Aug 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge and Institute for Higher Learning

Again thanks to my friend Aki, I was able to get in some nature and exercise last weekend.

Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge

Aki picked this place because she had heard it wouldn’t be too crowded and it was pretty woodsy so we could enjoy the shade. (And this time we remembered to put on bug spray and so weren’t eaten alive.)

So pretty:

A popular destination in the refuge is a suspension bridge. One family asked us about it as soon as we got there, but of course neither of us knew since we had never been there before. Then kind of by chance we found it.

It was unexpectedly scary to walk across since it was so narrow and bouncy, but kind of fun at the same time.

Institute for Advanced Study

This school where Albert Einstein taught is walking distance from the refuge. It was nice but kind of eerie because of course no one was around. Also some of the buildings have an old 1970s look, which make them seem even eerier for some reason.

At one point we were looking for a shady place to sit and have our snacks. We thought about sitting at one of tables outside the cafeteria, but they were a little dirty and covered with dead leaves. It was like something out of The Walking Dead. Instead we ended up on a bench in a field area (where I also peed behind a tree, far away from the bench natch) where we had wine and random snacks.

It really makes a difference to get out of the house, talk to someone, and walk around. It’s these little things that keep me sane.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Van Nest Park

Last night my friend Aki and I got together for an outdoor happy hour.

We met up at in Van Nest Park, which I’ve seen many times from the side of the road but never thought about going. It looked pretty small, but since we would just be eating and drinking, I didn’t care. It turned out to be much nicer than I expected.

That body of water is Grover’s Mill Pond, which I remember being always covered in green sludge. Turns out back in 2008, the pond was cleaned up. And I’ll say! The water looked so pristine, and just prettier and prettier as the sun set.

Besides looking at the water, we enjoyed snacks and drinks and catching up. Only downside were all the mosquitoes. We both forgot repellant and got covered in bites. I counted about 15. Luckily the view was so nice.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A found thing

I brought two books with me to my mom’s — My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and The Secret Place by Tana French — and have already finished them. So I went digging for more.

I used to belong to a book club so there are a bunch I never read sitting in the closet. I decided to go through them, pull out the ones that sounded interesting, and put them in the bookcase. That meant rearranging stuff, which led me to discover this unassuming little notebook.

At first I thought it was one of the many ledgers my dad used to keep notes, but instead I opened it to find:


When I was kid, probably around 11 or 12, I started collecting stamps. My dad would get mail from all over the world at work and started bringing them home, I think, because he thought they looked cool and that my brother and I would like them.

I have vivid memories of soaking the envelopes so the stamps would peel off and then laying the stamps out to dry. Then I’d put them in the little notebook, which I guess my dad got for us. Of course the stamps are in alphabetical order by country. I remember I loved organizing them, even if that meant having to shift all the stamps over to fit a new one.

Here are some of my favorites:

The former USSR (yes I’m old)
The former Czechoslavakia (my favorite)

I can’t believe my dad kept the book after all these years, moving from our house in Freehold to the one in Plainsboro to their retirement home here. I’m glad he did.

Jul 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Princeton outing

Yesterday I had the chance to get out of the house, get some exercise, enjoy some nature, and have some social interaction.

Princeton Farmers Market

My friend Aki had the idea of walking around these canals, but first we stopped at this farmers market. It felt a bit eerie with everyone so spread out and wearing masks, but I was glad everyone was being safe. I didn’t get anything except a bag of cinnamon sugar donuts from Terhune Orchards. I was psyched since another time we went, there was such a long line for the donuts, which of course smelled incredible. Plus I knew my mom would enjoy them too.

Canals and downtown Princeton

Next were the canals and surrounding park. On our way we saw a mother deer with two babies. It was like something out of a Disney movie.

The canals were lovely, but it was quite hot and humid out. And there were a lot of people, which meant having to wear a mask, which made it even hotter.

Eventually we made our way to downtown Princeton. I haven’t been to a populated area in more than a month so I was little nervous. But of course it was fine. There weren’t too many people out yet (it was barely 11), and it was cute to see all the outdoor dining set up.

One problem was I had to pee so badly. Like a dumbass, I had my usual two cups of coffee that morning instead of just one. I assumed no public restrooms would be open, but finally I found one at, randomly, an auto repair shop. It was pretty rundown but seemed clean. Of course I washed my hands like crazy.

We made our way back to the canals and grabbed food and beverages from the car. We got ourselves a bench by the water and feasted on cheese and crackers, salami, cucumber, and wine. I was starving and inhaled everything. The wine, a vino verde, went down way too easily, and I got pretty tipsy.

The perfect end to an active morning.

Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: A visit to the Audubon Plainsboro Preserve

The suburbs are pretty boring, but at least they’re closer to nature.

The Audubon Plainsboro Preserve is a huge park just a 15-minute drive from my mom’s. It’s even closer to where we used to live — seven minutes — and I kept wondering why I never knew it existed. That’s because it wasn’t established until 1999, several years after I lived there, and was previously land owned by a company called the Turkey Island Corporation as well as the Walker Gordon Laboratory. Over the years, the county purchased more land until it had amassed over 1,000 acres.

It’s really beautiful:

My friend Aki and I had a great time walking and chatting. We had gotten there early to beat the heat, and so at first there weren’t too many people out. Whenever we got near anyone, I made sure to put on my mask.

At one point we took a rest by the water:

Something Aki asked me was if I would ever move to the suburbs. Pre-COVID-19, the answer would have been a definitive no, but now things are so different. If I’m almost always working from home and rarely venturing into the city, why pay all this money for a Manhattan apartment? Why not move out here for a bigger, cheaper space near nature? Then again, who knows what things will be like a few months from now, or even a few weeks from now. But it’s definitely something to think about.

Jun 20

COVID-19 Diaries: Made it to New Jersey!

After all the hubbub with the bus I usually take to my mom’s, I didn’t even take it. Turns out they have a very limited schedule right now: just two buses a day on weekdays only. I can only imagine these buses are completely packed, or else have such limited seating, you might not even be able to get on.

So I decided to take the train instead. I was pretty fucking nervous. I was thinking I’d take the subway, which I haven’t taken in three months. That meant dragging my suitcase up and down stairs and refilling my subway pass, two things that weren’t a big deal pre-pandemic but which now filled me with anxiety.

Then I thought, Fuck it, and took a Lyft. Not that that didn’t worry me too, but it turned out to be a great decision. The car came lickety-split and was very clean. The driver had put up a plexiglass divider between the front and back seats, like in a taxi, and I took care of my own luggage.

Driving through the city, I saw lots of people walking. Many stores were also still boarded up, which was weird and depressing.

I got to the station hella early, 6:45 for a 7:15 train. There were more people on the platform than I expected, but it was pretty easy to remain distant from people (although at least one idiot decided to walk back and forth, getting too close to everyone).

Another concern was having to pee. Usually when I travel to my mom’s, I immediately use the bathroom before boarding the bus or train. Now I didn’t want to use a public restroom, assuming it would even be open. But I made sure to drink only one cup of coffee and the bare minimum of water. Surprisingly I was good, and didn’t have to pee too bad the whole way.

The train was pretty empty, and the few people on board sat spread out. It was actually quite peaceful. Mask on, I listened to a podcast and watched the scenery go by. And the train arrived on time! That NEVER happens. Leave it to a pandemic.

I had told my mom the wrong arrival time so I had a little bit of a wait. I didn’t mind. The station in NJ was very quiet. There were like two other people waiting. Again, there was some idiot who was walking and had to walk right near me. What the fuck dude, the whole place is empty. Besides that I enjoyed soaking in the sky and trees and grass.

It was wonderful to see my mom for the first time in three months, but again a little frought with anxiety. We both wore masks and I sat in the back. Of course everything looked the same. I don’t know why I expected things to look different.

The moment I got home, I jumped in the shower. Then I tackled the beeping smoke detector. It’s been beeping for a few weeks since my mom isn’t able to reach it. I thought it was going to be a pain in the neck to change, but it turned out to be pretty easy. I simply put in one of the batteries I had ordered, and it actually stopped beeping!

The theme of the day: things I thought were going to be stressful turned out to be not that bad.