It felt good to stop in at Floggin’ Brews today. The sun was shining, temperatures are getting warmer, and we’re a month out from reopening the place.
It’s been quite a year.
I’d asked Brita and Mercy to join me for an afternoon of cleaning, in anticipation of Opening Day. Brita bounced in the back door, and I realized how much I’d missed her. I pulled my mask in place as she walked in.
“Hey, Ret! So we’re really going to open up again? And I can still work here?” She wore a mask with the co-op’s logo on in – a tree with rainbow leaves.
I laughed. “Yes, and yes. What, you thought we’d let a good worker like you find somewhere else to work?”
Brita looked a bit guilty. “Well, I do have a job at the co-op. . .”
“I recognize the mask – don’t worry, you can keep it. If you like it, that is.”
“Oh, they’re great.” Brita smiled. “It’s just a couple mornings a week. The moms get upset if I work too much – they say it will ‘interfere with my education’ or whatever.”
Brita was now enrolled at a small liberal arts college across town. She graduated from high school shortly after the shutdown, remotely. Mikhel had promised her a party at a future date. I’ll have to talk to him about that.
“So it’s still working with the moms?” Brita was living with Deb and Susan, who insisted she stay even after she turned 18.
“Yup. They fixed up the basement like an apartment, and I make them let me pay rent. Though I can’t pay very much right now.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I remember being a student. How are classes? But first, you remember where the mop is? Let’s get the floor mopped and waxed.”
Brita started mopping and I started scrubbing down the bar. She kept up a happy monologue about her classes, which professors were tough, what topics were interesting.
“And. . . there’s this cute guy in my philosophy class. I think I’m going to ask him to lend me his notes from last week.”
“Glad to hear that! Let me know how it goes.”
There was a rap on the front door. I looked up to see Mercy waving through the window.
“Mercy! Good to see you. How’ve you been?”
Mercy pulled her mask into place as I let her in. “Decent, considering.”
Brita looked up. “Hey, Mercy! Is that a new tattoo?”
“Which one?” Mercy looked down at her arms.
“The snake around your wrist. It’s cool.”
“Yeah, I got that late last summer, just before I got my apprenticeship.”
Brita stopped mopping. “Your what? I mean, apprenticeship for what?”
“Tattooing.” Mercy slipped her jacket off and hung it on a peg near the door. I spotted several new tats. “It’s something I always wanted to learn how to do. So I am.”
“So that’s how you got through the pandemic?” I asked.
Mercy snorted. “Hardly. Mostly I fixed cars. Some busses too. But things were pretty quiet for awhile when no one was going anywhere. So, what can I do?”
I put Mercy to work with a mop in the opposite corner of the floor, figuring the two of them could meet in the middle.
“Ret, is it true that you’re working for the Distributor?” asked Brita.
“Yes, but only until we get this place opened up. How did you know that?”
Brita brushed her hair out of her face. “Aunt Grete called. She told me that Mikhel had been sick, but not to worry because he’s getting better, and that you would be back, and that you would probably have some interesting stories to tell about your new job.”
I dumped out my bucket of soapy water in the bar sink and started to pour another. “All of that is true, except the stories aren’t all that interesting. I show up at the warehouse, get in my truck, and make deliveries all day.”
“Deliveries? Where?” asked Brita.
“Mostly smaller liquor stores, and an occasional bar or restaurant that is trying to stay as open as possible.” I squeezed out my sponge, added some Murphy oil soap to the water, and headed back to the bar.
Brita was still curious. “So. . . nothing unusual? The Distributor is kind of mysterious.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, but not really. I don’t see the Distributor much – we mostly talk by phone when we need to.”
And that was true, as far as it went.
I’d gotten the job with the Distributor after a brief unhappy stint with. . . well, let’s just say for a large corporate delivery service. I’d taken it because I knew that Mikhel didn’t have enough money to keep the staff on payroll, much as he wanted to. The corporate job was miserable. Uncomfortable uniforms, bad directions, angry dogs, stressed-out people, and unrealistic expectations of how quickly you could deliver a truck that always seemed to have more packages than the day before.
Just when I was about to quit and take my chances, I got a phone call from the Distributor, who offered me a delivery gig. I didn’t even ask for details before I said yes. The job involves me showing up to the Distributor’s warehouse on the far north side, and finding my truck fully loaded with a clipboard in the front seat listing all the deliveries. And giving me the shortest route between them. At the end of the day, I drop the empty truck off. I’ve never seen anyone load it, but it’s always ready for me in the morning.
“What kind of truck?” That was from Mercy.
“An Isuzu NQR. Diesel. A flat-faced cab with big windows, sliding doors on the sides.”
“Hmm. Never worked on one of those.”
Brita just wanted to know what color it was.
“Gray. Kind of a silver gray.”
“Huh. That’s not very exciting.”
“Nope. Aunt Grete was exaggerating.”
Mercy then asked for an update on Mikhel. I told them both what I knew: Mikhel is still recovering from COVID-19. He still gets tired easily, but he swears he’s getting better, and that he’ll be behind the bar when we reopen.
Brita finished a section of floor and stuck her mop in the bucket. “And Boss? How is She?”
“She’s still living with Aunt Grete. She took Her in when Mikhel became ill, and according to him, Boss has been so pampered by Grete’s home cooking that She isn’t leaving until She moves back here when we reopen.”
Mercy finished her section of floor too, and the two of them headed off to dump the water.
Lots of bars are open already, but Mikhel’s experience with the coronavirus, plus his feeling of responsibility to the community, made him extra cautious about reopening Floggin’ Brews. Plus, he’s more than a little superstitious and decided that May Day was an auspicious date for a reopening. As he put it, “we hardly ever get snow in May.” We won’t be reopening the Theater just yet – Mikhel is giving some thought to whether we require vaccinations – but the bar will be open, the chairs will be spaced further apart, and there will be some outdoor seating. We’re already scheduling munches.
Mercy and Brita came back into the bar, skirting the wet parts of the floor. “What needs doing next?” asked Mercy.
“I haven’t been up in the loft for awhile – I’m sure the floor could use a sweep. And the booths should be wiped down.”
Brita brushed the hair out of her face again. Teenagers. I made a mental note to get her some headbands for when she was working.
“Um, I hear that Mikhel might not be able to afford to reopen?”
I stopped scrubbing the bar and looked up. “Did Aunt Grete say that?”
“No. Not exactly. She said something about opening being good because Mikhel couldn’t afford to have it closed.”
That made more sense. I nodded. “I think she just meant that he misses the place a lot. So it will be good for him to have the place open.” I didn’t mention the whole thing about Boss’ endowment, and it kicking in only when the place was open. That’s hard for even me to fathom, even though I am almost certain it’s true.
“But,” said Mercy, “I’ll bet he could use the income too. I mean, what’s the rent on this place?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m not sure. Actually, I think it’s a mortgage because I think . . . I think he bought the place.” I almost said “Boss bought the place,” which would be accurate. But again, hard to explain.
“And electricity and stuff too.” Brita looked worried.
“Don’t worry, Mikhel had some savings, and there’s no chance Floggin’ Brews is going to fold.” I said. Brita looked relieved.
Mercy looked thoughtful. “What if we had a fundraiser? I have an idea.”
“I’ll help!” Brita piped in.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked. I wondered if she was going to offer some kind of automotive service. Maybe a drive-through tune-up.
“Tattoos,” said Mercy. “I’ll donate a day of doing tattoos. I’ve got all the equipment. I’m not great yet, but I’m pretty good. Especially if we have a flash sheet of designs that people choose from.”
Brita gave a big grin. “Can I help design them?”
Mercy smiled back. “Don’t see why not.”
“I’ll have to pass that by Mikhel, but that’s really generous of you, Mercy!” I could see that the wheels were starting to turn in Brita’s head. “Why don’t the two of you come up with an official-looking proposal, and I’ll make sure he approves. You can also give me your opinions on some of the new sodas I’m thinking of stocking.”
Mercy and Brita huddled together at the end of the bar, and before they left, handed me a sheet with a proposed date, ideas for tattoos and pricing schedule, and a roughed-up sketch of a publicity poster. I promised them I’d send it to Mikhel before I went home. Brita also told me that the watermelon soda was good, but the cucumber was not. Mercy just smiled and said they were both too sweet in her opinion.
When I was finished with polishing the bar and going through the mail, I gave Mikhel a call.
“Ret! Good to hear your voice. How is the old place?”
“As old as it ever was. The bar says it misses you.”
I heard a sigh. “I miss it too. Soon.”
He couldn’t hear me nod, but I did it anyway. “Yup, we have almost a month. It will be sparkling by then. But I’m calling to let you know that Mercy and Brita have something cooked up.”
I told him about the idea. I could hear him get a bit choked up – since being ill, Mikhel is more sentimental than every. He had just one request: “The designs have to be appropriate, of course. Boss will want to see them.”
I smiled. “Oh, She’ll like them. They’re proposing one of Her with a crown.”
It was good to hear him laugh.