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Day 142: Latest Pandemic Casualty—Free Speech

New York City has banned demonstrations and imposed a curfew from dusk to dawn. I don’t think it’s legal, but few seem to care. From what I’ve gathered, the cops were already making pedestrians unwelcome at night. They do that a lot in good times here.

There are exceptions: Anyone with identification confirming that they work in health care, transportation, utilities, food delivery, social services, finance, or information technology or provision (which can include couriers) may sample the darkness.

They will hope not to run into anyone looking for emergency medical care. The desperately sick-but-mobile are restrained only by their frailties.

THE 1918 PANDEMIC ENGULFED THE US ARMY, WHICH SPREAD IT EVERYWHEREI kinda feel for the masked men in blue charged with keeping folks off the street. They’ll be sifting through business cards that list strange tech occupations for companies with snazzy, meaningless names, trying to figure out if the bearer should be seized and exposed to other unfortunates in the Tombs. Listen up, youse guys: we need volunteers to frisk self-proclaimed flu carriers! The city intends to set up email accreditation, which might someday be useful.

A new local blog, The Tribulation Beat, says makeshift prisons are being created in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. At least one consists of tents. No concentrated camping in my yard, says Manhattan! (Hurts real estate values.) No word from FEMA as to plans for those camps people are always going on about.

So help me, I did find a U.S. Army “
Civilian Inmate Labor Program” that authorizes creation of labor camps and prisons for civilians on Army bases; if that’s not freaky enough, Halliburton subsidiary KBR was contracted to support “establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities ... in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster.” So said KBR’s PR. Best of all, there are jobs to be had: Become a U.S. Army Internment/Resettlement Specialist (31E).

Need I mention again that experts always agree that locking people up won’t stop the pandemic? In 1918 the flu broke out fastest and worst in crowded military bases.

Rejecting calls to criminalize the shaking of hands or cheek-to-cheek, kiss-kiss greetings, a city council majority urges us not to touch and jacks up penalties for spitting. The latter took guts: A lot of New York voters expectorate with conviction.

Turning to the demand side of human circulation, the city has banned sporting events. Also verboten are political rallies and assemblies, instantly the subject of free-speech lawsuits. Elections are big business. Politicians who support postponing them are playing with fire. They could lose TV face time for threatening to deprive the networks of lucrative attack ads—and television and the Web are all that remain to campaign on during a pandemic.

I don’t see how this can be enforced, but the subways are closed to riders who lack surgical or N95 masks. The city’s stockpile frequently runs out at individual stations. Crafty folks have apparently started selling used paper masks to wannabe riders. Not recommended, but New Yorkers are always in a hurry. (Getcha masks here, used only by great-grannies who survived the Great Pandemic.)

Schools shall remain closed until further notice. Precocious kids will live off the land. There are mountains of garbage and brigades of rats. The sewers are clogging up.

Churches, synagogues, and mosques are requested to close, with mixed results. Some are setting up videoconferenced services on the Web. Others continue to assemble the faithful. How can elected officials stand up to the religious establishment when even agnostics are praying for the flu to relent?

Funerals ‘Discouraged’ as Corpses Proliferate

Funerals are still permitted, though “discouraged.” Web ceremonies will become standard procedure, so long as the Internet holds up. Soon there won’t be coffins. I hope New York has enough body bags. I wish I had one for Lisa.

Weddings are effectively banned; the city reassigned the clerks who give out licenses.

Homelessness is more vexing than ever. It might amount to state euthanasia to cram vagabonds into the Tombs. Might as well give them tainted blankets and let ‘em die peacefully in the useless ATM parlors.

The commercial interests closed fast on Round Two’s opening day. Bars, restaurants, gyms, and most stores remain shut.

A lot of the city’s police, firefighters, sanitation workers, and paper pushers live in the suburbs and couldn’t get to work if they tried. Wisely, the city is sending fleets of school buses upstate to pick up suburbanite public workers. Some don’t seem to be home.

I gather that only drugstore chains and food markets and hardware stores are welcoming the rare passersby into rooms of empty shelves guarded by extremely large men who are presumably armed.

I have no idea what anyone is doing for money. I haven’t left my apartment.

It feels hot and sticky and hopeless tonight. The city pleads for us not to use air conditioning unless we are feverish. Who can tell the difference? Some of us dread what a blackout might bring. Others keep their AC going; you can tell by the closed windows and the drip drip drips from above.

Tomorrow will be hotter, stickier. Part of me is relieved that I don’t have to share this sweatbox with my crusty Ninotchka. The rest of me fears for her. I pity anyone who’s alone—no Sneeky, no blog with lively readers—in this city. It’s so bleak here.

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