They’ve Tortured and Scared You for Twenty-Odd Years

As I sit and write this, it’s been a few days since the  government announced that our nation is officially in a state of emergency over the coronavirus. I have been laid off for the same amount of time with no clear end in sight. There is ZERO work as all restaurants, bars, country clubs, hotels, and resorts have been shut down.

 I live near Palm Springs, California, a giant tourist town that hosts events like Coachella, Stagecoach and the BNP Tennis Tournament. Palm Springs is where a lot of old Hollywood would vacation as it’s just a couple hours from Los Angeles. It has a huge retirement community, the same demographic ages that the virus is affecting. We have officially lost our season and at least $450 million dollars in revenue for the community. Police started shutting down businesses on Sunday, following the instruction of our governor. Being part of the service industry right now means that work is non-existent. So I applied for unemployment and other financial help like the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) and its National Charitable Foundation’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, bought what food I could find, and holed up with my partner, an educator who is likely off for the next eight weeks.

It’s not all completely bad. We have spent some much-needed quality time together that included video games and episodes of Star vs. the Forces of Evil and The Amazing World of Gumball. I am getting caught up on my school work and our apartment has never been so clean.  I’m heartened to see how many allowances states are taking to ensure the people without work are protected such halting of evictions and utilities getting shut off due this vast economic hardships. Internet companies are giving free access for students and a lot of schools are moving their curriculum online to accommodate interruptions in the school year. 
I am appreciative of the way the big powers in corporations and government are trying to make adjustments for us working-class folks. I really am. But why in the good fuck wasn’t all of this happening before?

A mantra that  burns in the back of my mind comes from 2005’s Constantine when Gabriel explains to the titular character why he was, quite literally, releasing hell on Earth:
“I’ve been watching for a long time. It’s only in the face of horror that you truly find your nobler selves. And you can be so noble.”

And then a friend shared a post on Facebook that said this, “COVID-19 is showing you the facts that American capitalism has lied about. It’s showing how many of you support socialism when it’s convenient for you or the people you care for…children could’ve gotten laptops & free wifi this whole time. Wifi could’ve been a utility this whole time. Stores could’ve been allowing seniors to shop for one hour assisted. Stores could’ve closed earlier to give stockers & cleaners proper time to stock & recover this whole time. College students could have a frozen interest rate on student loans this whole time. Pregnant women, disabled people & single parents could’ve worked from home this whole time. Abandoned federal buildings could’ve been used for homeless people. Students could learn from home instead of being suspended for a lack of transportation to school this whole time. Bill payment could’ve been furloughed this whole time. Evictions for hard times could’ve been delayed this whole time. Co-Pays & other out-of-pocket health provider fees could have been waived. Not turning someone’s electricity or water off in desperate times so they can survive could’ve happened this whole time. Airfare could’ve been cheaper this whole time. Sick people could have been encouraged to take time off & given paid time off to care for themselves. The bottom line is…humanity could’ve been humane this whole time.”

I think the first time I saw how easily legislation can move was when a congressional member implemented  a new policy after his dog died during a flight. It took less than a week. It brought a giant spotlight to change, how real and possible and readily accessible it can be. It’s easy to do when an elected official wants to (this is why voting in every single election matters) but that’s the problem; many of them just aren’t inclined to do so. The fact is that many, many, many working-class people are the ones who elected these politicians who promise to work for said class of people once they’re in office. Those same politicians get lobbied by the rich and wealthy, get money for doing so and discard any and all promises. Their mentality is a very much “fuck you, I got mine.”

But then the coronavirus came to the United States. And because no adults are in charge, it’s rapidly shutting down this country. The stocks have plummeted, the economy is tanking, and with no sports to distract us from all of this, it seems that the wealthy along with the rest of the country, are realizing it’s the poor and working-class who run shit in the United States. 

From supermarket employees getting yelled at by ridiculous customers because they can’t purchase warehouses of toilet paper. The nurses and social care employees working for hours on end doing their best to contain the virus. To the restaurant and service industry workers who provide services and goods enjoyed to those who drop bills as dining regulars. To the janitors and cleaners who wash, scrub and disinfect after every one to prevent germs and diseases from spreading. To the teachers who are changing entire lesson plans to accommodate students who are at home and learning online. To the cannabis and pet supply workers who continue to go to work because they are essential businesses. These people, who have continued to go to work, have what others have referred to as “low-skill” and  “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” jobs; but they are the ones who were keeping this country running. Now the working class and its wages have been seared off and we’re not spending money because we have none. Corporations and the government realize this and are in a full-fledged panic: Perhaps if we throw $1000 at them, they’ll buy things? Not really. If I get that money, it’s paying bills and credit cards to alleviate some stress but what about the next month? And the next? There hasn’t been a proper and adequate response to this in the United States and I really don’t expect there to be any time soon. 

The throbbing uncertainty and simmering panic inside me comes from wondering if and when I will return to work.  If I’ll be able to find something before my bank account hits $0. I have a freelance gig. It’s something, but it’s not sustainable.  I am fortunate to have my car paid off and a partner who works on salary, but I have been working since I was 11; I cannot NOT work. I don’t feel productive, I don’t feel like I’m contributing and I hate relying on people for my livelihood.

There’s also the matter of graduation, for me in my graduate program and other students across the country. Will my cohort have our graduation postponed? This virus is the still point of the turning world. 

I will say that growing up as a latchkey kid in a single-parent, working-class home along with being introverted as hell has been an amazing utilized skill/mindset. Starting at age six, I was left home waaaaaaaaaaay more often than not and discovered my love of reading with that path leading me to write my own stories. So perhaps something good might come out of this. Maybe some kids might discover something new about themselves while they’re out of school. Maybe someone might have time to sit and plan out a solution for a problem in their home or community. Maybe someone who is constantly working and hasn’t had time for themselves can finally do some introspection that might help their mental health. Maybe we’ll start to be our nobler selves in helping our own communities in ways that we can because we were always working so much before.

While it’s important to stay (factually!) informed about our situation, do what you can to stay sane. For my own mental health, I also take a break from media to pamper my cats, leisurely read, talk to friends online and play the Sims 4.
But one thing is clear. It’s going to have to be us who rely on each other, our friends and communities, to keep us grounded through the mess. From sewing masks or sending food to overworked medical staff or even just a few kind words of gratitude, any little thing helps. Just don’t forget the exemplary importance of the working-class people and what they do for our world.

Stephanie Teasley is an Antioch University graduate student pursing her M.F.A. in Creative Writing. A transplant from the Midwest, she has found a great life surrounded by loved ones, both furry and human, in California. Her mixology skills as a bartender have transferred over to her writing, as she slings words around just as much as she does drinks. She enjoys being introverted but doesn’t mind great company.