A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 264

Saturday, May 14

More startling developments of the past few years have come to light. Here are some that should have been on my recent list: 

*During 2020, gun deaths in the U.S. rose to the highest number ever recorded, more than 45,000. This resulted in part from a pandemic-paranoia-inspired gun-buying spree. The homicide rate was  the highest since 1994, but half of all deaths were suicides. Black men ages 15 to 34 accounted for 38% of all gun homicide victims in 2020, even though this group represented just 2% of the U.S. population.

*After a 30% increase in drug-overdose deaths during 2020, the rise continued with overdose deaths rising another 15% in 2021. A growing share of deaths involve fentanyl, a class of potent synthetic opioids that are often mixed with other drugs, and methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant. 

*On May 12, 2022 Biden announced that the COVID death total in the U.S. had reached one million.

*The first image of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy has been exhibited by the Event Horizon Telescope, an international scientific collaboration.

In personal—and much less galactic—news, we have purchased the 2019 Subaru Outback that we have leased for the past three years. This especially makes sense as we have driven it so little over the period of the pandemic—our odometer shows a bit over 12,000 miles. Kelley Blue Book online shows similar cars selling for around $32,000. If so, ours has barely depreciated, $34,343 being the value at the time of the lease in May of 2019. And all told, we paid a lot less than either figure.

I have been reading the literary novel/high-grade science fiction work Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The central development of the book is a global pandemic that wipes out 99% of humanity. The author caught a wave, as she published the book in 2014, just ahead of the real-world pandemic. Reading the book is a weird experience: The events it describes are much more dire than those we have undergone. But you can easily imagine that things might have turned out something like they do in Station Eleven–or that an even more severe, coming pandemic could have some of the characteristics Mandel describes.

Large cities have been mostly abandoned. Small bands of human survivors live in former suburban fast-food joints and abandoned airports. People break into a Chili’s to scavenge food; otherwise they eat deer or other slain animals. The highways are clotted with abandoned cars, some containing dead victims of the plague. There is no gasoline, no transport at all, and no electricity. Small bands of whacked-out youth, often led by Manson-like “prophets,” roam the countryside, seeking people and things to exploit. Everyone carries weapons.

It’s all horrifying—and spellbinding.

Dinner: Szechuan eggplant and fresh asparagus.

Entertainment: a re-watch of season two of the hugely popular Scandi noir, The Bridge (2012).

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 109

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

Monday, July 6

I just returned from taking the car to the Subaru dealer. It’s due for an oil change and NY State Inspection, and I received a letter from Subaru headquarters of a parts recall: It seems the fuel pump must be replaced. 

Two sentences worthy of General Jack D. Ripper inform me that  “your vehicle may be equipped with a low-pressure fuel pump assembled with an impeller that may become deformed. Over time, the impeller may become deformed enough to interfere with the body of the fuel pump, potentially causing the low-pressure fuel pump to become inoperative.”

In other words, terminate the old fuel pump…”terminate with extreme prejudice.”

So I left my car there for fixin’ and drove back in a loaner Subaru Forester. The replacement continues the manufacturer’s hyperactive tendency toward feature creep—this one has a push button ignition that takes some getting used to. The radio has a mind of its own. To turn it off, it’s not enough to press the on-off button. You have to open the driver’s side door.

The dealership, meanwhile, surprised me by seeming quite pandemic-ready. Everyone had face masks. I was instructed to wait outside until there were fewer customers waiting inside. There was plenty of social distancing complete with boxes marked on the floor indicating just where customers should stand. They ensured me that the loaner had been disinfected and that my car will be disinfected before they return it. I needn’t pick up my car until tomorrow—it was a one-and-a-half hour drive over to Riverhead—at which time I can return the loaner. 

But I can’t keep the loaner beyond 48 hours and must return it with the same amount of gasoline it had when I took possession. Hey, will the budget brand Coastal gas be OK? You bet.

On the way back home, I stopped at the Water Mill farm stand we have regularly visited over the years. They had plenty of everything—I got four ears of corn plus some sugar-snap peas. The weeks have coasted past so quickly that I hardly expected to see summer produce there. Again, both customers and workers had face masks. And there was lots of Plexiglas dividing cashiers from customers. The Plexiglas makers must be raking in the dough.

Tonight’s dinner: leftover chicken paprikash, pasta, and a lettuce, cucumber, and radish salad.

Entertainment: We’ve had severe troubles connecting to the Internet over the past few days, probably due to the large number of people out here, jamming up the Wi-Fi space. We finally watched the last few minutes of season three of Broadchurch on Sunday night. We’ll have to see how it goes tonight—there may be nothing doing.