A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 73

A Peapod delivery truck.

Thursday, May 21

Today marks eleven weeks that we have been in the COVID-19 lockdown.

I spent a miserable morning trying to pay my East Hampton real estate taxes—being defeated by a bewildering online system, stupified by a non-functioning pay-by-phone thing, and finally surrendering and just mailing in checks to an office that almost certainly isn’t open. 

The East Hampton Star says that the Suffolk County executive has announced that those who are having difficulty paying may delay their tax payments. Once the governor’s office issues an executive order approving a delay, “the deadline to file taxes for those approved will be July 15,” the newspaper says. Huh? Once approved but only for those approved? 

“The plan provides for individuals who have lost 25 percent or more of their income or are awaiting unemployment benefits, and businesses with a net profit of $1 million or less that have experienced a 50 percent or greater loss of income or are waiting for P.P.P. payments would be able to apply for the relief with a form attesting to their need.” A form? Taxes are due in ten days, so that’s an awful lot of stuff that has to happen first. 


Peapod sends Emily a message saying that their food-delivery truck will be coming between 4:59 p.m. and 6:59 p.m. She thinks the message suggests that the drivers are closely monitored. I think it resembles the 99¢ rule.

We’ve been watching a bit of the Netflix nature documentary Our Planet narrated by David Attenborough. Not to overdramatize, but our lives are a little bit like those of the wild animals in the documentary: They spend all their time hunting for or chasing after food—and we spend a lot of our time and effort doing the same. Meanwhile, the food-seekers are themselves being pursued by predators—and so are we! What is scarier, a jaguar or the coronavirus? At least the wildebeest can see the big cats or wild dogs that descend on them. We cannot see COVID-19.

The Peapod truck arrives almost an hour early, at 3:55. It is a fairly good haul, but there were 15 out-of-stock items, including toilet paper (of course), Kalamata olives, yeast (of course), lettuce, bok choy, carrots, avocados, apricot preserves, and Haagen Dazs vanilla bean ice cream. Lots of ramen, though, peanut butter, and Lipton chicken noodle soup.

Tonight’s dinner: Potato soup made with our newly arrived spuds, green salad, and corn muffins.

Entertainment: Two episodes of British thriller Retribution.

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