I open the door to the bar and it’s like the last fifteen months never happened.
It’s the first day the Skylark’s open since March 15th, 2020. Every seat’s taken, clusters of drinkers standing close to one another, no distancing of any kind. I count two or three masks out of over a hundred faces. I walk my bike in, weaving through the crowd, get the office key from Sam, and lean it in there, taking care not to knock over any bottles. I’ve done this many many times so it feels natural, but also disorienting.
Back out in the bar, many regulars wave, say hello. Everybody’s so happy. I just take it all in. Don’t know what to make of it. In this room, at least, people have decided to jam the fast-forward (or is it fast-reverse?) button. No plague, no isolation, no new habits; only the bar we all love, in which nothing ever changes.
A few minutes before 8pm, a huge cheer rips through the crowd. It’s because Sherry has walked in. She’s working with me tonight. She’s been at the Skylark ever since it’s been the Skylark. Seeing her tells people that we’re really back. She makes it to the end of the bar nearly in tears after that reception. I’m glad it’s her rather than me. I wouldn’t have handled all that good feeling coming at me very well.
I put my music on and start putting coasters and bar towels in order. That’s how I know it’s actually happening for real. The beer prices are mostly up a dollar, which is a pain to remember, but the rest of the routine comes back in fits and starts. It’s like falling off a bike, I keep saying.
People are so damn happy we’re back. For fifteen months, the first thing anyone asked when they saw me was whether or when the Skylark would reopen. I rained on a lot of parades. I wasn’t convinced it would ever happen. Yet here we are. It’s unreal, yet completely habitual at the same time. Feels like being in two places or, maybe, two time-frames at once.
I tell Sherry we’ll know we’re truly back once we’re no longer happy to see this or that face, go back to cursing them under our breaths. It won’t be this night. Maybe tomorrow or the next day. Because, whatever the day-to-day——whether lockdown or all-access——after a few days, it becomes habit, commonplace. We can’t function moment to moment if the parameters of existence are in question. We have to take on faith that whatever experience we see and hear first-hand is just reality.
I surprise myself by remembering the alarm code for the bar as we leave for the night. We say goodbye and promise to do it all again.
At the Dunkin’ Donuts, on my way home, the woman who makes my breakfast sandwich at 3am is wearing a mask. I made a half month’s rent tonight. Was it a dream before this moment? Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.