A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 242

Monday, December 6 

A dramatic storm in the early morning hours included startling lightning and thunder. It woke me, but, I’m happy to say, Emily slept through it.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of lots of wind but there must have been some: Glancing out the window now, I can see another large oak tree has split open and fallen into the front yard. Where will the destruction end?

The tree service guy—a “Certified Arborist” no less—came by a few days ago to make an estimate on how much he’d charge to remove storm-damaged trees and limbs. (Horrifying numbers.) He said that the type of wind here has changed—nowadays, we get swirling, tornado-like winds that whip trees around in ways they aren’t prepared for. And these winds are very selective: They’ll break trees apart on one property and leave the next-door lot totally undisturbed.

I went back to sleep after the storm and dreamed that I was working in a detention facility for teenage offenders. In the dream, I have some Acetone or paint thinner, which I intend to use on a project, not sure just what. One of the boys asks if he can have some, and I pour out a bit into a jar for him. It seems the stuff can be used as invisible ink—and that’s what he intends, in a letter to someone. I say, hey, that can be traced back to me! I wash the outside of my bottle, hoping to remove fingerprints, and decide that I should get rid of the bottle.

I must be watching too many streaming-video crime dramas. They seem to be infecting my dreams.

We’ll be going back to the city again tomorrow. Emily has yet another dentist appointment on Wednesday, and I have an appointment with a neurologist on Thursday. I had a seizure a few years back, and it seems I must check in with her every so often in order to keep my Rx coming. She’ll probably send me to the NYU lab to have blood taken….

The weatherman predicts more gusting wind and a bit of rain for today. On Wednesday, there’s a 60% chance of snow here, perhaps an inch, but if temps remain in the upper 30s, even that may not happen.

Dinner: an omelet, green beans, and a baked potato. All modest offerings in order to empty out the larder.

Entertainment: final episodes of Netflix’ “The Imposters.” It’s an entertaining series about a bunch of grifters, but there are a very large number of episodes. In recent times we’ve also enjoyed the intricate Martin Scorsese kids’ movie “Hugo”; the 1976 François Truffaut flick “Small Change,” which is also about kids and their mostly innocent adventures; and the mysterious, 1990 Icelandic film “The Juniper Tree,” which is loosely based on a Brothers Grimm tale and features budding star Björk.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2021–chapter 241


Wednesday, December 1

It’s a grim period. Most of the oak trees in our neighborhood have shed their leaves—but our yard guys haven’t yet come to blow and rake them away. So an inch-thick cover of brown coats the landscape. Meanwhile, as I have already noted, several trees in our yard were decapitated or broken during a mid-November windstorm. The gimpy near-dead still haunt our property, like wounded soldiers from a recently lost war.

And it’s cold—maybe seeming to be colder than it really is, thanks to the deep darkness that descends around 4:30 p.m.

I finished reading Colm Tóibín’s The Magician—an engaging fictional life of Thomas Mann—-then having nothing better at hand, I re-read George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. The latter work is—more than I remembered—a bit like Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, as it features an exposé of the grime and exploitation behind the scenes at fancy Paris restaurants, circa 1933.

“The dirt in the Hotel X…was revolting. Our cafeterie had year-old filth in all the dark corners, and the bread-bin was infested with cockroaches….Everywhere in the service quarters dirt festered—a secret vein of dirt, running through the great garish hotel like the intestines through a man’s body. Apart from the dirt, the patron swindled the customers wholeheartedly….In spite of all this, the Hotel X was one of the dozen most expensive hotels in Paris, and the customers paid startling prices.”

In Paris, after a period of near starvation, Orwell finds a job as a plongeur, or restaurant dishwasher. Later, back in London, awaiting a gig as a tutor, Orwell falls in with the ranks of the homeless. Their rootless, exhausting lives are neither worse nor much better than the lives of Paris’ occasional laborers.

What leavens Orwell’s account are his descriptions of Paris and London characters. His Paris confrere Boris hangs out with fellow Russian expats, shares his meagre funds with Orwell, and in between periods of absolute destitution, enjoys a riotous, often-sodden bacchanalia of a life.  

Among London’s tramps, Orwell meets Paddy, who becomes a pal for a couple of weeks.  “He had two subjects of conversation, the shame and come-down of being a tramp and the best way of getting a free meal….His ignorance was limitless and appalling. He once asked me, for instance, whether Napoleon lived before Jesus Christ or after.”

Orwell reports on the relative merits of various places where tramps can get a bed for a night. Most are awful, and those who try to sleep out of doors risk being arrested by the police as “vagbonds.” But compared with other options he has described, jail may not be so bad. Near the book’s end he tells us that one chum, Bozo, had been sentenced to 14 days in Wandsworth prison for begging. “I do not suppose prison worries him very much,” says the author.

Dinner: cheese omelettes, pumpkin bread, and green beans.

Entertainment: episodes of Ashes to Ashes on Britbox and Gentefied on Netflix.