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Wednesday
Sep232009

Day 143: Toast to Friendship—& Food

I apologize for overlooking the hospitals. It is said they are okay. An acquaintance who works for a newspaper reports that this isn’t quite true. You wouldn’t know it to read his paper, which incessantly hails the medical system’s inspirational performance.

I don’t doubt that most nurses, doctors, and technicians are giving their best.

Hospitals operate at 80% to 90% capacity in the best of times. The last numbers I saw, the city had 3,000 ventilators and not much more than 1,700 intensive care unit beds to serve more than 8 million residents. The hospitals were trying to get more of everything but patients. Guess what grew fastest?

Security! There are armed guards everywhere.

HEAPS OF FOOD...IN ODESSA, UKRAINE (Jewgienij Bal)So far we have hundreds of flu deaths per day here, publicly noted. There are undoubtedly others moldering alone, at home. Half of Manhattan’s apartment-dwellers live alone. Solitude is a staple of our lives. The other half is getting dangerously crowded. Each economic downturn since the one that began in 2008 has caused more families to jam together in single dwellings.

In a pinch, we’re supposed to call hotlines staffed by people who don’t know much because the professionals are in the trenches. Fitch’s sister reached a woman who confessed that she normally takes cash in the hospital cafeteria.

A lot of communities have resorted to automated distress lines. A RAND Corporation report in 2008 deemed message systems starkly inferior to live lines that connect callers to public health professionals within 30 minutes.

If you’re lucky enough to reach sentient operators, make the most of it. Don’t abuse them. It’s traumatic responding to hours and hours of frantic pleas, especially when you haven’t much aid to offer. (Watch the Constantines perform Hotline Operator in tribute to those whose mercy we’ll all need someday.)

Evelyn has written to express her condolences about Lisa and Nina and to say that the LES DIY will try to spur the city to pick up Lisa’s corpse. The Irishman and I have been calling every few hours. I think an operator recognized my voice today, before hanging up.

My Ukrainian neighbor seems to have mastered how to wear the mask I gave him. (The others are griping about having to pay because they know he didn’t.) I’m not sure "Stefan" cares enough to wear the mask each time he goes out—or to return for it if he remembers he forgot—so I visit him in fully protected mode when he rings.

Stefan’s quick to hoist two glasses of vodka (not shot glasses) and goad me till I take one. I suspect he’s a terminal fatalist who won’t just get sick. He’ll either be very lucky or he’ll blow to pieces. Either way, he’ll never run out of vodka, which he calls horilka. He’s prepared for a Second Flood.

He humors my medical lectures so long as I drink with him. It’s a worthy cause that gives us both a kick. Having lived through three winters of the Nazi occupation that killed 7.5 million Ukrainians (counting Jews), Stefan calls our pandemic “a spring wind."

It’s strange and wondrous how being kind can be so rewarding. I think Ayn Rand would smile on his vigorous speeches, and on my choice to help him. I’m lonely. He’s my bristle-browed man Friday, though assuredly retired from work.

Stefan is running out of the canned fish that sustains him most nights. Choose To Send Food! We who are about to starve implore you.

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