I’d heard this would happen. As I’d been planning to meet with a friend from out of town. I’d suggested we go to our favorite Portuguese restaurant near Central Station- If it was open. He replied,
“Everything is closed.”
Those 3 words don’t really describe what that means though. We planned to meet Friday.
And just as it had been for my birthday in October, tomorrow, everything would be closed. Then, I’d opted not to meet a friend on my birthday night. The last night of bars and restaurants to be open?
They’ll be packed. Not worth it.
Again 3 words that don’t really describe.
I went for a walk with a mission today. Not for health, or food, as I’d been doing every couple of weeks. I’d bought more.
Just in case.
The 3 words my brother, who lives in Los Angeles, had said at the beginning of this pandemic.
As we chatted on the phone, he was interrupted by his wife who texted, “San Francisco goes into lockdown today. They say LA will be next.”
That day, I’d done as he suggested: bought more food than was necessary. Just in case. In the shops here there’d been no raids on the shelves, no masks worn. I was the only one wearing one and it had taken me 5 shops to find one to buy. Hospitals had priority. I hadn’t known then, that supplies were low. None of us had.
Seems so long ago now- back then, before the summer. Seems years.
Today I was awoken from sleep by an argument from two men on the street. Loud voices, impatient, sounding more tired than angry. But I awoke from a not real sleep by them, then by a truck.
Fuck it. I’ll make coffee. I had to mail holiday cards before it became New Years. So I did this: shower, a bit of make up, nice clothes to walk to the post office a few blocks away.
Upon arrival, I stood staring at the door. The sign on it said, “Post only.” Of course it’s post, that’s why I’m here.
What did it mean? I was about to find out.
Walking there, I passed shops that were shut tight. A lot of them. Three barbershops in one block. I’d peaked in the window. Between each barberchair, the owner had hung hard plastic for protection. Now the place was empty. All for nothing. 3 words.
I was reminded of Los Angeles, back when the city council had ordered restrictions be put into bars and restaurants for smoking sections. So every owner had paid money for huge fans to suck out the smoke, put up dividers and partitions. A lot of money. I’d been a waitress then. I worked at a very popular dime-store coffee shop/restaurant in West Hollywood. It also had a bar and a patio. A place for all sorts of people: Gays on weekends, to Bloody Mary their hangovers. Old folks at 5 pm to receive their pensioner discounts. The tables packed with every working or non working character actor from the last 30 years of film and television. There were waiting lines on weekends for the patio and bar area- where one could smoke. But soon the city council decided the protection was not enough. Without public vote, the ex-smoker, ex-drinker mayor proclaimed Los Angeles a non-smoking city. I’d gone to the public meetings. Filled with waiters telling of the drop in crowds, in business. Yes, I’d been a smoker then. Yes it pissed me off. But even the non smoking waiters argued against the regulations. Because they were loosing tips so loosing money. There were only so many patio seats if you even had a patio and a lot of tips to be gotten. And of course, the owners had spent money. For a promise. All for nothing.
So walking here to the post office reminded me of this and also the Northridge/Los Angeles earthquake of 1994, the last one I’d felt before moving from there. It had been a SLAM. Loud, violent, sudden. The sort of disasters I grew up with along with the brush fires and mud slides. None of that went on over here. Hell, my first weeks here, I’d panicked from a large truck rumbling by. All of me thought it had been another earthquake or tremor.
By then, I’d become a bit fed up with the city I’d been born in. Thirty years living in a town of tinsel. Everyday sun, heat, sweating. Hookers in cars beneath my window, helicopters at night overhead announcing their search for an armed man. “Stay inside,-“ the voice shouted down on us. I was sick of it. My apartment was cracked from the earthquake, my car unsafe in the carport below my window. I’d found a homeless man sleeping and smoking inside it when I went to go to work. I’d asked him to leave. He’d said, “Oh! I thought this was abandoned!” Yeah, everyone’s a critic.
I looked around the city I loved. She looked so tired. Ragged. Old, without charm or character. She’d been beaten up, slapped, neglected and abandoned. No longer the starlet but now the worn out hag. She’d lost her sparkle. She no longer captivated me. Right now as I write this, I feel ugly- like a male CEO studio executive dismissing a hopeful starlet, or trying to fuck one. It was time for me to swim out of the pond, into waters far across the sea. I feel sad thinking of her this way. I’ve been back and seen her now with her proper facelift, her youth restored. I smile at her as the taxi drives from LAX. She was back. But I wasn’t.
So walking this small city, I step toward the post office door, where hangs a sign stating, “Post only.” I didn’t quite understand its meaning. I step inside to see I am the only customer. Surrounded by racks of holiday cards and tables of gift calendars. Ten days before Christmas. The place felt almost abandoned as I listened to the woman who ran the shop read from a letter she had just received from the city council. She said, “…must be used only for post. No newspapers, no magazines, no office supplies, no cigarettes,-” which had been walled off and locked up. I stepped toward her and asked if I could buy ink for my printer. She replied, “I don’t know! I don’t know if I can! This says no.” She was Dutch. It was not the language she didn’t understand but it’s meaning.
I look out my window as I hear an incredible sound for this time of year. The squawk of a parrot. No, not on some tropical island like where I’d like to be, but here. Yep, there it is- green- parrot green against the dull grey sky. Reminding me of the summer and the last time I’d heard people snapping at each other. During a heatwave that lasted this year for months, not the usual days or weeks. Unheard of here. People are not used to it. Makes them out of sorts. Like Los Angeles when it rains- when it used to rain.
And here, in the summer, there were still tables outside. No festivals. It was too hot to be inside, even for me who grew up in a desert city.
The only activity I see now from my window are the yellow vested delivery men (not women-still) The postmen on their orange saddle bagged bicycles. The only way people are getting their gifts for the holidays they won’t have.
At the post office, and later in the market, I’d seen the front pages of every Dutch Newspaper. On them, Rutte, the Dutch prime minister with his mask on, looking towards the camera snapping flashbulbs. Well, he will not suffer from the headlines. Because now there is nowhere to buy the papers. The newspaper headlines translate to: ‘We Must.’ And another, a photograph of groups of shoppers, half with masks, congested in front of Christmas lighted shut shop windows, ‘Wij moeten dit doen’, ‘We must do this.’
It’s a sad day. A few days ago I read a post from a friend in LA. She told of a ballet dancer in a glass bubble: the only safe way she could dance in public. When I read that, I still had not been out in the city, not for weeks. So it hit me today. It’s just that the city feels, looks so tired, abandoned. Like everyone has gone on vacation. But I know they are here, inside, maybe lonely. Alone. Three words. Pray its over. Pray for vaccine. Squawk of parrots, Climate change Christmas. It’s not over. I have hope.