From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Fear at Work
Date March 26, 2020 12:23 AM
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[ A growing concern about the disease, slight at first, then
becoming deeper and more profound.] [[link removed]]

FEAR AT WORK   [[link removed]]

 

Kurt Stand
March 23, 2020
The Stansbury Forum
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_ 'A growing concern about the disease, slight at first, then
becoming deeper and more profound.' _

, Steve Apps/AP

 

Worry slowly mounted over the past few weeks – but worry about
what? I work at a bookstore that is part of a restaurant and event
space. Since the New Year there has been – like the spread of
coronavirus itself — growing concern about the disease, slight at
first, then becoming deeper and more profound. For some, the danger
has seemed exaggerated, for others danger signs were seen everywhere.
By contrast, simultaneously a fear spread shared equally by all my
co-workers – fear of loss of income, loss of job. That economic
insecurity, more palpable, more familiar, easier to grasp and discuss,
joined the nameless fear of illness. Taken together, we have lived a
life of nervous anxiety.

All this contributed to an odd sensibility about customers, those
coming in for a meal, to attend an event, to buy a book. After all,
unlike a grocery store or pharmacy, no one “has to” go to a
restaurant and so we wondered why folks might risk their health by
going out to eat. Yet of course, we all wanted them to come, because
if they didn’t our jobs would be gone. Initially, despite the
looming threat, people came. Then, overnight, there was a drop off.
Events were hit first, with attendance down and then cancelled. As
news reports announced the virus’ arrival in the vicinity, numbers
eating out fell more. And with that, so too did book purchases –
even though some bought in case they should have time on their hands,
others said, quite sensibly, now might be the time to read books that
for too long have been sitting on a shelf at home. Servers, reliant on
tips, were most impacted. Each day, more staff had shorter hours. Each
day there was the hope people wouldn’t be sensible, they would come
in, mixed with the fear that someone infectious might enter too and
infect us. Both the reality and what we thought about that reality
became unsustainable as the news worsened hour by hour.

New rules were set – groups seated at a table had to be of six or
less, booths and tables where diners sat had to be separated by an
empty one; people should not sit or stand at the bar. All rules that
proved hard to enforce. What do you say to two couples with three
children who come for a meal?  With a sense of foreboding, loud,
boisterous crowds drank away at the bar one evening. The next,
according to the rules, no bar service. Finally, the announcement: the
governor declared all restaurants closed until the public health
crisis passed. The last day, our regulars who come by themselves
either to work with a cup of coffee or to have breakfast alone but not
alone, all showed. Then the curtain closed.

The Governor’s decision was the correct one, no doubt. Public health
is another way of describing taking care of each other. But it is not
an easy road. While it is true no one has to eat out, it is also true
that a shared meal outside of one’s home has an intrinsic value that
can’t be easily measured. So too does browsing through a bookstore
before making a purchase. The loss of such, when added to all the
other closures involved in a quarantine, is real. It is a loss those
of us who worked at this restaurant share in our own private lives.

I began by writing that I work at a bookstore, I now have to add an
“ed” to that word. At the stroke of a pen, we were unemployed. For
some the loss is harder than others – one co-worker was laid off
from another job, her husband’s hours were cut on a job that won’t
last much longer either. I wished her luck as she left with her child,
blithely unaware of what’s going on because of the brave, friendly
face she wore. I have my own challenges, as do we all living within
that palpable, familiar territory of unemployment, of income loss and
just the sense of loss.

And meanwhile, the nameless worry about our health, the health of our
family, friends, neighbors, remain. As does the unanswered question:
what will we do about it?

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