“Who was that masked man? I wanted to thank him.”

Years ago, for some reason (perhaps a college assignment I’ve forgotten), I picked up a copy of Boccaccio’s Decameron.

This is not a review of that book.

I started reading the Decameron, for some reason, years later in Florida, when I was sick in bed and looking for reading material. Back before I could summon books magically through the ether with my Amazon Fire.

I didn’t finish it. It’s one of those books I just couldn’t get into.

Anyway, it’s a collection of 100 stories, supposedly told by a group of ladies and gentlemen who’ve fled Florence during the Black Death in the 14th Century.

I tell you all of that just to ease into my real subject – I have a very brief Plague Story of my own today.

Buoyed by the prospect of money coming in from my recent translation job, I decided to throw some patronage at a restaurant I like, but haven’t been to for a while. I called in an order for pick-up.

When I got there, rocking my stylish Black Bart Stagecoach Robber bandana mask, the cashier told me it would be just a minute. I said sure.

There was another guy there, sitting on a bench. A middle-aged guy (which makes him younger than me, I shudder to think) who seemed to be waiting for a large order.

“Sure never thought I’d see times like this in America,” he said to me, keeping his distance as the law prescribes.

I agreed, pretty much echoing the same sentiment back to him. “I feel bad for the small business owners,” I added. “A lot of those people don’t have a lot of margin to fall back on.”

He told me he was a small businessman himself. He owned two neighborhood bars. “I’m doing OK,” he said. “But I feel bad for my employees. Some of them are in real bad shape.”

We went on to talk about various theories about the Coronavirus thing. He’d heard that people get immunity from sunlight exposure in summer. I said I’d heard it was temperatures over 80 degrees and humidity.

“If it’s heat and humidity,” he asked, “how come it doesn’t die on your body? What’s warmer and humider than your body?”

I admitted he had a point.

Then the cashier came out with my food. As I stepped toward the counter, the guy said, “Hey, Mister, forget it. It’s on me. It was a pleasure to talk to somebody new after all these days at home.”

I’ll share a little-known personal secret with you – I almost never turn down free stuff. I thanked him and gave the cashier a big tip. We were all happy for a moment.

As I left he asked my name, and gave me his. Which, of course, I’ve forgotten already.

I should have asked the names of his bars, so I could recommend them to any locals who may read this – after they re-open on VC day. But I didn’t think of that. And I don’t drink myself.

Well, fortunately he’ll never be able reproach me for my ingratitude. He never saw my face without a mask.

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