Another day. Another weekend. Another week. Another month. It is now July and the new normal continues to possess a surrealness that can only be felt. The churning of the unfamiliar fighting to become known. There are no words to describe the phenomenon. It is an abstract sensation. The numbness of emptiness. The Novocain of a present reality. A no end in sight. I am working now. Two days a week. I am relishing days off to get to the work end versus working the week to get to the weekend. Life is upside down. Topsy turvy. Everyone says in an empty voice “this will end soon”. They are right. It will, but not the way we hope. Life will never be the same again.
I took my daughter to lunch a couple of weeks ago. Before indoor dining was implemented again. Not that I am yet comfortable with eating inside a restaurant. The twitter of caution ever-present. We sat outside. The wind blew. It was hot. The restaurant had a tent held down by 2-foot-high cement blocks on each leg to keep it from flying away. A sense of permanence prevalent. We followed the arrows to the entrance. The exit was once the takeout door. Hand sanitizer stands in cemented orange buckets. Everything must be stabilized. The coronavirus must be stabilized. We are all trying to get this right. Trying to continue with our lives.
Masks are necessary. I find myself smiling as I walk past people forgetting they cannot see my smile. I must give a little wave. People will have to truly learn how to smile ensuring it will reach the eyes. New smile lines will be visible on people of the Covid generation. Rose and I are nervous despite all precautions. Someone will still have to touch our glasses. Our silverware. While we can take our masks off and consume a seemingly normal lunch the server never removes her mask. We must learn to speak clearer even slow our speech. Masks muffle our words.
She is nice. I glance around. The tables, for the most part are set six feet apart. Two guys sit on the other side of the tent. The rest of the tables are empty. They are made of wood. It is clear they came from inside the restaurant. Not cheap outdoor tables like some establishments are opting to use. It is still early. Not even twelve. I wanted to try to beat the heat. We are in the dog days of summer just as we are in the dog days of corona. Our phones become paperweights. The plastic utensils are not strong enough to keep our napkins from blowing away. Outdoor dining is a new adventure. We fight with the wind as we eat. My masks flies from the table. Rose and I laugh.
This is the new normal.
I cannot help but wonder what is going to happen when the weather gets cold and flu season is upon us. Are restaurants going to have to close again? It is difficult to distinguish the flu from Covid-19. Will there be a surge when cold weather hits in the four states that are reporting decreasing numbers? Will we try to eat outside until our lips are glued together by ice and tiny icicles drop from our eyelashes? These thoughts run through my mind as I dip a chip into the salsa. I order shrimp tacos. The salsa at this restaurant is delicious. It is not the full-on Mexican restaurant I was craving, but it is a good American Mexican mix. If the salsa is good enough to drink, I am happy.
We are not so nervous anymore. This restaurant has taken great measures. Not only do the servers wear masks, but they wear gloves. At no point are they touching anything that we will consume. Napkins, utensils, and condiments are all packaged. The management care not only about their guests, but those who work for them. I give an extra-large tip. In the new normal I find that twenty percent is not enough. They are having less tables. Less guests to earn tips from. I believe it is imperative to think of this as a consumer when going out to eat in the new norm. When I was a server in Massachusetts, I was only paid $2.64 an hour plus whatever tips I made. It is now $4.95. That formula does not fly for survival anymore. Not in this new normal.
Servers are not getting enough diners to bring their daily earnings up to minimum wage and I have never experienced a restaurant that has made up for the difference on a slow day in normal times. The only way the servers have a fighting chance at making any money are educated, compassionate diners. It is a tough, thankless industry where money is scarce. One of the few workforces where cheap labor is still allowed. Side work is done by the server after closing their tables. When I worked at Shoney’s it would take nearly two hours. That was in North Carolina where the minimum wage for tipped employees was $2.14. The servers were given the harder work because they were cheaper. It is important to think about their families. Some may say, “yea, well, what about the unemployment they are compensated with?” My answer. “That’s not going to last long. The end of July and many of us are in more trouble than we were before.
I am attempting to keep money aside. Ready for when unemployment runs out, especially the extension which ends at the end of this month. I am only working two days a week. Business is slow. My employer cannot afford to give us more hours. There is not enough business as of yet. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a roof over my head and a family that will make sure I will not starve. It feels, at least in states like Massachusetts, as if we have been somewhat sailing smoothly because we are still hanging onto the life preserver tossed to us.
That preserver is getting old, dingy. Losing its effectiveness. Soaking in too much water. July 31 it will be ripped from our hands. The Republicans laughing maniacally as they shout. “I hope you can swim!” All the while, protection for many from eviction will be coming to an end as well. I fear we are about to experience a crisis of homelessness we have not seen in decades. Then there is the South and Midwest no longer underneath the eye of the storm. The worst of it currently tosses them in all directions. Caught in the wind of blindness and sacrifice of people over economy. The turbulence of “I have rights” echoed in the cavernous terrain of stupidity. A storm that could have been less severe if only the leaders had been smart enough to listen to the doctors and scientists. To care. We may become a country that will not allow people cross into other states. I thought I would never see the day when other countries would be forced to not allow us to cross their borders. This is a time when ignorance is the murder weapon. It cannot reign.
There comes a time to stand one’s ground. Refusing to wear a mask should not be one of those. It is a silent, defiant massacre when one refuses to wear a mask. It is a statement of perceived superiority and selfishness. Just do it. What harm can it do? It is always better to err on the side of caution. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, masks can be used to make a statement by the design on them. They can be a fashion statement. Personalized. I do not like the new normal of wearing a mask any more than anyone else. I feel as if emotion, kindness is hidden because no one can see my warm greetings. A small sacrifice for the preservation of life. I rather that than possibly exposing someone to a disease that is insistently contagious. I rather that than take the chance of someone sneezing on me and I take something preventable home to my mother with chronic respiratory problems.
The new normal will grow on us. On me. The new normal of eating out. Eating at home more often. The new normal of constant awareness of movements and touches I would never have thought of. The absence of hugs. I am hyperaware. If the new normal remains surreal, uncomfortable, just a small bit, my eyes will remain wide open. This is for my protection, my daughter’s protection, my mom’s, and everyone I come in contact.
Masks are for all of our protection.
The new normal.
The ushering of the next phase of the human existence.
We are not the first to experience a new normal.
We are not the last to experience a new normal.
Life has a way of keeping us on our toes.
Do not fear the New Normal.
Embrace the New Normal.