There are days when it feels like only yesterday that I began to leave masks around the house like trusty reading glasses. But, yikes, here it is two years later, and we are still having the “should I/should I not throw away my mask” conversation.
Personally, I didn’t have to rack my brain about this.
I moved to a new building, in a new neighborhood, in a new age, in late 2020. Ever since, I’ve been studying whose eyes I am happy to see and whose to avoid — not because of anything contagious, other than bad manners.
In the end, I chucked my last cotton mask because the inside was just disgusting.
The problem with acting on impulse, though, is that one way or another you are going to regret it, and during my first maskless trip to Safeway, I did. The last thing you want to feel when you are breezily going about your business is that you are being stereotyped as an anti-vaxxer.
I noticed people went out of their way to give me a wide birth. I approached a woman I know from my building complex and said, “The CDC order was dropped, but I feel like I’m the only one happy about it.”
She waves and says, “Oh, I’m afraid to take off my mask.”
People can surprise you. She and I had discussed our vaccines, our boosters, our masks — hers handmade by her daughter. And, like me, she was ready to toss them. “Enough!” she said back in March as we stood together under an oak tree on our property, watching the squirrels turn our courtyard into captivating theater. I think we both felt it, how nature will make a feat out of the simplest task, until those of us watching start to wonder why on earth humans have made everything so complicated.
Back at Safeway, I say, “Colds and flus and viruses that look like crash helmets are here to stay. But I can’t live in fear forever.”
Every ounce of me hates being the kind of person who over-simplifies the issues, but the way I see it, it’s a way of coping. Like crying.
“Oh, I don’t mean that,” my neighbor said, squinting an eye at a bottle of foundation. “I’ve done pretty well with my eyebrows over the last couple of years, but I’ve let the rest of my face go. I’ve been meaning to learn how to apply foundation.”
“Which is just another mask,” I say, and she laughs, and I have a good laugh, too.
Slowly, she drops her solid white mask, clearly not one of her daughter’s designs. And then she had to ruin all the fun by showing me the worst rash on her cheeks. “My dermatologist told me it’s an allergy to the fibers masks are made from.”
“Even the ones your daughter makes?” I ask.
“Polyester. Did you know polyester is a form of plastic derived from petroleum? Because I didn’t.”
I did know. And I found a website that documents skin problems people are having from wearing what is basically spun petroleum, and I remember wanting to forward it to everyone I knew, but I stopped myself.
As is always the way, people bought disposable masks because they look harmless and are inexpensive, so I told myself — and I have continued to tell myself to this day — to keep quiet because who needs more frustration and panic?
Most people don’t want to question everything. Even when the truth is in front of their nose, literally.
At check out, a clerk — a clerk who could be ringing us up — announces, “Self-check is open!”
Lately, I find myself imagining all kinds of T-shirts I’d like to design. My latest would say, “Dear Software Developer: How will all the people who don’t have a tech degree find work if you keep eliminating their job possibilities?”
Think of all the interactions people have with checkout clerks, possibly the only one in a day, especially the elderly. Think of the only job for an out-of-work college graduate (which was my case) and the only job for a newly married broke writer (also my case). Entry-level positions are necessary. Stop going to self-check-out, just stop, and more cashiers will be hired, simple as that.
It’s a busy day in Safeway; the cashier’s line is getting long. And there is a dog doing a pretty good job of annoying everyone, so I turn around to see where all the barking is coming from only to see a woman woofing into her phone at a dog barking with joy, as dogs will do when humans impersonate dogs.
I try to wear my thickest shawl of patience, but I feel it start to slip off. I nearly lose it, but I ask myself if I really want to insert my annoyance into a dog-adoring situation. I know how people are about their dogs.
I used to shop during the worst of COVID to lift my spirits. But now?
Now, I just don’t know. I am this close. I grip my shawl until my knuckles are red, but it’s too late.
Through gritted teeth I say, “What good is your mask if it sits below your nose? Instead, think about wearing earbuds!”
Another example of a great T-shirt.
Mary Lou Sanelli works as an author, speaker and master dance teacher. Her latest non-fiction title, “Every Little Thing,” has been nominated for a 2022 Washington State Book Award. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.