kindgom of fear, pt. 2

1 – Some thoughts on “reopening America” 

I don’t particularly miss bartending itself right now, certainly not now that we know how fully fucked up this novel coronavirus is. And I’m willing to bet that the only thing my fellow service industry brethren really miss right now is what I miss: earning a living, particularly the cash tips part. 

Yet I can’t actually calculate the gratuity someone would have to duke me to make it worth winching a polite smile into place while they belly up to the counter spouting off whatever Qanon-approved CBD keto coffee recipe that cures 5G-itis they just learned about on the latest episode of Joe Rogan. Or hearing for the fiftieth time that this is all “just a flu”, followed by some self-congratulatory hyperbole about what a brave patriot they are for toddling out in the middle of a pandemic for a can of White Claw. (Sidebar: fuck White Claw.)

I live in a country where that very kind of inane shit has been deemed more important than controlling a highly infectious disease that indiscriminately kills people and has no vaccine or proven therapies. And I wouldn’t care about such philosophical differences, re: the economy, quite frankly—except that it means service industry professionals are being forced into a cashless version of their work with no hazard pay and no benefits, forced by desperation to provide a version of their labor that requires the kind of high risk contact that your average Congressman wouldn’t brave without a series of rubber sheets, a gallon of Lysol, and an ironclad NDA. 

All this to say: I’ve been mad for a while and I’ve been sad for a while, and mainly, I worry like hell about my friends who didn’t have a choice about going back too soon or don’t have the privilege to stay home at all. And while I surely don’t care about a bunch of ignorant bar patrons reaping the whirlwind, I surely do care about good friends of mine dying or being permanently maimed from a bout of COVID-19 they caught on the job because their only other choice was starvation. 

2 – The machete

I’ve more than once compared this pandemic to riding out a hurricane, and the analogy still proves to be valid, at least from my vantage point. I feel like the last eight weeks was like sitting out the first side of rain bands, then the social distancing paid off and the curve flattened, and we found ourselves in the eye of the storm. The eye is when first timers usually think it’s safe to put all their potted plants back out on the deck because the sun is shining. They don’t realize there’s another six and a half hours of even worse shit rolling in. 

I keep thinking about one of the storms I rode out years ago. It brewed itself into a real monster offshore for most of the day while I was at work, packing things up. Afterward, I drove inland to the farm, making it there just before dusk, an hour or two ahead of its anticipated landfall. 

Bunny was sitting in the kitchen by herself, with the door propped open to vent the after-supper heat. The sun was late in the sky, dipping down over the fields. You could’ve swum in that humidity; it added fifty wet pounds to everything. “It used to be worse, the heat, when all the houses had tin roofs,” she told me. “I’ve just been wondering when the power will go out, thinking about the last time we got one this bad. They say it’ll be a Cat 5 now.” 

I asked her where everyone else was, and she said they were out packing things up before the rain kicked off. “I’ll tell you that all I want is to eat that watermelon, but I felt a little greedy cutting it up just for me,” she said. 

I followed her pointed finger to a green-striped dinosaur egg that lolled on the countertop, braced against her long wooden dough bowl, the one she used on Sundays to roll and cut biscuits. 

“Let’s do it before they get back,” I said, wanting to cheer her up. “Let’s carve it up and get the best bits.”

The problem was the watermelon; it was simply an anomaly of nature. I estimated it had to weigh at least eight or nine hundred pounds. We tried to pierce it with a series of culinary implements, growing sweaty and frustrated as none sunk far enough or had the leverage to budge once they did. Every few minutes, we debated the value of carving the melon at all, knowing that electricity was likely to disappear sometime in the next few hours and whatever we couldn’t eat would be spoiled. 

“I know what we’ve gotta do,” Bunny said, disappearing to the pantry. I presumed she was going for a cooler.

She returned instead with an enormous machete, one I’d never known her to possess before, the kind I’d only ever seen in certain harrowing jungle scenes of the director’s cut of Apocalypse Now. It was easily half the length of her five foot stature, and it caught the glimmer of evening sun with a menacing flash. She gave me a quiet word of caution to stand clear, and then wound up her momentum as she charged across the kitchen like a tiny ronin. “Yah!” she exhaled as she lifted it over her head and then brought the massive hank of steel down. 

The melon split cleanly in two. I still remember the sound it made. Like a fucking gunshot hitting a garage door. A chunk of the quartz countertop chipped off and went flying. 

She dropped her weapon with a thunk into the sink and, wiping her brow, returned to the melon. She carved out a generous, rhomboid hunk with a steak knife. Loading it on a fork, she sank her teeth down like some mythical assassin savoring the still-beating heart of his sworn enemy. “My God,” she whispered, with juice running down her chin, “That is good to me.” 

I realized that I was watching somebody eat what they presumed might be their last meal. Her shoulders heaved in the wake of hoisting the machete. “It’s so good to me,” she said again, and I couldn’t tell if she meant the watermelon, or the feeling of brandishing her sword one last time in the face of the oncoming storm. 

3 – We live in the kingdom of fear

People do dangerous, crazy shit when they’re scared because the prospect of an impending disaster, particularly one they can’t yet see, is just too much to grapple with. It’s easier for a frightened man to throw a tantrum than gather his wits and work on a real solution. I think about Bunny and her machete all the time these days. I live in a society that has no idea how to wait out a storm, a society filled with amnesiacs who have no capacity to recall even recent history, let alone derive wisdom from it. They trust the first ray of sunshine they feel, believing that surely, no further rain can fall on them, the chosen ones, the heroic defenders of our #freedom. 


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