Leisure versus Necessity

I browsed the aisles of Michael’s craft store, with huge signs in the window advertising 70% discounts on many items inside. A sign of business not doing so well during this pandemic I’m sure. I browsed the aisles that used to feel like a candy store, now with a very different feeling. The shelves half empty. Customers awkwardly trying to maneuver around each other. The shiny sparkles didn’t seem to be as shiny today. The Michael’s workers in their red craft vests wore their emotions on their masked faces. They moved slowly, with fatigue & disdain hanging around their shoulders for the entitled white women who use them as target practice to unleash their unrelenting fury. They are not paid enough to be subject to this violence daily. 

At checkout I was taken care of by a young woman who didn’t smile. I didn’t expect her to. I carefully placed my mosaic materials before her to be rung out. She moved to the same rhythm as her coworkers, and I noticed that she had bright green acrylic nails decorating the tips of her fingers. I wondered, did she choose that color to bring her a little joy while she worked? Or to remind her of the reason she needs to keep pushing through, green..? 

Then I went to Jersey Mike’s to grab a sandwich. Another luxury. The Jersey Mike employees were upbeat and welcoming, not missing a beat despite the unusual days of COVID. The man in front of me looked thrown together, and was taking an inordinate amount of time to make a decision, then change it, and repeat. The young man manager picked up on the vibe from this guy and tried to takeover from the friendly young girl who was being extremely patient, and graciously accommodating all of his changes and intentional confusion. When it came time to pay, the man said “oh man I didn’t set up my e-pay on my phone”. The manager graciously said “no problem, we take cash or card too”. The guy then replied “oh man I don’t even have my card, my bad” and then abruptly headed out the door. I felt bad for the staff. They’re simply trying to make the dam sandwiches and get through their shift. They’re there as a LUXURY for all of us. As if we can’t make our own dam sandwiches. They’re working to support themselves and their families, out of necessity. Then you’ve got guys like that that come in. 

But before I judged that guy who couldn’t pay for his sandwich too harshly, he too was perhaps doing what was necessary for himself, and possibly his family. His strategy was to create confusion, frustration, and he attempted to strike up a bit of a rapport with the staff in hope that the combination of all of those things, coupled with holding up the line at the register, might prompt the manager to say just take the sandwich since we already made it to your liking. He was not so lucky. But it made me wonder and worry about his situation. He did not appear to be living on the street at all, but who’s to say what his situation is. 

All of these interactions made me sad. From my perspective I’ve had the privilege of being able to shelter in place in my home, and continue working remotely as I was prior to COVID. I am blessed to have the option of deciding to spend money on take out, feeling like I’m helping to support restaurants and the delivery drivers who bring the food to me, right? And my orders to Amazon, I’m supporting a company who is a major employer, right? Or am I responsible for contributing to forcing mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles out into harm’s way while COVID runs rampant, when they too should be able to be at home with their families in the safety of their homes? 

Are all of the businesses that are open right now truly essential? I’d argue many are not. Do we really need to quench our need to consume during a pandemic? Isn’t there a better way that we could prioritize human beings and caring for each other instead of centering greed? Who gives a shit about the Dow Jones if we’re all dead. 

Another observation today that brought a smile to my face. Have you noticed the way people move these days? Have you observed people in their cars? Have you seen who is jamming in their car with the music up and windows down? And who is white knuckling it and somehow still in a rush to get….who knows where? Have you noticed who is tightly wound and red-faced and blowing a gasket at the most insignificant things? Have you noticed who is cool, calm and collected? Maybe it’s just me, but my observations have been that there is a fluidity, a nonchalant adaptability that is seamless, a calm, and an unspoken necessity to continue on that resides in the blood and lungs of all people of color. Things are hella heavy, shit is real, people are dying, in our communities disproportionately. And yet, you would think all is well in the world when you watch the steady, strong, determined stride of my brother. When we gather for balloon release ceremonies with our hair braided cuz we can’t go out looking crazy, and despite the reason for gathering, we still don smiles being in community together! Where does that strength come from??! It is ancestral. It is deep within our DNA. We will always adapt. We will always creatively innovate and advance. We will never give up. And we will do it with magnificent grace.