A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 58

Signs of the times at the East Hampton Recyling Center.

Tuesday, May 5

Maybe I’ll start carving slashes in the wall to mark off the days….

You remember those movies. Humphrey Bogart or some such hardboiled type is thrown into the clink—likely on trumped up charges. In his loneliness, he makes a pet of a cockroach. Then, using a purloined spoon, each day he hews marks on the wall so he won’t lose track of how long he’s been in confinement.

Not to overdramatize or anything.

But in our confinement, one does lose track of time, and the future stretches out dauntingly. News reports say that even the mentally challenged Trump administration admits that daily fatalities may double in the next few weeks. Even the most optimistic of realists say they imagine the quarantine stretching out to the end of June. Few of my contacts would be surprised if it lasted longer, and Emily’s college-student niece, soon to be a senior, is wondering if her actual classes will ever resume. His other daughter, currently living in Colorado, has applied for a job in their home state of Massachusetts supervising “contact tracing.” I can’t imagine just what skills are needed for such a post.

I’m putting this quote from the Times here so I don’t lose track of it: “Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, published an analysis last week describing three possible pandemic wave scenarios through the end of 2021: a series of repetitive smaller waves that gradually diminish over time; a sharp rise in cases in the fall and one or more subsequent smaller waves; and a ‘slow burn’ of continuing transmission, without a clear wave pattern.”

Last night’s telephone conversation with Emily’s brother underscored just how lucky we—and other retirees—are. We have health care, thanks to Medicare and Medicare supplements. With a little bit of stress on our memories, we can arrange for all our bills to be paid. So our only hardships are frivolous—getting groceries and accepting lengthy hair that makes one appear to be in need of love beads and bell-bottom pants. Hey, let’s listen to the White Album again!

Soon, I will venture out, accoutered in my disposable, made-in-China face mask. Of the three masks Emily ordered from Etsy, only one has arrived—and given its gaudy pattern, I’m not sure I want to be seen wearing it.

Outdoors, there’s that irony that I’m getting a bit used to: Electric green trees and flowering magenta shrubs are detonating with vigorous health, amid the possible decline and fall of the human race. There are few cars on the road, although the street-repair crews and utilities linemen have been very beaverish lately, forcing drivers into patterns of intermittent yielding and lane-weaving. The recycling center is not crowded, and everyone present maintains a proper social distance, as they are instructed to do by prominent signs.

At the small shopping area called Amagansett Square, there are also plenty of signs about precautions to be taken during the pandemic. The fancy cheese store turns out to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The restaurant called Meeting House is likewise clearly closed, but exotic pop music resounds from an outdoor speaker. Coffee seller Jack’s, however, is busy attending to a dozen customers. One of the workers there says the store has been “crazy busy,” she doesn’t know why. Most everything else in Amagansett, except for the liquor store, is closed. Essential supplies, coffee and liquor.

Two weeks from now, we’re supposed to start getting warm weather.

I can recall some depressing summers from the past. Generally, I think I felt that way when the near future was very unknown. Inevitably, the coming summer will also be suffused in mystery about the shape of things to come.

Dinner: canned Progresso split pea soup, corn muffins, baked potatoes, and green salad.

Entertainment: I’m still into the Norwegian thriller Occupied, but its suspense doesn’t compare with the suspense we experience on a daily basis.