Post #40 - Our Day

When Lizzie was four, she had this tendency when she was introduced to people to ask them, "What's your choice?"

The person would invevitably look puzzled until either Sue or I explained that she wanted to know was when you died, did you want to be buried, cremated or frozen, like Jeff does. The person would then inevitably look for the door.

I'm not sure how that conversation originated, but I imagine we were joking over the dinner table and Lizzie overheard it or even participated in it and as a budding Nate Silver, wanted to poll others on their views.

That type of conversation continues in our house to this day; last night in fact, as we were finishing up dinner and Flossie, our two-year old golden retriever sat by Sue's chair waiting expectantly for a delicious crumb or two to fall from the dishes that were about to be cleared.

"If the virus somehow spread to the house in a new mysterious way," I asked Sue, "and you could only save either Flossie or me, who would you choose?"

The question was met with silence. Then Sue smiled at Flossie and then turned to look at me, sadly. "Well, she doesn't eat much and she never complains."

That's our dinner in the midst of a pandemic in rural New York, a small county with over 370 cases and the local hospital out of ICU beds and equipment. Sue is a magician at scrounging food from the pantry and in between the couch cushions (last night, miracle of miracle, we found an old packet of yeast, which are more valuable than gold, and Sue used it to make a foccaccia that we tore into like tigers feasting on Carole Baskin's husband). After dinner, Sue found a kind of quiz you can take online to determine what your chances were of getting the disease and if so, of surviving it. As I fiddled with the telescope, she took the test. A few minutes she said, "Jeff, come here." I heard it in her voice. It wasn't good. "Take a look," she said. The result said that she had a low chance of catching the virus but if she did, a high chance of mortality -- one in 124 cases, to be exact.

She looked miserable. I had a feeling my number would be quite different. "Plug my info in," I suggested. She did. I had a 15 percent chance of popping off if I got it. I swear for a split second she brightened at the comparison.

In our home, we go on. The humor can be pretty grim. It helps that I am writing as a way to relieve the anger that boils over and the dreads that overcome me at night (going back to when I was 12, even in the best of times I've had a thing about death — I'm against it, but so far it's a losing battle), and as it turns out I get a lot of email asking me to write about a typical day in social isolation during the pandemic.

Ok, I'm lying. I haven't gotten a single one. I have discovered Google Analytics though. This is an amazing set of statistics that tell you everything you could possible want to know about your readers. They tell you what the person does, which movies he watches, what he had for breakfast and whether or not he flosses afterward.

As it turns out that the average reader of this blog is 65 years old, looks slovenly, roots for the Mets and spends an average of 16.3 hours a day in his pajama bottoms, wasting time on the Web. Wait. That's me. No wonder I never get any email from the contact link. I'm the only reader of the blog.

 So maybe I'll lay it out all for history's sake, on the offchance that some scholar on Pluto a hundred generations from now will pick this blog off the ether and assign it to one of his earth history students and ask whether it typifies the response on Earth in the 21st century when the planet was beset by a host of plagues in the 21st Century that led to its demise: disease, hunger, climate change, war and Trump.  So, in the interest of preserving that itty bitty speck of history on our hill, this is our day.

It's a day that has no beginning and no end. Going to sleep is only a matter of being in bed for a few hours, getting up to read, write or do anything else that I attempt during daylight hours, then going back to sleep before getting up again. I'm up for good between five and six am.

After I pinch myself to make sure I am actually still alive, I make the 20-foot commute to my office, where I'll spend most of the next 16 hours. I check my email to see who wrote overnight, mostly it's newsletters but occasionally it's one of my regular correspondents. Ever since the virus became a threat here, I've made it a point to check in with friends, people I've cared about for years in some cases people I've hardly known in person but maintain an email or FB friendship with. Some are having a tough time. I often ask what I can do to help but usually there's not much that they want other than to check in and care.

Among them are my 89-year-old Aunt in Florida who is struggling to remain virus free, knowing if she catches it, she's not going to make it. In the last few years, she has taken up writing, so now she fills her days writing mystery short and scripts for Law and Order shows and worrying about her next shopping trip.

There's my friend Lee who is also in Florida, somewhat of a free spirit even into his 80s, no surprise considering that in the 1960s he was a member of the Chicago 7. Lee is mobile and sharp and does what he can to avoid the virus in an area where that is becoming increasingly difficult. He has a book coming out this year, and I know he wants to see it published. In a state that is bound to have a ventilator shortage, he is fully aware of what could lay ahead.

I hear from family occasionally. There has been tension there for quite a while. A few years ago, my brother's wife died suddenly. The times since then have been hard on him. He read yesterday's blog post that mentioned my grandmother's missing rugelach (which for some reason we called "gravy cookies" as kids) recipe that she had brought with her from Russia. He went searching for it in part because my grandmother dictated it to our Mom and when those notes faded, my sister-in-law rewrote them. Last night, he wrote that he had found it, a few scanned pages on an ipad. As pleased as he was to have located the long lost recipe, I think finding pages in his wife's handwriting made him happier. (If you are looking for a new way to plug up your coronary arteries, here is the recipe for Grandma Sonia's Gravy Cookies).

There are others, my friend Sal in Queens, a musician and music blogger who for years co-owned the best record store on the Upper West Side. He tends to worry about his health, the same way I do. He still cooks his traditional Sunday dinner though. If you want his recipe, click here. When this is over, we're all going to Sal's house for a feast. There's also Glynnis, one of my oldest friends who I met back in 1979 when she moved into the apartment I had just vacated on the Upper West Side. She's a terrific actress but it turns out an even better writer. There's David, a former Daily News culture reporter whose emails are the most entertaining I read. His notes are such a treat they are like eating a row of Mallomars. We've had a correspondence for years and have met exactly twice. There's my friend Monica, a children's writer; Rick and David, two childhood friends, out in Alaska and Oregon respectively. David's son just managed to escape from Peru, a big relief to all of us. Bill, another old friend from New York but now in LA, he and I text each other semi-regularly to cheer each other up, although we are both scared shitless; and there are a host of others who are now a regular part of my day. All the emails seem to close the same way, "Be Safe," and I hope, without knowing, that they will be. If I don't hear from them every few days, I worry and write.

Even before the virus hit but more now, as I've gotten older and looked back on my life, I occasionally write to people with whom I've lost contact over the years. It's a measure of how much esteem that they still carry for our time together that I almost never hear back. Sometimes, I hear back. One person wrote, "Thanks for the nice email. I have no idea who you are, but glad to hear from you."

After my oatmeal (the tasteless instant kind, with plant-based butter, the last of our fruit and a dab of granola, now that we no longer have any nuts, I sit before my array of medicine bottles and prepare my dessert cocktail. Then it's time to start the actual work.

On a daily basis, here is my list of tasks:
1) tie up the loose ends of my book on the Hiss case, including fact-checking and proof-reading;
2) take care of work around the house that needs to be done;
3) practice my uke;
4) read for pleasure;
5) meditate to relax;
6) return emails;
7) start the newsletter;
8) read and watch the news;
9) write the article I've long intended to write on my old friend Eliot Asinof;
10) write an op-ed for The Times that ties Hiss to the current mess in DC;
11) get some exercise;
12) go through my papers and put my life in order.
13) teach myself photography and look out at my telescope (at the stars not the neighbors)

Not surprisingly given such a surfeit of options, I choose instead to sit and stare at the screen, look out the window and fuck around on the Web, reading the news, checking in the latest info, maybe trying to write the blog. I'd like to attribute this to some kind of depression as a result of the circulating virus but the truth is my sixth grade teacher, Frank Massone, once told my parents that I might accomplish something one day, but I'd have a harder time of it because I was such a procrastinator. He never saw anyone so intent on staring out the window. Well, I'm happy to say that as a prognosticator Mr. Massone was right on the button. Even in the best of times, I've managed to turn 40 years of a working life, into about eight and a half years of work.

I have seen a lot of great sunsets though.

So, I look out the window, maybe turn on the Daily or watch a bit of CNN or, if I am in the mood to watch ads about constipation, heart disease or Crohn's Disease, I turn on MSNB.

This is where I highly recommend that anyone who can find themselves a golden retriever, even a stuffed one might do the trick Because as I watch the news, already dosed with another blood pressure to calm down a horse, the anger begins to boil up from deep within my system

grumble...grumble, grumble, Grumble, Grumble! GRUMBLE!!!!

And just at that moment when the steam begins hissing out of my ears,

Flossie trots in and puts her muzzle on my knee so I can scratch her for five minutes and as I do, my insides go

GRUMBLE!!!!, Grumble!, Grumble, grumble, grumble.

So I get to work as I have done for years. I write, I stare out the window, I stare some more, I fuck around a little, I write a little, I stare. The post or newsletter fills the rest of my day and should take an hour and a half take eight.

This goes on until the day is interrupted by our must-watch TV -- the daily Cuomo.  The time in our house is not set at AM and PM but BC and PC —  Before Cuomo and Post-Cuomo. Many native New Yorkers are surprise that Andrew Cuomo, the cantankerous, self-absorbed control freak has become a national phenomenon, but the truth is he is our cantakerous, self-absorbed control freak and as the latest numbers are showing, we're lucky he is.

PC after lunch, is the best part of our day. We take a walk, holding hands and talk about Cuomo and the virus and watch out for anyone who might approach too closely. Because I have been sick, we try for two miles, but the walk up the hill is hard, so some days I don't get out at all. If I was well and we felt ambitious, we'd take the five mile hike to visit Big Pink. Maybe in a few weeks. Still, it's hard not to notice, the days are getting warmer; the dormant plants are greening. Life goes on. We hope we do.

Then we get home and it's time to work. I think about what is going on in NYC and elsewhere.

And I stare.


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