A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 143

Sunday, September 6

I can report that there are plenty of vacated storefront spaces along once-busy Broadway near 23rd St. and also along Park Avenue South.  Many of these are former “fast casual” food outlets—three spaces in a row along Park Avenue South near 23rd St.

It’s easy to see how you could let your COVID-19 guard down in the city. There seem to be many fewer people around—although since it’s Labor Day weekend, maybe that’s to be expected. Many people are wearing masks—although there were plenty of maskless folks enjoying the late summer sun today in Madison Square Park. 

And why should we arrange to have food delivered given that there’s a well-stocked supermarket right across the street from our apartment? Yesterday I went to the greenmarket and got Italian prune plums for a dessert, then into the Food Emporium for milk, chicken, scallions, and Pecan Sandies.

I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping—not sure just why.  Free-floating anxiety…dislocation? There is more noise here than out in East Hampton, but I was waking early out there, too. Yesterday I got up at around 6 a.m., went out shopping early, then felt crummy for the rest of the day, unable to nap. It’s possible that the body aches and disorientation I experienced were a delayed reaction to the flu shot that I got on Friday. Today I did much better, waking at 7 a.m., but then going back to sleep until nearly 9 a.m. I had one dream that placed a cast of former BusinessWeek characters at a Bridgehampton antique store (one was painting a self-portrait), and another dream involving a dangerously careening, model airplane-size drone. How could any of this be wish fulfillment, Mr. Freud? Am I wishing to be reunited with my former BW colleagues—at a Hampton’s antique store?

More likely it is the “reverse learning” designed to remove batches of “neural garbage” from the brain, as Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison suggested in a classic Nature magazine article.

While I am rattling on about our comfy diet, many Americans are really suffering as an article in today’s Times Magazine illustrates. It has a short overview of hunger in America since the 1930s, making it clear that any “emergency” shortages are in fact permanent, often-overlooked problems.

Dinner: broiled eggplant slices with tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese, cold noodles with sesame sauce, and a plum and graham cracker crumble for dessert.

Entertainment: more of Netflix’ Young Wallander.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 136

English Breakfast tea in the afternoon.

Sunday, August 23

It’s amazing how much time we spend planning. Currently, we have to ponder three matters: things we want to have delivered on Wednesday for a few days’ meals here, foodstuffs we can take back to NYC with us on Monday the 31st, and what stuff to bring back to East Hampton when we return from the city. 

Of course they have groceries in the city, but it may take a couple of days to figure out non-risky ways to acquire it: venturing down the elevator across the street to the Food Emporium and back home vs. getting Instacart deliveries? It seems a bit preposterous to give so much thought to matters that I once performed routinely. But we’ve been very careful during the lockdown weeks since early March, and we’re likely to continue our cautious approach back in NYC.

Our current plan is to drive back to the city on the day of Emily’s mammogram appointment, then after I drop her off at Weill-Cornell Hospital, I’ll somehow park and wait in the car for her. That way, when she’s done she won’t have to get a taxi or face the daunting task of taking a subway down from East 61st St. to Union Square. Unhappily, this also means we will be returning around 7:30 or 8 p.m. to an apartment that has been uninhabited since March 5. What will we find there? Dust…desolation…withered plants? Hot and airless rooms? Rotting food in a smelly refrigerator?

I think I have been extra dutiful in paying bills for stuff we’re not using there, such as electricity or cable TV. So nothing should have been shut off—but there will likely be something unexpected.

Back here, we got a new bread machine, which I am now taking for a maiden voyage. Several inadequate loaves made with the old machine persuaded me that we ought to just get a new one. So this is an “Amazon Basics” machine, delivered on Friday. It seems like a VW Beetle of a machine, basics indeed.

As an anniversary present, Emily got us two hand-thrown pottery mugs for afternoon tea. Pretty nice, as you can see above.

Dinner tonight: an onion-and-cheese frittata, wok-charred snow peas and scallions, and bread-machine bread.

Entertainment: the concluding episodes of Netflix’ Alta Mare, season one.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 45

A gentleman at his leisure

Wednesday, April 22

Amid the pandemic, everyday life with its attendant tragedies goes on. Yesterday, Emily’s best friend experienced a non-coronavirus death in her family: Ollie, her cat, died of lymphoma. He was an interesting guy—charismatic and nosy; athletic; and prone to eating the victuals that really belonged to his sister, Violet. A departure before his time. Emily’s friend and Violet are very upset.

Peapod continues to be frustrating. They delivered a great deal of stuff, but it’s hard not to focus on the things they left out. We received 52 requested items, but 28 others were “out of stock.” We got a surprising amount of chicken—more than we asked for, 10 cutlets in two packages. But we’re missing some ingredients needed to turn those cutlets into familiar dishes, including walnuts, mushrooms, lemons, canned tomatoes, scallions, and wine vinegar. Also no lettuce, napkins, or raisins—but lots more frozen green beans, which Peapod seems to regard as an acceptable substitute for a wide range of other vegetables.

We worried a lot about a predicted thunderstorm, then the delivery came just minutes before the heavens opened. Rather than wiping things down outside as the experts recommend, we brought everything just inside the front door. Then we wiped all the cans down with paper towels soaked in diluted bleach. Boxes got a dry wipe, fresh vegetables only a rinse in the sink.  Everything not needing refrigeration is condemned to remain for a couple of days in an area we can largely avoid. All of this behavior is per a doctor’s Youtube video on how to manage your deliveries.

A question for today: Can I really get myself to read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, or is that classic opus just too punishing for right now? The work, and its protagonist Raskolnikov, are frequently mentioned in films and articles—and surely the people who mention them are no smarter than I am. I’ll give it a try but probably fail. 

One obscure short story collection that I can recommend: The Word of the Speechless by Julio Ramon Ribeyro (New York Review Books). A back-cover blurb from Mario Vargas Llosa calls the author “a magnificent storyteller.” One nifty example is the six-page “Doubled,” all about a man’s journey to the antipodes (yes, I had to look that up) and an experience with his doppelganger.

Tonight’s dinner: With our recently delivered eats in quarantine, we’ll have leftover black beans and rice, okra from the freezer, and coleslaw.

Entertainment: One outrageous episode of Black Mirror, two of Babylon Berlin, and one of Darkwater Fell.