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Day 34: From the Food Goddess to Elizabeth Taylor

The world outside strives to look normal. Nina stayed in, responding in ‘normal’ fashion to calls from her office. The bank is reanimating, even if she’s not.

Ric will reopen his restaurant when things settle down. The LES DIY members have put aside their protective gear and are debating whether (and how) to keep their soup kitchen going if (and when) he clears them out.

The woman who runs the food operation looks on grimly as her volunteers grumble. Two of them are calling Ric—their mentor—the *&@%$^ embodiment of greed. Some religious members are complaining about some of the spoken words.

THIS TRAIN MOVES MORE THAN PEOPLEI’ve learned that the food czar lost her daughter in the first onrush of flu. That would be a month ago—or even less—which explains the anguish I witnessed in the back garden. I don’t see how she manages to work so hard. I guess it makes her feel better to help people, a wonderful kind of functional grieving. I applaud from afar (as other Randians call me a fraud).

Like so many East Villagers, this woman looks great in black—light, airy fabrics.

She can be tough: Faced with a colorful and contentious gang that never shuts up, she periodically roasts everyone, then whips up a feast for the survivors. Her dove-gray eyes miss little, even when streaked with red. Yet she always looks startled when I go to Ric’s, as if she’s seeing me for the first time.

Let’s call her Anna, for Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food and cooking. It’s fun renaming everyone! Don’t try this at home.

Outside, there were lots of naked faces. The streets are filling with grinning souls, though lots of conversations are conducted at more than arms’ length. A few unlucky souls will regret discarding their masks so quickly.

For once, I didn’t see anyone spit. Ordinances passed from coast to coast may have had some effect. They arrested spitters in 1918, too.

The sidewalks were lumpy with dog crap. New Yorkers usually clean up, but the citizenry has devolved.

There were rats aplenty, sunning in the park, waiting for a junkie Pied Piper to finish tuning his guitar. It reminded me of a story an old timer told me about seeing Gram Parsons perform at Max’s Kansas City in the ‘70s. Parsons was so ripped he dropped his guitar and teetered on his stool till a spectator handed it to him.

Meet ‘Mark’

I headed to Brooklyn to visit my very old friend, who has surfaced to plead for more masks. I will justify my patience by explaining that he and I grew up together and I will save y’all the trouble of trying to figure out who he is by honoring him with the pseudonym, Mark.

It was my first trip underground since a homeless guy was pounded into a coma for sneezing on passengers in a rush hour No. 4.

Even with a mask and goggles, the rush of air when a train enters the station is intimidating. Particles of soot, pigeon waste, and scraps of litter swirl furiously as you hover by the track. Even after avoiding subways for so long, the primitive urge to secure a seat at any cost reboots in seconds.

I saw fewer masks, generally of higher quality than on my last trip. Only middle-class folks wore the type I sell. I don’t know if poor people understand the differences: Mine are cheaper if you use them properly. To make people feel better, the media pretend that a t-shirt over your nose and mouth can make a big difference. It’s true to the extent that the gullible feel much safer—till they keel over from the tiny virions that bounded through the cotton.

When I reached Mark’s loft, an altogether new woman opened the door and left before I could take her measure. The place was cleaner, but smelled like melted plastic. If you don’t know what that stench can indicate, I’ll leave it at that.

I brought only a few gloves and goggles because I’m certain he sold the masks I gave him, or traded them for things that won’t help him survive H5N1. Let’s hope a flu hiatus will give him the chance to rebuild his life. Again.

Typically, Mark kicked back and started lecturing me about profiting from fear and warning that I’d better come up with a more secure income stream. Our real estate mogul’s revived arrogance was kind of reassuring, the comfort of an old, familiar pain.

Then he asked me for money.

I generally like to imagine that I’m patient. Still, I’m delighted to report how vividly I told Mark what a dung-slinger he is. I haven’t yelled like that in years. I thought he might belt me, as he used to do when we were kids. (He’s bigger and older—no longer the advantages they once were.) I bet I could pound him.

Civilization prevailed. He insisted the aroma was from skunk. He knows I favor the libertarian line on marijuana (which in no way invites him to con me out of money for it).

We wound up getting wrecked, drinking a lot of beer, watching Butterfield 8. Elizabeth Taylor is one of his better habits.

I feel guilty when the birds chirp so innocently at dawn. (Yawn.)

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