We’re dropping like flies.

Since the bar reopened two-and-a-half months ago, two of us had seizures on the job, one cut his hand badly enough we had to close the kitchen early, another got smashed up on his motorcycle and had to miss two months of work.

Yet we keep going. Everybody wants so badly to believe we’re over the hump with this plague, but we just aren’t. Last Friday the indoor mask mandate went back into effect in Chicago. Up till then, only one guy at the bar wore one consistently. He’d lost his father to Covid and wasn’t near ready to take chances. The rest of us pretend it’s 2019 the best we can.

I cover the Wednesday afternoon shift before the mandate. A guy comes in I know from my neighborhood. I don’t care for him, but he’s taken a shine to me——the real out-there ones have a special radar that homes in on my frequency with alarming regularity. He asks what I’m working on and I show him the new book. He buys it immediately. Says he’ll bring me some stuff to read next time he sees me. I ask the server if she knows him and she nods wearily. She made the mistake of calling him by an old monicker in the bar the other day and got a dirty look in return. The man specializes in dirty looks. I have to know the name. SpitSuck. Not what I know him by, but it fits.

The next morning I feel sick. Cough, runny nose, fever, the works. It’s been about two years since I’ve had so much as a sniffle. I forgot what being ill was all about. Over the next days, I leave the house just once, to ride to CVS for provisions and a Covid test. I’m pretty sure this is just a shitty head cold, but have to rule out the elephant that won’t let us all be. The test comes back negative, so I return to watching lousy TV, drinking tea, eating soup, and trying to sleep.

Sunday morning I’m still feeling weak, though I can tell the sickness is passing. I think about calling off work, but the boss calls first to say that a server had a seizure in the bar the night before. I’m not going to miss a shift over sniffles now.

I bike to the bar, put on my mask, and walk the bike in. There are some signs about masks taped a few places and the afternoon guy and the server are masked, but otherwise not much has changed since Wednesday. The problem with the mask thing in our place for customers is that there’s no way to social-distance, and once you sit, you can take it off. A few try to be conscientious and slip theirs on for walks to the bathroom or photobooth or pinball machine, but most don’t bother. It just isn’t feasible.

SpitSuck comes in and asks for another copy of my book for a buddy serving time for killing somebody while driving drunk. He asks if I’ll sell it at cost. Says his friend has started to write behind bars, now that he has something to write about. Tells me the guy’s name and asks that I inscribe it to him. Then he takes out a paperback, some zines, and a CD. Each is sheathed in plastic individually. He says he doesn’t lend out his stuff much, in order to make me feel like I’m being extended a special privilege. Says he’s sure I’ll burn through them. That the writing is a lot like mine. I thank him and put them away.

I feel lousy but get through the shift fine. It’s a slow one, which helps. After cleaning up, counting out, and killing the lights, I gather my music player, book, and glasses to leave, but notice the stack from SpitSuck’s library. Instead of taking it home, I stash it in the drawer where I keep my own books to sell on bar shifts.

For all I know, it was SpitSuck who gave me the cold Wednesday. I sure as shit don’t want my reading time hijacked by him as well. Even if his guy’s writing is exactly like mine.