Thursday, August 20, 2020

Family dinner with precautions

Greetings from Coronavirusland! We went up north, to Maine for a month and a half to see if we could work in the countryside, but it was difficult. You can’t stop thinking about a plague (even when the butterflies cluster over the echinacea). When you climb up a mountain and pass people on a narrow trail not wearing masks, you fumble and curse to yourself. After one fantastic hike, we sat by the lake to eat, and had to throw on our masks when about eight people gathered uncomfortably near us to take pictures of the view.

Some of the local East Blue Hill folk were wearing masks (indeed, some insisted upon it), but others were offended. The lady at the post office didn’t wear a mask, and kept trying to talk to me through the hole under her plexiglass screen. We ran into a few individuals who felt that they lived too far from the disease to be affected by it. They felt insulted that we sat six feet apart from them at a dinner table. “There’s nothing wrong with me; I would know.” It is very hard to absorb the notion of an asymptomatic infection. Perfectly intelligent people get flummoxed by having to put the risk of infection ahead of a personal relationship. “But we’re friends, I’m sure none of us have it,” was a common logical trap.

This week, we returned to find New York had one of the lowest infection and death rates in the country. Restaurants were open along 7th Avenue and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, putting tables in the street where the parking spaces used to be. The rule is to wear your mask until you’re served, but we saw this rule broken everywhere. Keep it on when you’re not eating or drinking. We went to a favorite restaurant in Fort Greene last night, outdoors on the street, tables six feet apart. Sunset and steak frites. Patrons brought their dogs and puppies. The wine list was limited—stock was low; it was clear the restaurant was struggling to get back on its feet. Still, my first steak in six months was pretty good.

The NY Times reports 173,095 mortalities in the United States today, mostly in the south and midwest.

All the novels I read about people living during periods of turmoil and flux, whether wars, or insurrections, have been coming back to me. I understand the tone in a way I didn’t before. Time, for example, is defined differently during a crisis. There was the ‘before’ and there’s the awful ‘now’ and the doubtful ‘next year.’ People who were fine pre-Covid are rattled and unsure, now. Businesses one considered to be stable been driven into the ground. That changeability is unnerving. The lack of ease in conversations with friends and brief chats on the street is another symptom of crisis. Even talk of next week is cautious, because another bomb may drop in the newspaper headlines. ‘Who knows what’s going to happen when winter comes,’ is a common phrase. We are warned by epidemiologists and pundits about an infection spike when we can no longer be outdoors. Students who went to college two weeks ago are being sent home. Cities that promised onsite schooling are reconsidering. Everything is up in the air.

City people have moved out to the suburbs, fed up with their four-walled lives, or fearful of increased crime. The video-economy is here, although with caveats. My son won’t be taking college classes by Zoom. It doesn’t work for him. Human contact is more than preferable, it is vital.



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