Unmasking the Virus: A Retail Diary of the Plague Years (Volume 11)

July 31, 2020

The air conditioning at work broke down last week.

Actually, that’s not right. I mean, all the words are in the right order, the facts are true, the grammar is correct, but that sentence does not come close to adequately expressing the situation at hand.

This is Texas. That means it’s hot. Really hot. Like cooking-bacon-on-the-asphalt hot. Skin-burning-on-the-walk-from-the-car-to-the-supermarket hot. Eyeballs-boiling-in-your-skull hot.

But this is also Austin, so that means it’s humid, too. Damp. Moist. (I know, I know! That’s why I said it!) The air is so thick it feels like you’re breathing through a straw. Oxygen no longer exists–we’re all swimming through atmosphere soup here. Whenever you step outside, you become a gross, wet, clammy sponge.

So let’s recap.

110 degrees outside. 88 degrees inside. Corona virus numbers continuing to skyrocket. Protests in the streets. Political upheaval on a daily basis. And then there’s us: a bunch of stressed-out wet sponges breathing the soup through masks and providing exemplary customer service to the ungrateful masses.

(Well, exemplary, begrudging…whatever)

We’re all just trying to survive here, both physically and mentally.

A man walks into a bookstore wearing a t-shirt that says NEVER SOCIALISM and asks for Animal Farm by George Orwell. There’s no punchline. This is reality. “I’m going to read it to my grandson!” he says. “I loved this book when I was a kid.” I raise my arms, trying to dry out the pits.

A woman walks into a bookstore without a mask and demands service. “It’s too hot in here to wear a mask,” she says. I stare at her. From behind my mask. Which I have been wearing for five hours. “Do you understand what I mean?” she says. A trickle of sweat runs down my ass crack.

A man walks into a bookstore wearing a hat that says he’s a veteran of World War II. I thank him for wearing a mask and tell him we are practicing social distancing in our store. He thanks me for following regulations that keep the public safe. I smile under my mask.

A teenager walks into a bookstore and says, “You got any books by that Marx guy?” “Karl Marx?” “Yeah, that’s the one.” I take him to the political science section. “Sweet! This is the guy that started socialism, right?” “Well, kind of I guess…” “Sweet! I’m going to read the shit out of him!”

I go stand in front of a fan and feel the cool breeze on my skin.

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