I got into an argument with a guy at the bar today. I’m not sharing this because I’m proud of it or because I feel like I gained anything from it, but so that I might glean more about a part of my personality that I don’t often have to face—rage.
I’m a student in his final semester with a 4 hour break between classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is normally a time for my classmate Kevin and I to grab some food at the bar and get some homework done before the evening block. This afternoon though was particularly unusual first because Kevin wasn’t going to be able to make it out to campus today, I’d be dining alone. It’s also the day the University of Akron was expected to follow Ohio and Kent State Universities in cancelling classes in preparation for the COVID-19 outbreak spreading across the United States.
Before my first class was through, I was shown a Tweet from the student body president indicating that such an announcement was coming shortly. Unclear if that meant today or tomorrow, I carried on with my routine and headed to my favorite barstool on the next street over. I had already ordered a drink and a sandwich before the email came through. Classes are canceled through the end of March with online instruction to follow after our Spring Break.
A few people came in after I was settled and sat on either side of me. Also enjoying an afternoon beer were an older gentlemen to my right and a young man in his mid-twenties to my left. I was engrossed in the sporadic type of conversation one has with bartenders who have other patrons to attend to. They’d come and go, asking me questions about Akron’s plan for coronavirus, telling me their own preparation stories and fears. It was during one of the lulls when I started making some one-on-one conversation with the man to my right who was concerned most about Steph Curry’s health. He saw on a TV above the bar that the athlete was being tested and probably wouldn’t play the next game. He quickly forgot about me and dug out his phone to find more to the story. The bartenders were both still occupied at the other end of the bar when I overheard a contrasting take on the world’s top story.
The younger man to my left was all but announcing to the entire bar that the coronavirus was a “media hoax.” Granted, he was not talking to anyone in the room, but broadcasting his theory to his iPhone as a dictated text message. After a few texts like this were sent, I was unable to help myself in asking if he really believed that what he said was true—that COVID-19 was just a big scare and wasn’t anything to be concerned about. “No, it’s all fake. How many people die of the flu?” he asked. “between twelve and sixty-one-thousand I replied,” armed with some CDC statistics I read just the day before. The guy started shaking his head, repeating constantly, “to each their own” as if I had stated my stance on anything, rather than a scientifically recorded statistic.
I shared that I don’t think the effects of the virus was anything to dismiss given the toll its taken across the globe over the last few months. He kept asking me “whatever happened to Ebola?” Sure that this person doesn’t actually have anything of value to contribute to the conversation but curious anyway, I remarked that thousands died during the Ebola outbreaks a few years back, just not in our country. He seemed to take that as a credit to his theory that infectious diseases are just a hoax. I credit it to a well led and properly prepared United States government.
I asked him if he was worried that he might get sick. To this he remarked that he “doesn’t get sick” and that he “eats things off of the floor to strengthen his immune system.” I asked if he was worried that his parents or grandparents might get sick and that their immune systems might not be as strong as the guy eating chicken fingers with mustard right in front of me. “I don’t have any living grandparents and my parents are fine. If someone doesn’t have a good immune system they should get one. Otherwise, too bad.”
Ignoring the paradox of his insistence that coronavirus deaths are both “too bad” and “a hoax,” I shared that I did have relatives of advanced ages and friends and family members that have had or continue to seek chemotherapy treatments. I expressed that I was concerned for their health and safety more than my own. He laughed at me and repeated his mantra, “too bad.”
At this point, my blood was boiling. I knew I shouldn’t let such an obvious buffoon get to me, but adrenaline was already kicking in when I asked him to circle back on the “eating things off of the floor” bit. This is apparently a thing he actually does to either strengthen his immune system or “own the libs.” I don’t think he’s even sure. I remarked that there is a scientific theory that supports that practice, that it’s called natural selection, and that I encouraged him to keep it up.
It was then that my food arrived and my appetite left. I asked the bartender for a to-go box and my bill. I shared a knowing look of repulsion and sadness with the other one while I gathered my things to leave. As I walked out, I wished the guy good health. “It’s all a hoax,” he shouted back at me with contempt. The shouting continued as the exterior door closed behind me and the crisp winter air whipped northward up Main St., taking what wind was left in my chest with it.