I’ve put this off long enough. Everything I’ve done for a long time has been governed by superstition, so I must believe that journals bring bad luck. But I wish I’d kept a daily record in the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, and along with that collapse, the loss of the sense of security that I’d been taught was part of the American promise. I watched 9/11 unfold in real time, with one eye on the towers, until they weren’t there, and another on the clock, and the news on in the far room, providing reports that contradicted what I could glean through my senses. The slipperiness of the official story and the landslide of conspiracy theories that followed has left me with muddier memories of those days than I’d like. I don’t want to repeat that mistake. For the sake of my own sanity, and whatever small amount of alacrity I have left, I’m going to start taking notes.
After two days indoors, we left the house to put air in the tires of the bicycles. On my way to the basement, I passed our neighbors on the stairs — a young couple expecting a child. They’re very friendly, and they smiled at me, but they were keen to keep that state-suggested six feet between us. It’ll be that way for months. For those of us who are already prone towards feelings of social alienation, it’s going to be tough to manage the estrangement.
All of the tire shops in the neighborhood were closed, so we rode to 12th St. and the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. Very few cars were heading into the city. The gas stations were empty. The attendant sat in a chair on the tarmac by the pumps — it was a very nice day — and watched us as we filled up. Hilary told him to stay safe.
Many more pedestrians on Newark Avenue than we reckoned there’d be. The Van Hook specialty shop was preparing for its day, and one of the cheese-wallahs was crouched by the window with a magic marker, addressing boxes for curbside pickup. We found P&K Market open, stocked, and with few souls in the store. The crowds at the grocery and the pharmacy during the weekend had been terrifying; reminiscent of Sandy, but with a feeling of desperation and fatalism unusual for Jersey City. 7 p.m. curfew on both of these establishments. Get back from work quick, if you’re going to go to work, which you might not.
News on at home, which is probably a mistake. It’s tough to shut it off. If there’s a request for tanks or road closings or a general lockdown order brewing, it’ll probably be tipped by the networks before it appears on Twitter. Yesterday Mayor De Blasio told New Yorkers to prepare to shelter in place before the Governor contradicted him; it’s hard to tell if they’re just trying to get their stories straight before they seal the doors. I don’t know how they’d begin to enforce a shelter-in-place order, but I do notice that at least one military ship — a hospital ship, we’re told — is coming to New York City. Meanwhile, celebration in some busy Internet warrens (mainly QAnon) over vague reports that Oprah Winfrey has been arrested for child trafficking. This prompted Oprah to get on the social networks and proclaim her innocence. Rookie move, Oprah; it’s been years since anybody has been inclined to disconnect the dots. Apophenia, the psychiatrists tell us, is a warning sign for schizophrenia, and it’s quite possible that America has lost its marbles so far under the couch that they’ll never be retrieved.
But even the most ardent QAnon conspiracist will soon have to own up to the hard facts whistling in the wind all over the land. My cousin caught the virus in Colorado. She’s young and healthy and recovered pretty quickly; she told me over text that it wasn’t as rough as the flu. Brad’s neighbor across the hall has it. Non-elective surgeries have been postponed at Hackensack General, and they’ve been building tents in the parking lot. I’m mostly worried about getting Hilary sick: I can’t let that happen. We don’t know how immunocompromised she is, and I don’t want to find out the hard way. She’s been through too much to get hit with a superbug. I cannot and will not be a vector. For now, there’s no trouble staying home: I have plenty of assignments to do from here, though I’ll see how long that lasts. Mostly I feel smeared, like a computer screen smudged with thumbprints and indifferently wiped. It’s quiet outside — nobody on the road. I hope they keep the streetlights on.