Katie and her peers complicate the mainstream narrative. They want to go back to work. They have to go back to work.
“I really miss my grandchildren,” Katie* said. Our local places all offer take-out dinners to try to stay open and I get food from the townie dive bar where she works a couple times a week. She hadn’t seen them for five or six weeks when she used to see them almost daily. “I talk to my daughter on the phone every day, and I can her them playing in the background, but it’s not the same, you know?” They live just a few miles away. She’s about fifty, I think, and lives by herself, and worries that the bar will close and she’ll lose her job.
When I walked in last week, she pumped her fists up and down in a kind of dance.
“I’m going to see my grandchildren,” she called when I was still by the door. You could see the smile from the way her face crinkled around her eyes. “My daughter’s going to bring them over. It’s going to be social-distanced,” she said, as if she felt the need to explain.
The next Monday, she told me, “I saw my grandchildren!” She moved her arms the same way and I’m almost certain drummed her feet up and down too. Again her eyes crinkled. After a pause, she said “Couldn’t touch them, of course.”
Her eyes partly closed and un-crinkled, because she’d stopped smiling. “No hugging,” she said. “I couldn’t hug them. But I got to see my grandchildren!” She pumped her arms again. “That’s so great,” I said. “It is great,” she said. “I saw my grandchildren.”
When people talk about remaining locked down, in that common imperative voice, I think of Katie, and the owner, and the bartenders and the cooks, and all the people I see there. I think of them especially when I read people, most of them liberal, who write as if no good person would question sheltering at home, ignoring the great human costs, costs which few of them will bear.
My friend misses her family, but that’s something many feel. She could also lose her job — that “could” might very well be “will” — and much else besides. I think maybe her home. Her world is radically at risk.
She gets by with her job at the bar and a couple other jobs. So do the other people who work there, and most of their customers, including me. Many have already lost their jobs for good and others have been furloughed with no income and no promise of getting their jobs back. Some have seen businesses they built through years of hard work and sacrifice go under, because they couldn’t afford the rent and the taxes.
The owner worries about going out of business. “It’s getting close,” she told me a couple days ago.
The last time I asked, she said business is slow. The affluent people in the neighbouring towns aren’t going to go to such a place for food, and her regular patrons can’t afford much take-out. Even the ones who still have jobs. Katie and her peers complicate the mainstream narrative. They want to go back to work. They have to go back to work.
They’re the people not seen by the people who claim to see the people not seen.
Tens of millions of Americans are marginalized, but no one talks about them at all, except when someone wants to lament capitalism’s effect on the working class, for which midwestern opioid addiction (yesterday’s cause, and few talk about it anymore,) is a usefully emotive symbol, or when morons chase down and murder a black man out for a run or tote their guns to a state house to protest the restrictions.
The losses won’t be – aren’t – just personal.
All these neighbourhood bars in all the communities like ours might disappear. With them will be lost unique communities, that grew and deepened over time, often decades, that mean much to their patrons. They offer a way of being together a TGI Fridays or an Appleby’s will never come within a million miles of providing.
These communities that offer what the web and professional associations and other groupings provide the more bookish and comfortable. Their world will bounce back faster. You can’t recreate a place like this bar as easily as you can recreate an upscale coffee shop. You can’t recreate it all.
The corporate places will survive, but the local places get closer to the edge every day. Places like the bar and all the small businesses, theatres, shops, restaurants, mechanics, tailors and cobblers, repair shops, all the places that are truly places in a way the corporate restaurants will never be. And all the workers, contractors, artists, craftsmen, merchants, shopkeepers who depend on them. Who do through them what they were made to do and worked hard for a long time to do. And the people who depend on those people.
My lefty friends, with a few exceptions, don’t see this. Some of them sneer at those who demand the right to save their livelihoods. All of them that fail to see, make corporate America’s work of destruction easier. They fail to see the extent to which the powerful will gain more power, part of which is simply surviving long enough (and manipulating the system as they do) to take the market share from all the small enterprises that can’t last. The “Maximize shareholder value” hollow men who run corporate America don’t care if they help destroy the truly American institutions, like neighbourhood bars.
Keeping America locked down helps them do that. They’ll take a short-term hit for a long-term gain. America as we know and love it, in the places we know it, means nothing to them. The townie dive bar and all it symbolizes has no place in their system and their idea of what they’re doing. The people mean nothing to them.
There are no good answers to what we should do. Lives are lost or wrecked no matter what. Communities are destroyed that can’t be rebuilt. We can still do much to reduce the loss to the vulnerable, a group that includes more than just those who might get very sick. I wish those who so smugly dismiss the pleas of desperate people to go back to work thought about people like Katie, and places like this bar.