter sits a lone receptionist—a Black woman with preposterously extended artificial eyelashes that curl up and touch her forehead. She asks if I have an appointment and what is my birthdate. Once cleared, I am directed to go to the waiting area, another substantial area filled with tidy rows of auditorium-appropriate furniture. There I will be the only human in sight. 

Not to belabor the point, but doesn’t all this seem rather Kafkaesque—or perhaps like a venue appropriate to an early George Lucas flick? I am also reminded of W.G. Sebald’s description of the simultaneously pharaonic and ultra-modern Bibliothèque nationale de France, a place that seems violently antithetical to the very notion of anything so quaint as a book or a word constructed of mere letters.

I survived my own encounter with the NYU machine, met with a doctor, and left in under an hour. No security-uniformed android interrupted my progress.

Dinner: wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, couscous, and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ You Don’t Know Me.

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