Alcohol will still be everywhere but soon no one can buy any from bars. “You can go home whenever you want, just lock up by 9,” is the last thing my boss says before disappearing out the door. “And wash your hands. We’re filthy.” He wouldn’t be here for the end of an era’s closing time. Our old vices don’t need air, they need people. Soon people will need new vices because the old ones require too much community.
Every shift I cozy to any drinking stranger for a chance at a backyard overgrown with weeds. It’s nightly absurd, like my wish for more exes to think about and be grateful to be away from, as 8 men in their mid-50s nearly break the door to rush the bar following the street sign showcasing Colorado’s best pickle shots.
These moments, I imagine I’m rain waiting in clouds. Bartenders never fear noise or take it for granted, we’re amidst the storm. No one expects peace.
Exaggerated, already buzzed, they find momentary balance in life’s unstable cycle. Only half of the couples speak:
“We’re each buying a round?”
“One quick round.”
“One round for each of us from each of us.”
“Same as it’s always been.”
“Until the end of the world,” I say as the silent group gets ready to take final cell phone photos in bad bar light as the day dies outside. Eight times over, through neon accents and a near moonlit city, green alcohol fills each glass.
Fair weather friends are still friends. “Buy one, get one tonight,” I say seeing that no one wants to offer credit cards or use bar pens. They pile lumps of cash. “Thanks, I’ll miss those.”
“And we’ll miss you just as much as you’ll miss us.”
“Or simply miss work.”
“It’ll be months of missing them both.”
“When I was your age, I survived another epidemic. But this affects everyone.”
“Your glasses are empty.” I fill them with the bottle my fingers find. Holding up the last of the fortunate tequila against their glasses stained with shared lip marks we know are there but don’t taste, I say, “Here’s to months of dying only to be told you’ll be okay,” and look trustingly towards their dollars but knowing all dollars are dirty.
I’ve seen these men dance, drink sexually, live wildly, and now they just walk out and wish for my best. I wish for theirs more.
“Go buy toilet paper,” one of them says into the city’s faded life, “it’s always the first thing to go.”
I’m surprised by peace. The tequila bottle hits an empty bin as the dollars find the bottom of my pocket. Not by order of drinkers but it’s closing time for all bars by order of health officials and bureaucrats hoping we follow their freshly swept broom traces to clean isolated living. I don’t sweep the bar or turn on the lights. I do play “Closing Time,” a true virus in bars. Chairs haven’t moved since I put them on the floor, and there they’ll stay, unmoved for months. I pass tables, surfaces, corners, places for skin, and they have traces of all of us–death’s fingertips–on my way to the supply closet full of toilet paper. The world’s full of strangers I’ll never meet, and they might not meet me but at least they won’t get my toilet paper.
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
Maybe that song will die. Maybe only bad bar songs will be victims of this plague, I hope as no cars pass down Broadway. No lights cast shadows of no one. Even silhouettes are distanced from us. Past the door, nothing is planned expect for disaster, and that’s noise I can live with.
I drop the box of paper and lock the bar door into the frame. Old diseases and future drinks and planned tomorrows are kept safe. Spring is so close but snow still hides from sunlight on sidewalks and gathers around the bottom of the toilet paper box. As does a flower. Uncolored, breaking concrete and underfoot snow share shades of gray. It’s certain to die but I could have killed it.
Bare light comes from a parking garage across from the bar. Every night, drunk, rich with what’s in my pockets, Pavarotti sings to me. Powerful Italian vocals bounce off asphalt streets that stretch as a gravestone for everyone. Not stopping at softly stirring curbside sleeping bags, the street carries on in the same tones as tombstones for us all. But the music rests my ears as I read a dropped sign. It too speaks for everyone:
Not thinking about where my hands have been or where the sign will go, I place it next to the concrete ice flower. Knowing the demands of cash, I only put a roll of toilet paper on the sign. Like the flower, I hope it leads to more. What keeps giving is the parking garage opera singing to sleeping bags, closed bars, to me, to this one flower. Maybe I could grow one in a yard one day. Not many can see grass rolling over our graves and monuments and hopes for remembrance. Not many see how one flower can lead to more. Many might not see it but maybe now we can imagine it.