Masking For It

The trials of going under cover


By Maria Johnson

I knew the advice for the general public to “mask up” for the Covid-19 pandemic had hit home the moment I watched a woman in the Trader Joe’s parking lot slap a maxi-pad over her nose and mouth, then lift two sheer fashion scarves from around her neck to cover the lower half of her face.

And I thought, “Ya know, that’s not a bad idea.”

She probably had 15 years on me, which put her in the high-risk category, medically speaking. It also landed her in the high who-gives-a-flip category, an undeniable effect of aging. I’m pretty sure she saw me peering at her from over the top of my own mask — a no-sew version made from a bandana — and yet I detected zero flips given.

Her husband was masked-up, too, with what looked to be a shop rag because, as I’ve observed, men are a) less likely to wear masks to begin with, and b) if they do, they try to make it look like an accident, like a shop rag just happened to stick to their face, as it might to a Shop-Vac.

Or a turtleneck just happened to unfurl over their mouths.

Or they just happened to be wearing a camouflaged hunting gaiter (I saw you in the parking lot, too, Mr. Field & Stream) when they ran into TJ’s for a package of spring salad mix.

I get it. For a while, I resisted the idea of wearing a mask. Honestly, I thought people might assume I had Covid-19 and avoid me. Then, as the death toll climbed, I was like, “Hmm . . .”

Like I said, I’m just entering my non-flip-giving years.

I finally decided to don a mask because of my elderly mom. I didn’t want to get the virus and unknowingly pass it to her.

So I searched YouTube for a design until I found one for an easy-to-make-yet-attractive accessory of pestilence. It required a bandana, a couple of dryer sheets, some rubber bands and a shoelace.

I wore my prototype to Walmart, where I quickly discovered a few facts about wearing a mask in public.

First, there is fraternity among mask wearers. I immediately bonded with a mask-wearing couple in produce.  “I see you’re having the same problem we had,” said the man, alluding to the impossibility of getting a thin plastic produce bag open without lowering your mask and spitting on your fingers, which defeats the sanitation theme on several fronts.

“Try wiping it on something wet, like kale,” said the woman.

Shazam. It worked.

Another thing about wearing a mask: You have to shout to be heard. What my friends in produce actually said was, “I SEE YOU’RE HAVING THE SAME PROBLEM WE HAD.”

In related news, because you are muffled, wearing a mask means you are much more likely to talk to yourself in a low golf announcer voice.

“Seriously, what’s the deal with toilet paper? I know people are pooping at home more, but were they really pooping that much at work? You sir, here in the paper products aisle, did you poop at work before this? You don’t look like an on-the-clock pooper.”

Another fact of mask-wearing is that you have almost no peripheral vision below your face. Let’s say you put several packets of taco seasoning in the kiddie seat at the front of your cart. The packets could be sliding out of the leg holes, and you could be leaving a trail of taco seasoning all over the store. Theoretically.

Also, people seriously cannot recognize you when you wear a mask over half your face, which, come to think of it, might be why banks are making people go to drive-through windows. I realized this when an old friend whizzed past me in the coffee aisle. She was gone before I could get her name out at sufficient volume. “Anne. Anne. ANNE!”

Oh well, she ran like she was healthy.

Over the next few days, I tinkered with my design, editing the materials down to a bandana and rubber bands. I was putting on the new and improved model when I saw Ms. Maxi in the Trader Joe’s parking.

As I sat there, pondering her creativity, it occurred to me that using maxi pads was no stranger than using some of the other masking materials I’d heard about — T-shirts, dishtowels, coffee filters, yarmulkes, jock straps, even old bra cups.

All hail the mothers and fathers of invention.  OH

Contributing Editor Maria Johnson shouts thanks to front-line health workers, encouragement to those who are suffering from Covid-19 and sympathy to those who have lost dear ones.

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