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Day Seven: Banking on the beer distributor


(JNS)—Let’s talk business, shall we? Let’s talk about how businesses are operating in the age of corona.

What is open: supermarkets, small grocers, hardware stores, office-supply stores, pet stores, pizza places, some restaurant takeout, gas stations, beer distributors.

Beer distributors? My husband tells me that is an essential business; after all, it’s basically food and beverages. He’s not such a drinker, but recognizes that others are.

Now, that distinction was not so apparent at first to the nice man named Izzy who runs the nearby laundromat. He was ordered to close, but had somewhat of a beef with the local government officials, explaining (quite reasonably) that if the beer store down the street was open and folks were going to keep drinking, then they’ll need a place to wash their clothes and keep clean. Or an existing public-health crisis will be made all the worse.

(He told me this while the Jewish mother in me rewashed the items my college-age son brought back from his dorm.)

What’s not open: coffee shops (sigh), state liquor stores, clothing stores, bookstores, tanning booths, day spas and salons, florists, bakeries—nearly all non-essential services where people tend to congregate.

And then come the banks.

I got a check in the mail, a refund for a class trip my teenage son won’t be able to take next week. I walked the half-block to my bank, which over the years has changed names about five or six times (my account is actually grandfathered in, I’ve been there so long).

Today, I noticed a sign on the door that said “drive-through service only.”

That explained the long line of cars snaking their way to the outdoor service window. So I stood behind the last one, slowly inching forward as the passengers got their financial needs taken care of. Then one of the tellers I know by name came outside and kindly told me that I couldn’t stand in line because it was too dangerous. A car could hit me.

I must have given her a look (at that point, we were both standing in line near the potentially errant autos). “If you have your debit card, I’ll show you how to deposit the check,” she said cheerfully.

“I don’t have a debit card,” I replied.

She blinked. “Oh, well, then just come back and drive up to the window.”

At this point, I had moved ahead two spots and was almost next.

And then came the big reveal—one that only my family and closest friends know.

“I don’t drive,” I said. “That’s why I always walk to the bank.”

(Living in New York in my 20s, and then Boston and Philadelphia in my 30s, I kind of skipped that stage...)

That about floored her.

Out of sympathy, I told her fine, OK, I’ll come back the next day driven by someone else. That someone will be my brother, who lives four towns away and being a teacher, is on leave right now, while my husband has meetings all day long from home. He will pick me up and we’ll drive the half-block over to the same window in the same spot with the same check to the same teller to make my deposit.

And then we’ll visit the beer distributor.

Day Eight: Chasing nightmares

I feel that I have to set the record straight.

You may or may not have been reading these daily write-ups since the coronavirus hit in full force, but in a matter of just eight days, the world has flipped around. I first lamented that my coffee shop closed; of course, that feels almost silly now.

And it may seem that I go out quite a bit, but not so. I am practicing social distancing like anyone else. In fact, like the copy editor I am, I pride myself on being (for the most part) a rules’ follower. I now go out every other day and only for something essential (milk, to mail a bill, to cash a check—yes, I did successfully accomplish that today in an actual vehicle.)

I take this situation very seriously. I scrutinize email updates from the township commissioner.

In the course of a week, the stats went viral: 851 COVID-19 cases in the state of Pennsylvania (up from 133); 159 in Montgomery County where I live outside of Philadelphia (up from 42), and 37 in the even more local Lower Merion area (up from eight).

In fact, I take it so seriously that I had my first nightmare in a very long time.

Those who know me are aware that I get about three hours of daily sleep (five to six on a good night). Now, you may think I am exaggerating, but not so. I was never a great sleeper—five hours were ideal—but then I started online journalism, and it never stops.

There is work around the clock. You think you’re getting ahead and bam! More work.

But I like night, and I like the work. It’s so quiet and peaceful, and I get so much done. Doing dishes, organizing laundry, sending email, signing checks, downloading photos...

So, this nightmare. I was running away from something in a parking lot, ducking between cars, though nothing was actually chasing me. I saw a shadow from a distance. And I was barefoot for some reason, yet still running pretty fast. I awoke with a jolt on the sofa (I dozed off watching the news) and heard the familiar but creepy noise above me.


That’s what we call our round, plastic robot floor-cleaner. It’s not a name brand and honestly has a mind of its own. We’ve tried to program him, but he still goes off at the oddest hours, and in-between vacuuming up dust and crumbs tends to go right for the paper towel or napkin that inadvertently slides under the dinner table. Then he gets all clogged up and makes what sounds like a deep hacking cough.

Was he the dark object in the night? Or was it more like a Pacman-like figure chomping its way through our house? Through our life? Ah, this virus... I want Shmutzie to suck it up and make it disappear.

In the meantime, I will hide in the house, and work and teach, and clean and cook and not get much sleep, like everyone else these days. And maybe take Shmutzie’s batteries out, and for the time being, put a pair of shoes by the bed.

You never know when you’re going need to up and run.

Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.

This Reporter’s Notebook will appear until the end of the month (or when schools reopen). 


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