An Evening at the Ritz

Jakarta is slowly waking up again, after the long sleep of hypnosis lovingly referred to as the Fauci Flu Damn-panic by Far Siders the world over.  The Great Awakening is not so much because the city’s illustrious gubberner Anus Bathwater has released his iron grip on the throats of residents, so much as Indonesians have a wonderful capacity to ignore the rules when they no longer serve the people’s purposes.

I have been going about my business since June of 2019.  I spent the months of March and April of that year in obligatory fear and panic.  If my wife or I went out of the house, we had a screen set up on the porch to disrobe outside, bag our clothing, sanitize, and then dash for the shower.

That was back when no one clearly understood what was going on and we took every precaution possible to keep our home as virus-free as any non-Level-4 bioweapons lab could be.

During those two months I read, I researched, I took online courses in virology.  I carefully studied every report of symptoms, revelations and possible treatments and cures.  I did everything, in fact, EXCEPT watch TeeVee, and that is most likely why I haven’t been afflicted with the Fake Science Narrative Syndrome (FSNS or fiss-niss).

Once I realized that the world was living in terror of the Common Cold, my household went to Yellow Alert and we went about our lives.  The only concession I’ve made to the insanity since that time is to wear a cloth surgical mask, on which I cut out the cloth and replaced it with with mosquito netting.  It meets the precise letter of the law, while not restricting my airway and allowing me to demonstrate just how insane all this is.

So, speaking of insanity, I had to meet some folks last night to discuss business, and they had chosen that Great American Woke-a-tarian Church to Our Lady of Eternal Consumption, popularly known as Starbuck’s.

Now I haven’t sullied the soles of my sandals in a Starbuck’s establishment in years.  I didn’t like their ridiculous politics before the Fauci Flu Damn-panic, and after last night, I simply loath the place.

When I entered the Cathedral, I knew immediately I had crossed over into some kind of alternative reality.  Solitary worshippers, whose faces were illuminated by the sacred glow of LED screens with blazing apple logos on them, were scattered across the interior.   They were dutifully draped in their sacred N95 nose diapers, pulling them delicately to the side to sip their overpriced sacramental bean juice, apparently unaware that they were transferring millions of viruses and bacteria to their diapers every time they did so.

Every stick of furniture in the place was scaled for kindergarteners.  Tiny round tables with exactly two overstuffed chairs barely 30cm off the floor were sprinkled in a precisely measured grid throughout the interior.

The one exception was a line of five tables, each approximately 150cm long by 60cm wide (2 feet by 5 feet).  They were lined up end-to-end, and between each table, there was a “screen” of two pieces of wood paneling 50cm tall and 30cm wide, with a rather large gap in the middle.  These ridiculous appliances obviously wouldn’t stop a stiff breeze, much less an invading cloud of Fauci Flu viruses, and were clearly intended to give the illusion of “safety,” rather than any science-based protection.

I made a mental note to offer sacrifice to the wood sprites in thanks for the trees that were slaughtered for this farcical display.

Though each table could easily seat 6, the four corner positions were marked with stickers that read, “Starbuck’s Cares,” with a big red X on them.  I suppose this was meant to say that only two people could use each table, and only if they are seated directly across from each other.

I was meeting four other people, so I imagined we’d all have to do Zoom across three tables.

A chill ran up my spine, like icy ghost fingers telling me to run from this place lest the insanity be contagious.  I mustered my courage, and seeing that the folks I was to meet had not yet arrived, I moved cautiously to the counter to order.

A somber young man took a defensive position on the other side of the counter, apparently perplexed by the mosquito netting draped across my nose and mouth.

“Would you like to order,” he inquired.

I ordered a cup of coffee.  He stood still for a moment, as if I had just spoken in Aleut.

“Regular or grande,” he asked plaintively.

“Large,” I replied.

“What kind of coffee,” he asked, swinging his head to indicate the menu board across the back wall.

“Hot, black, caffeinated,” I said, helpfully.

“Americano,” he prompted.

“No, I’m from Texas,” I said.

I could literally hear the gears in his head grinding, throwing sparks and metal shavings across the interior of his skull.

“Sorry, I mean do you want Americano coffee,” he said after a short pause.

“Oh, uh, sure, whatever.”

“Name?”

“Americano,” I relied, indicating the choice on the menu.

“No, I mean your name.”

“Ah, Bernard.”

He scribbled across the cup and slid it down to the young woman making the actual coffee, then turned to ring up my purchase.

“That will be 50 thousand,” he announced.  I couldn’t tell if he was smiling or grimmacing, since half his face was hidden behind a piece of paper.  I thought it was rather nice that they had priced the coffee so that, with the obligatory VAT added, it came out to a nice round number that perfectly matched the exact denomination of one of the bank notes in circulation.

I fished a 50-thousand rupiah note from my pocket and offered to the increasingly vexed “barrista”.  He recoiled slightly, as if I had just held out a steaming pile of fresh horse shit to him.

“We cannot take cash,” he said, acting as if a piece of plutonium were eating a hole in the palm of my hand.

“I’m sorry?”  It was my turn to be perplexed.

“It’s unsanitary and we are not allowed to accept it,” he explained, as if to a Martian just in from Tharsis Mons.  “We accept credit and debit cards,” he offered helpfully.

“Aren’t credit cards dirty too,” I asked scientifically.  The blank stare told me logic and rationality weren’t going very far here.  “Is there another way to pay?  I don’t want to use a credit card for 50 thousand.”

“You can use your Starbuck’s card,” he looked more relxed, as if dropping into a familiar script.  “The card is free!”

“Great, let me have one of those, then.”

He fished under the counter and presented me with a piece of plastic emblazoned with magical logo symbols and graphic designs, clearly indicating that it would remain sterile no matter how much I used it, or where I kept it when not in use.

“How do I top up the card?”

“Oh, we can do that right here,” he seemed almost gleeful at being able to remain on script.

“Great, I’d like to put 50 thousand on it,” I said.

“Sure!”  He inserted the card into some kind of magical device, entered the amount on a key pad, then took my 50-thousand note in exchange and handed the card to me.

Feeling as if I had stumbled into a street theatre production of some obscure Kafka or Ionesco opus,

I handed the cared back to him and he dutifully deducted my purchase.  He handed the card back to me, with a second 30cm-long receipt (one for the top-up, one for the purchase), and graciously indicated the end of the counter, saying I could retrieve my coffee there.

I poscketed the plastic card and several trees’ worth of printed paper, and slid along the counter to retreive my plastic cup of coffee with a plastic lid and a paper straw (to reduce plastic waste, of course).

I turned triumphantly to the interior to hunt down a sufficient supply of hermetically-sealed seating to accommodate my party.

My breast swelled with pride as I pondered the sheer volume of virtue I had signaled with that one transaction.  I was confident that when I stand before St. Greta at the Eco-Friendly Gates, I would have at least one Plenary Indulgence to trade for a Cosmic Carbon Credit.

Beaming with self-righteousness, I stabbed the paper straw at the opening on the plastic lid, and it crumpled like a sand castle in a rising tide.

I sighed and set the useless wad of paper aside, removed the single-use plastic lid, savoring the free-trade aroma of bean juice and thought, “Oh, what a good boy am I.”

Reprinted with the author’s permission.

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