J. William Lewis
When the pandemic struck, the bakery under my loft, the eyrie wherein my loftiest thoughts take flight, closed and has yet to reopen. The bakery had been for years the gathering place for the writers and artists of tomorrow, who are drawn to the Village for inspiration and doughnuts. Every morning we would gather al fresco, sip cappuccino, nibble our scones and talk excitedly about weighty matters of great and lasting import. I remember very distinctly the last day (before COVID-19 intruded into the world of ungraspable truth and ineffable beauty) because I had arrived late and found the tables sprawled out from under the green-and-white-striped awning covering the bakery’s patio.
The tables were bizarrely spaced six feet apart! To make an already dolorous situation worse, the only available chair for me was a wobbly one—you know, one of those with one leg shorter than the others--at the edge of the patio, sitting directly in the morning sun which had already begun to singe all but my frets about the pandemic and the geography that left me at the periphery of the discussion.
--What in the world? I said. My eyebrows were raised almost to my hairline and my palms were turned toward the sky in supplication.
--CDC guidelines, said the group’s version of Myrna Minkoff, whose chair was closest to mine but still in the shade. It’s the law, Ace, so get used to it.
Of course, I need not mention that this statement had two errors buried within it. First, I had no idea what CDC meant (I thought she may have meant CBD). Second, my name is not Ace; it’s Jack, as in Jack of spades.
I grunted, but said nothing further. In addition to the solar fry, my companions were in the shade and I was in bright sun, so that I could hardly see them. Indignity upon indignity, I burn and peer into the dark. Luckily I had worn my turquoise beret and my long-sleeved polo shirt with the library logo. I actually thought that, in light of my gravitas, someone might offer to swap seats with me. (However, as Swift has observed, the dunces are always in a confederacy against true genius.)
Thus, I baked while the narcissists chattered. It was obviously a conspiracy of sorts to pretend not to notice that I had arrived, because the incessant chatter continued and no one gave me so much as a “Good morning, OGO.” (In case you have never joined the in-crowd at the Village bakery, the acronym ‘OGO’ is a deferential shortening of my usual sobriquet: O, Great One.)
--Have you managed to find an N95 mask? asked one shadowed voice.
--No, said a more familiar but still unidentifiable voice. The doctors and nurses can’t even get masks.
--Aren’t we supposed to use hand sanitizer? said the Minkoff imitator. Anybody got any?
The Binx Bolling observation about Kate came into my mind because I could imagine that Minkoff “longs to be an anyone who is anywhere, and she cannot.” (Of course, I would never tell the group that I have no idea what that really means, if anything, but I thought of it because I had tucked it into my mind for use at an appropriate juncture of witty repartee.)
--Does anyone have any hand sanitizer?
--Could we talk about something weightier than ointment? asked someone with an authoritative voice. Have we gathered here to talk about mundane topics like disease?
--And consequent death, someone else added.
--Whatever, said the voice of authority. Unlike you guys, I have a job. I’ve got books to sort, maybe even to read.
--You have a job? I said, straining to see who was claiming to be employed.
--The library is still open. You might try it sometime, Ace. You would probably benefit from an exposure to books.
I said nothing because I didn’t want to reveal to the group that, like Ignatius P. Riley, my library card had been revoked after my discharge. Also, somewhat like Ignatius, I am convinced that I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking. By perversion, I think Ignatius really meant proclivities, because I think we both have the same proclivities. I also am inclined to think best in the supine position. Indeed, it is the position that I usually aspire to, but job counselors usually advise against revealing too much
--Does anyone have sunscreen, I asked with far more diffidence than I felt.
In response to this question, the conversation stopped and all eyes turned toward me. (For the record, I was the only one in the sun, so the question was clearly irrelevant to the others and, a fortiori, none of the others was likely to have empathy or sunscreen.)
--Suppose we talk about our writing projects? Who wants to go first? A radio silence followed these questions. Even in the shadows, I could see the group looking from person to person. Anyone?
--This pandemic has got me stymied, I finally said. I can’t get anything done with this scythe hanging over my head. The bakery is closed. The movie theater is closed. How am I supposed to get any writing done? Besides, muh deddy hasn’t sent me any money. It’s hard and all . . . ya know.
Alabama native J. William Lewis is a former lawyer who lives in Shoal Creek, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama.
Born in Chickasaw, Alabama, Lewis grew up in Mobile. He graduated from Spring Hill College (A.B., magna cum laude, English and Philosophy) where he was a member of Alpha Sigma Nu and recipient of the Merihl Award. While in college, Lewis served as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine The Motley. Lewis received his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, and served on the Editorial Board of the Virginia Law Review.
After a clerkship for the Honorable Walter P. Gewin on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Lewis practiced law in Birmingham for over three and a half decades.
Presently, Lewis serves as executive officer of his family’s investment company, Seaman Capital, LLC, and related companies.
He has been married to Lorraine Seaman Lewis for more than half a century.
The Essence of Nathan Biddle is his debut novel.