The End of the Casual Chat, or…

SPACED OUT AT ARBY’S

I have been known to talk to strangers; people in checkout lines, checkers at a checkout line, a guy who happens to be wearing a HARBOUR SURFBOARDS sweatshirt while loading a pickup outside a Home Depot (has to be a story there, huh? Yeah, there was… quite informative and interesting), random folks who just happen to ask what’s happening or who’s moving into some office I’m painting, two different guys who are waiting for their orders at Arby’s in Silverdale where I happened to be, if you’re at all interested, because, if I have to go over the Hood Canal Bridge for one reason, like getting paint, I might as well combo it all up, go to Costco, and, as a treat, bring home ssomething from Arby’s, quality-wise, somewhere near the top of ladder for franchise takeout, not that I want to get into a big discussion about it. Yes, I did once consider Jack in the Box haute cuisine, brown bag-wise (with napkins), but…

YES, I will CHAT.

But that’s all over. People are, evidently, actually getting serious about surviving the pandemic that refuses to die, and some dorky guy who encroaches into their territory might just be met with ‘THE SWEEP,’ a gesture in which the right hand (usually) is extended, palm down, fingers down, but then ‘swept’ forward, broomlike; the intended message being a quite obvious, “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY SPACE YOU ZOMBIE!”

At least that’s how I took it when I, recently, merely leaned a bit forward to ask a gentleman if he was in line for check stand three. Maybe I was six inches into his bubble, but, yeah, I got the message. Then I looked over at check stand one, where two women were, I imagined, signing over Traveler’s Checks in order to buy cigarettes and/or a large number of Lotto tickets. Both of them, leaning way too close against the plexiglass barrier, turned to shoo away the guy waiting behind them. Yes, he did have a MAD MAX haircut and a matching facemask, and, from my angle, I could see he also had two large knives hanging from his belt, but, hey, he might have gotten offended by the DOUBLE SWEEP, with comment. Comments.

Or maybe he got the hint. I have. Yeah, it’s the end of the CASUAL CHAT.

“Hey, excuse me; are you two together? Oh, sorry for asking, it’s just, the outfits… Yeah, six feet. Got it.”

WAIT, a bit more; if you have a second: The last time, before last night, that I went to Arby’s was around November 9th, Trisha’s birthday, and while waiting for my takehome order, signs around the place warning about even trying to sit down, two other guys started chatting. Way too much info. I know I wrote about this. Not this time. There were, by the time my name was called out, six individuals, one couple, waiting, spaced out, not chatting. If another person joined the loose queue, he or she looked for the proper amount of distancing. I now know to just sideshuffle down a bit. Polite. Civilized.

THEN, this guy held open the far (exit only) door for me. “Hey,” I said, “it’s all gotten so real.” “It sure has.” So, both with our masks on, takeout bags in hand, somewhere near six feet apart, we chatted a bit. The old walk-and-talk. Nothing especially remarkable in the discussion; how Costco makes even nice people aggressively competitive, how this guy right in front of me had the last five pack of steaks in his hand, Trish, on the cell phone, wanted a five pack, the guy seemed to be considering whether to buy it or put it back, then grabbed the next to the last four pack, ALSO, and… that sort of thing. It was kind of nice. Chatting.

We will, with the help of the promised vaccines, reach herd immunity. Eventually. Meanwhile, I’ve long felt humans are not loners. I don’t want to quite say we’re herd animals, but we do enjoy being in the occasional pack. HERE’S A BIT OF PROOF in that direction. The other day, with the temperature around 40, and a damp 40 at that, I saw a group of hardcore Quilcene men, who, in other times, would have been at the big table inside, outside, drinking coffee and, yes, chatting.

“No, I wouldn’t call that six feet; would you?”

MEANWHILE, I’m getting pretty close to the exciting conclusion of “SWAMIS,” my novel; still a bit too long, possibly a bit too… chatty. Stay safe.

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