What can I say? My Muse has a mind of her own.
Until a month ago, did any of us imagine that a trip to the grocery store would become a Thrill Seeker’s Event? I didn’t. Until today…
In the Bel-Air parking lot, a woman––in full COVID armor (kitchen-gloved and face-masked)––stopped me…
Wait. That isn’t exactly how it happened.
I’d stopped first, when I saw her coming toward me on the narrow sidewalk. Thinking to offer her the “socially distanced” right-of-way, I stepped sideways into a planting bed, so I was surprised when she stopped, too.
“Where’s your mask?” she said. Her tone seemed strident.
“Sorry. ” I shrugged amidst the shrubbery.
With anxious eyes she, stood her ground.
“I don’t have one,” I said.
She fired back. “Why not?”
Where to begin? That medical grade masks are in limited supply and desperately needed by our health-care professionals? Or those with underlying health conditions? That most lay-people are careless (or clueless) about wearing masks correctly? That masks are not a panacea nor are they meant to assuage the importance of appropriate social distancing, like the kind I'm performing right now by standing in a freaking hedge? And, while we’re on the subject, why are you wearing a mask ? Is it to protect you from me or me from you?
What I said instead was, “Sorry.”
Her tone upshifted from strident to desperate.
“You need to be wearing a mask! Every time you go outside! My daughter is a doctor …”
It was a cough-into-the-hand instead of elbow reaction, which I immediately regretted, when I said, “My husband is a doctor, too."
The sidewalk separating us became a chasm.
“How could he!” she said. “He … let you out of your house? Like that?” Shocked, perhaps horrified––hard to fathom what was going on behind that mask of hers––she pushed her cart past me, living the acrid scent of hand sanitizer in her wake.
An acknowledgement: I suck at confrontation. Ever since childhood, when met with anger I find myself in The Place of Shame. It was in that Place––while slinking my cart alongside the aisles and avoiding eye contact––a voice nearby asked, “How’s your day going?”
There was something in that voice, something friendly. So I looked up.
A white-jacketed (and mask-wearing) Bel-Air employee was standing next to a non-masked female co-worker. Perhaps it was their juxtaposition that prompted me to answer candidly.
“I just got Mask-Shamed in the parking lot,” I said.
The man and his co-worker laughed. “Yeah, we’ve been seeing a lot of that. Don’t let it bother you. You aren't required to wear a mask to shop here," he said. "Some people,” he added, "It makes them feel righteous."
The co-worker offered up a compassionate smile. “They’re afraid,” she said. I could tell from the creases around the masked-man’s eyes that he was smiling, too.
"So, tell us what you've been doing to stay sane? Any projects you’re working on? What are you watching on Netflix? Got your garden in? Drinking more than usual these days?” The smile behind his mask became a grin.
Which made me grin.
And the Place of Shame fell away.
“So… How’s your day going, now?” he asked.
"Thanks to The Masked Man and his Trusty Companion, absolutely terrific!" I replied.
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