Falling Fast

Two of my favorite restaurants aren’t answering the phone.

Two weeks ago we wanted to make sure we threw one of them some business. Iwataya, a sushi restaurant, has been part of the Evansville scene before we moved here some 15 years ago. When I walk in to pick up an order or to sit down for a meal the long-time employees greet me like an old friend. But they didn’t answer that evening, and they haven’t answered any evening since. I can’t know what’s happened. I fear the worst.

I’m almost certain the worst has happened to Bombay Spice. Not only are they not answering the phone, their web site is down. They opened only last year, and their Indian cuisine is excellent. Butter chicken dishes in London restaurants with five star reviews couldn’t touch the delicate blend of flavors in the butter chicken recipe from Bombay Spice here in a city most people never hear about, Evansville, Indiana. But I’m pretty sure, now, that they’re gone, and I don’t know what’s going to happen to their talented staff.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to my sister. She’s a nurse working in Arizona for a hospital that had no masks to give their nurses since the nation finally got serious a few weeks ago, and hasn’t had any other kind of protective gear for them either. Earlier this week she and the rest of the staff were triaging patients on the sidewalk in these conditions. Some patients arrived so weak they couldn’t climb from their cars under their own power, and my unmasked sister and her friends were reaching in to help them out.

Yesterday her hospital told nurses that they don’t have any more scrubs to give them. The nurses have to supply their own, and they have to take the disease-exposed clothing home to wash. And no, the nurses can’t shower at the hospital before they go home, only the doctors are allowed to do that. And no, no one on staff can talk to anyone about any of this to try and get help, because Arizona is a “Right to Work” state. That positive sounding descriptor ACTUALLY means that employees have fewer rights, not more. An employer can fire an employee for no reason, such as, say, complaining about terrible, life-threatening working conditions.

My sister has developed a cough.

Me, I live in flyover country, southern Indiana. And my immediate family is uniquely fortunate. My wife has a job in medicine that has her far from the front lines, so her job’s safer than most financially. Her health is still at risk, but it’s not the excruciating risk faced by some medical personnel. I’m a writer, so ostensibly my daily routine hasn’t changed. I’m a mid-list author, so we don’t have servants and I’m not transported around in a limousine (in case you’re wondering, that lifestyle doesn’t describe most of my bestselling friends, either). I spend a little over half my time taking care of our little farm and washing laundry and sweeping dog fur off floors and washing sinks and the like. Every morning I get up and take care of the horses and feed the ducks and chickens. We have eggs. We have several acres to wander around in, and believe me, as the Earth wakes to spring, it’s glorious here. Everything looks normal. It just doesn’t feel that way.

I remember visiting a friend in New York late last year and thinking how lucky he was to have so much time to devote to screenwriting and other fiction. There was no horse fence mending for him, no acreage to mow, no garden weeds to pull. More time for creative pursuits meant more projects got finished. Not only that, he was surrounded by amazing restaurants, all within walking distance.

Now I find myself worrying about him daily, and wondering about the people who cooked for us and waited on us in those restaurants, and how they’ll survive. I find myself wishing he could be here, with me, right now, looking out my window at my horse pasture. Safe. I used to feel so removed and isolated from the industry I work in, and realize that in this instance I’m in incredibly fortunate circumstances.

And yet, as I contemplate starting the day’s work on my next contracted book, I’m distracted by the thought of the 400 Barnes & Noble bookstores that closed down yesterday, and all the people no longer employed there. A book seller friend was supposed to be in New York calling on Barnes & Noble yesterday to talk about new book titles. Instead, he called his B&N connections to find all but two of them were being laid off. I can keep writing, but the people that sell the books? What’s going to happen to them?

My son’s a recent college graduate with an animation degree. He’s been saving money to move to the west coast, where the animation jobs are, by working at a grocery. I’m actually delighted now he didn’t land an industry job right off, because I can’t imagine how worried we’d be about him on his own in California in the midst of this pandemic. He unloads trucks for the grocery, which is one of the least exposed jobs you can have there. He can usually pick up our food necessities every day at end of shift, meaning only one of us is out and exposed in that particular venue. Again, we’re lucky. But what about all the cashiers and the stockers, all the people risking proximity to this virus to make sure we have food? People who, as my son pointed out the other day, usually aren’t seen as essential in any way. What’s going to happen to them? How many will get sick? If you’ve never thought about pay scales and the way our society values professions before, this pandemic certainly is a fine time to think about making adjustments.

My daughter is in her second year of college. All of her courses have moved online, and so has her study group. I see her pouring over the books for long hours, and hear her conferencing with friends late in the night as they go over notes. The younger generation is adapting. An avid athlete, my daughter used to burn off steam at an indoor climbing gym. The local one, though, is closed because of the novel coronavirus. Ever inventive and determined, my daughter’s taken to climbing the rough stone walls on the outside of our house. Every day she pushes forward, finding a slightly longer route. Eventually she thinks she can climb the entire way across the lower floor of the house without touching ground. I think she’ll make it, and if she falls, she’s not too far up.

I think humanity will make it, too, in the end. But I think we’ve a long way to fall, and a lot of people are going to be hurt. I can only hope that you and yours, and mine, aren’t some of them. I’m afraid they will be. I’m afraid many already are.