I always thought New York would do okay in a pandemic, that this city is so organized, so heavily policed, so rich, so important, and so proud that nothing too nasty would occur.
I thought we’d have seen the pandemic recede by now. I’d be pounding out warnings about the next wave, next year. It wouldn’t be as bad as this one, merely god-awful. People would go back to ignoring me during the second hiatus. I wouldn’t take it personally. I’d be traveling with Anna.
Instead I’m living in a city whose death toll is rumored to have reached a third of those who catch H5N1. There are still lots of untouched subjects. No one planned for this.
What broke the camel’s back? New York’s snappy, can-do façade melted down in a four-story Bronx tenement. A grieving dad is accused of torching his apartment because the city never picked up the corpses of his wife and two kids. Understaffed firefighters got a few folks out and cleared neighboring buildings.
The next day they discovered five additional corpses presumed killed in the blaze. Yesterday they found three more. That’s 11 bodies in a total of 36 apartments.
Now we’re told they all seem to have died before the fire. There was no smoke in their lungs. Most were decomposing.
New York City is full of corpses. The difference between the Middle Ages and our exalted moment is that they used to send wagons around to collect the dead. Even in the morbid mess that was Philadelphia in 1918, a Catholic priest revived the death-wagon to useful effect.
What shocks me is that the mainstream media is reporting the Bronx “tragedy.” Editorials shriek for accountability. Why the sudden concern? Where were they when the LES DIY was spiritedly debating what to do with departed East Villagers?
Our leaders promise that the RAISE conscription program will solve everything, and not a moment too soon. (Is that why this mess is being reported?) It will be managed by the ubiquitous contractors that bilked the government for so much—in exchange for so little—in Iraq, Afghanistan, and New Orleans. Contractors will even police the drafting of American citizens for RAISE. They will assemble fresh databases on us. No doubt they’ll sell them to big corporations when marketing is back in vogue.
I'm staggered at the thought that the government will force us to work for companies. Even in privately run prisons, labor is still considered 'voluntary.' (Inmates are exploited for profit in public prisons, too.)
The grand prize awaits prison contractors that branch into administering and enforcing RAISE's flu draft. If we cooperate, we work for them. If not, they get to lock us up at government expense. No American left unmonetized.
I propose a far simpler plan. If New York can find some oats, Central Park’s idled tourist carriages could fetch our loved ones. They could begin by trotting over for Stefan, who expired just when I had begun to think he’d make it. (Of course I informed the city.)
The LES DIY: Anarchy with Purpose
They’d better be careful if and when they come for him. Front doors in my neighborhood carry warnings that strangers found inside will be killed. One screams NO QUESTIONS under a vivid skull crossed with AK 47s. It’s nice to see that artists still breathe here.
The LES DIY proceeds as best it can, without fear or resources. The medical side has gotten stronger. Doctors and nurses who were decertified for "unprofessional activity"—helping ordinary people in an emergency—are still at it in an undisclosed location. People from the projects and some idled yuppies have infused fresh blood. Cultures have melded unbelievably well. This squad fights flu like a complex animal, a living unit. When someone falls ill or is forced to withdraw, a newcomer springs up to kick butt.
Members who fall ill know that the others will watch their kids, pets, or parents. Trust has become contagious. I’ve never witnessed anything like this.
There’s none of the usual East Village bickering or tardiness or excuses for nonperformance. They talk a load of crap sometimes, but if I were ever in a war, I’d want this motley gang—freaky men and women, and teens, too—at my side. And behind me.
There are similar groups in the suburbs, cities, small towns, reservations. They are democratic manifestations of what is best in all of us. Anarchy with purpose.
Screw RAISE. They’re a fig leaf for state expansion.
Self-help groups need more members, more resources. Look over your home supplies for things you may have overstocked. Give them to folks who will make you proud to have been a part of your community when this thing ever ends.