By Jiminy! The restaurants are open. The shops are open. “We’re back!” trumpets the noise media.
Ignore the man behind the curtain. Everything’s great. Oh yeah, there’s a housing shortage. And nobody knows what will happen to the schools in the fall. And businesses can’t hire workers who’ve figured out just how badly their jobs suck. And the police are still slaughtering Black citizens at an alarming rate. And the Justice Department may be corrupt to the core. And the Supreme Court just voted unanimously that a city cannot refuse to contract with a Catholic adoption agency that refuses to take on gay clients.
But, never you mind, kiddo! “Heeeeere’s America!” Let the good times roll.
I think it’s creepy.
Last night, I went out to one of my favorite Indian restaurants, without wearing a mask. The lights were on, but there was nobody home. All the tables were set, each sparkling clean, with a little card that read “sanitized”—at first I thought the cards would say “reserved,” but reservations there were none (unless you count my personal reservations about being there in the first place). I was the only customer. I walked in. There was no staff in sight. I stood for a while. Then I called out, “Is anybody here? Are you open?” Nothing. I could hear the sounds of kitchen workers, but just barely. The restaurant was brightly lit and spotlessly clean except for a used napkin that had fallen to the floor under one of the tables. It looked forlorn. The air condition was running full blast. I looked around for ghosts.
“Hello!” I called out, a bit more aggressively. “Are you serving dinner?”
A teenaged boy, wearing a mask, emerged from the kitchen. “May I help you?” He seemed nervous.
“Yes, I’d like to get some dinner.” The boy looked surprised, but he handed me a menu and invited me to sit wherever I liked. Then he withdrew behind the cash register.
All alone, I looked over the menu. The boy turned on the video screen, which played dance sequences from Bollywood. The joyful sounds seemed spooky in the cold and cavernous dining room.
I signaled to place my order. I selected vegetable korma (mild), Basmati rice, a couple of chutneys, a mango lassi, and some papadum.
“No bread?” asked the boy. He seemed disappointed.
“The papadum will be just fine,” I told him.
The meal arrived and it was delicious. Different than most Indian restaurants I know, the food was not as sweet as I expected. It had a salty tang I found refreshing. Once the food was delivered, the boy disappeared behind the kitchen curtain and I ate alone.
I finished the food. And waited for the boy’s return. I looked at my watch. And waited. Bollywood continued to play. I waited. After 15 minutes I called out, “Hello?”
And waited some more.
It took half an hour before I finally got someone’s attention. This time a smiling, unmasked adult bounced from behind the curtain.
“How was your meal?”
I told him, truthfully, that it was quite wonderful. He looked emotional, as though he might start to cry.
The boy, still masked, lurked in the backround, looking bewildered.
I paid and left.
It occurs to me that it’ll be a while before things get back to normal, if ever.
Maybe a long while.
Welcome to the time after.
By the way, if you are in Vallejo, and would like some really good Indian food, I highly recommend The Taj Grill.