A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 253

Thursday, February 10

In the mornings when we wake up now, the days are sunny and beautiful. One can almost imagine the coming of spring. But it isn’t here yet: Yesterday I went for a walk around Maidstone Park, and it was still quite breezy and cold. 

I wasn’t alone there. There were perhaps three other walkers. And there was this funny thing I have seen before: Someone drove his/her jeep around the park’s circular drive while a plumpish dog, getting its exercise, loped along dutifully behind. I wondered how they trained the dog to do this—and whether on the first occasion, the dog worried that it was being abandoned.

Last night at 3 a.m. we were awakened by a thumping noise in another part of the house. There have been signs before that we have a mouse/mice. This time, they appeared to be playing soccer, kicking around an acorn. It went on for a time, until I got up and turned on some lights and walked out to the kitchen. I think they find their way up from the basement through the walls and into the kitchen. This morning I was relieved that I could find no further signs of a mousy visitation…no damage or nibbling of food packages.

We are planning to go back to NYC soon—not for any reason other than that we need a change.  Bit by bit, the days are getting a little longer here, but it’s still very dark: One scarcely awakens before it’s time to go back to bed. 

Mask mandates are gradually being lifted. The Times says that New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island today became the latest states to announce that they would do away with mask mandates.  (Still,  more than 200,000 new cases are announced each day and the country is reporting more than Covid 17,000 deaths each week, the most since last winter.) In the city, I will still wear my mask and keep social distance; Emily will probably limit her trips out of the apartment. I want to go up to Zabar’s for some kitchen stuff, maybe even buying an Instant Pot, which everyone else already has. It’s like a combination pressure cooker and slow cooker and could be useful in making stews and sauces. Anyway, it would be another gadget to faff around with, providing novelty during this empty time. I’m also interested in a cooking thermometer and some potholders that actually work, ours being pretty worn out.

It will be strange to go into stores or elsewhere and see people walking around maskless. Out here in the stores and at the recycling center, no one does that. 

Dinner: risi e bisi and a green salad.

Entertainment: We have now subscribed to the wonderful Criterion Channel, which has perhaps 80% of the art films you have ever wanted to see. Now admittedly, many of these are a bit aged: Bergman, Goddard, Truffaut, Fassbinder, Varda, Rivette, Chabrol, etc. We’ve now watched three Charlie Chaplin flicks (two were silent shorts), and two Jacques Tati (he only made six films). It’s such an embarrassment of riches that one is tempted to change plans at the last minute. Tonight, we may watch something newer–Terence Davies’ 1992 flick The Long Day Closes plus something else. Only time will tell.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 244

Late-day sky at Maidstone park.

December 21

We’re going back to the city again today, for more dental work. I’m hoping to make this a quickie, just in on Tuesday and back out to Long Island on Thursday. The fast-spreading Omicron variety of COVID, now very much a presence in NYC, has Emily worried, but she’s coming along to keep me company.

Last time, the dentist explained that tomorrow was the first available appointment–because the insurance wouldn’t allow one any sooner. It’s truly amazing just how much control, large and petty, these insurance companies exert over our lives.

Dinner: unknown

Entertainment: Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God on Netflix.


A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 221

Art is cute, but nature is flat out mysterious. Just what are the front-yard visitors in the second photo up to?

Sunday June 27

After a while, we couldn’t take any more of the city. So we came back to Long Island.

New York City is not what it was, of course, and even the transition back to “normality” is quite disconcerting. Some folks will assure you that the lockdown is over–yet mask-wearing is still mandatory on the subway. Most people who I saw were still wearing masks every place in public. But, then, I didn’t go out to any restaurants or night spots; the scenes there may have been quite different.

Back in March, I was fearful while in the city. During this trip, I was fearful…and suspicious. Every doctor/dentist who I saw seemed to want another visit or some second procedure. The dentist informed me that I need a crown on a tooth where there’s a “food trap.” Only a little while back, he offered reasons why there couldn’t be a crown. (Maybe he worried that insurance wouldn’t pay for it.) Fishy, no?

Most troubling of all was my experience at the Apple Store. My Mac Power Book has begun warning me that I must replace its battery soon. So I went over to the West 14th St. Store on Thursday and spoke to one person who said the battery replacement should take about an hour–but that I would need to make an appointment with someone at the “Genius Bar.” At my Friday appointment, after examining my laptop, a Genius Bar rep told me that the computer would have to be sent away for a period of 5 to 7 days, during which time it would get not only a new battery but also a new keyboard.

Really? If you Google “Mac Powerbook battery replacement,” you see information about how to do it yourself with a replacement battery purchased on Amazon.com.

I didn’t surrender the computer to them. Maybe I will do so when we return to NYC in August. Or maybe I will find another alternative. The fall-off in business during the lockdown freaked out a lot of people, who worried about eviction and bill-paying. Now, I’m afraid, some may be looking for ways to get financially healthy again.

Dinner: a Capriccio salad of fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, celery, and balsamic dressing, with asparagus on the side.

Entertainment: A Kind of Murder on Hulu.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 54

A Philadelphia rent strike poster.

Friday, May 1

There is apparently a major fire or some similar mishap in this neighborhood. Only a little while ago, there was absolute silence—now, there’s an eruption of fire-engine sirens and horn honking, all very similar to the cacophony that is common in the Union Square area of Manhattan. I’ve wandered around on the internet, looking at the local news site Long Island Patch and elsewhere, but so far there’s no indication of what’s going on. I suspect we may never know.

For the first time since 1998, the World Bank says, global poverty rates are forecast to rise. By the end of the year, 8 percent of the world’s population, half a billion people, may be pushed into destitution, largely because of the pandemic, the United Nations estimates.

There is poverty here too, in spite of the Hamptons’ reputation as a playground for spoiled kids and their rich parents. Mansions certainly do exist, but there are also modest houses and notices of food banks at the churches, libraries, and IGA groceries. “The need for food from our pantries has tripled,” says the Clamshell Alliance, a local charity.

In our immediate area, there are plenty of shotgun-style dwellings with pickups and vans in the driveway. Many of the houses seem too small to warrant the number of vehicles parked outside: mom, pop, and grown kids still living at home, maybe? Lots of these vans and pickups bear the names of small plumbing, construction, or electrician companies. Many of our neighbors appear to be representatives of an aristocracy of labor—people who are self-employed or at least able to avoid the most exploitative and punishing forms of work.

Labor Day—or May day—was once an occasion for working class protest and solidarity. Today, it is the date for a confounding and confusing set of protests: in Michigan, hundreds of protestors, some toting weapons, have invaded the state capitol, demanding an end to the COVID-19 lock-down.  According to Politico, “Operation Gridlock,” was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a DeVos family-linked conservative group.

Meanwhile, in New York, Pennsylvania, and California, thousands are protesting against the payment of rent during the pandemic. “The protest is expected to represent the largest coordinated rent strike in America in decades,” says The Guardian.

Ray Brescia, a law professor at Albany Law School, penned a rent-strike how-to that appeared in this morning’s New York Daily News. His bottom line: tenants must withhold rent, get landlords to negotiate with them as a group, and go to court together, taking advantage of a backlog of cases that could last for years, giving tenants even more leverage. But what could they get?  The author, who claims to have run rent strikes for 14 years as a New York City legal aid attorney, should give us a little more information about possible outcomes that are more than just wishful thinking.

Dinner: leftover meatballs and pasta, a lentil salad with roasted red peppers and pecans, and another salad of lettuce and avocado.

Entertainment: More episodes of Norwegian thriller Occupied, and the second episode of Brit police procedural Collateral.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 44

Once a Union Square mainstay.

Tuesday, April 21

Every day I get up, make coffee and oatmeal, and at least make a start on reading The New York Times. When in New York City—I live right on Union Square—I may go out early to Trader Joe’s or perhaps to a doctor’s appointment. Other errands may include a walk to the post office, to the Fed Ex at Astor Place where I make photocopies of this and that, and to the gym on Eighth Avenue for yoga lessons. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I generally go to the Union Square greenmarket, where farmers from New Jersey and upstate New York sell fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, cheeses, and bread.

Right now, it seems I may never perform any of these New York City errands again.

One Times story suggests that New York itself may never be the same: The article revisits a number of previous calamities to hit the city, including the September 11 terror attacks and the 1970s fiscal crisis. In the latter case, says Kathryn Wylde, president of business group The Partnership for New York City, “It took four or five years for a lot of the city to empty out,” then “it took three or four decades to bring them back.”

Empty out? Well of course, New York City is always in the process of emptying itself out and refilling. It’s not the same from one day to the next. New York’s ever-changing nature is one of the things that makes the city interesting. New restaurants and stores are always popping up. That little hole-in-the-wall place that you went to for years is likely to disappear. But then, something new, and almost as interesting, may well crop up. Tycoon Donut is long gone, but the croissants at Pain Quotidian are a pretty good if pricey replacement.

Back in the 1980s, when I first moved to New York, the Union Square area was quite dangerous. Drug deals went down regularly in the park, and the cops would go into surrounding office buildings and peer out of the windows in order to direct drug busts there. In a few years, that version of Union Square went away—taking with it such quaint and past-their-prime institutions as Luchow’s restaurant, Amalgamated Bank, and the Cedar Tavern. On the upside, replacements included such trendy if expensive hangouts as the Union Square Cafe—and, on the downside, big-box retailers including Barnes & Noble books, Kids R Us, and Staples. 

Now, facing the square, there’s little besides large retailers and mega-banks such as Chase and Citibank.

But on the side streets, there are still little shoe-repair shops, second-hand clothing places, dance studios, and an ever-expanding number of coffee joints. Within walking distance, such long-running survivors as coffee roaster Porto Rico Importing Co., Strand books, and Astor Wines & Spirits have been hanging in there. Nonetheless, in February, I began noticing a great number of vacant storefronts. Rents were to blame, I assumed—the ever-more-greedy landlords pushing the small-fry out. The landlords seem willing to suffer several months of vacancy in order to get new tenants who are able to pay market-rate prices.

And rents have risen astronomically over the decades. My dentist, whose office is in a building facing the square, told me that when he first located there back in the 1980s, his rent was a few hundred dollars a month. Now, I believe he said, the rents on his office suite run $15,000 a month. It’s anybody’s guess just how he can afford it.

Will this change? Will landlords see that they have no choice but to accept lower rents—allowing small-fry enterprises to return? And just how does this work? What invisible hands tap the landlords on the shoulder, saying: “Hey, buddy, it’s time to let the rents slide a bit.”

A few years back, Emily and I traveled to Vienna, Austria, where we stayed in a small guest house in the Neubau neighborhood. The largely residential area included a number of coffee shops, bakeries, beisls (or restaurants), the Naschmarkt (produce stalls), and innumerable little purveyors of candy, meats, toys, and so forth. Everything seemed very quaint and charming, like a visit to the early 1960s in an American town. Perhaps after a period of near-death, the East Village can become such an idyll, with a flowering of small enterprises. Maybe even Tycoon Donut will return. Stranger things have happened.

Dinner tonight (presumably after the Peapod delivery!): Black beans and rice along with a lettuce and cucumber salad.

Entertainment: There are five remaining episodes of Babylon Berlin—so a couple of those plus one Lovejoy and one Twilight Zone.