We are all wearing masks in the supermarket. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll ever get use to this.
We, the masked people in the grocery store, behave a lot differently than normal shoppers used to. For example: Nobody is touching stuff on the shelves.
Remember when you used to go shopping and everyone would touch stuff? Yeah. Me too. It’s just what we did.
Young mothers would push buggies with their bare hands and inspect each label while Junior gummed up a wrapped Snickers bar.
But that doesn’t happen anymore.
I see a young woman pushing a cart. She is wearing latex gloves and a colorful mask. She is not inspecting labels, she is rushing through the store as though something is chasing her. Everyone is doing this. I don’t blame them. Nobody wants to be here.
Ever since this coronavirus hit, my wife and I have been flipping a coin to see who goes to the grocery store. If it’s heads, I go to the store. If it’s tails, we flip again.
And I’m still not used to wearing my mask. I feel like an idiot. I wear an N95 drywall mask I used back when I used to hang sheetrock. I used to wear a mask like this all day. I didn’t mind it back then because the only other choice was a respirator with HEPA filters. Those big masks look like you’re wearing a Playtex 18-hour support bra on your face.
I remember lunch breaks when I would go out into the fresh air, rip off that drywall mask, and pull in one giant breath. It was pure rapture. You can’t imagine how good it felt to take a cleansing breath when you’d been wearing a glorified kneepad over your mouth all day.
What am I saying? Of course you can imagine what it feels like. You’re probably wearing one right now.
I know I am.
It’s been hard keeping any sort of supermarket routine going for these past 100-some-odd days of quarantine. Our grocery store, for instance, keeps running out of ground beef and chicken.
Last week—this is true—we had to eat tofu burgers for supper. I tried to feed one to my dog when my wife wasn’t looking. My dog licked it once, then walked away.
When I reach the checkout line, everyone is standing far from each other. It’s bizarre. There must be 10-foot gaps between us.
Only a few months ago, we were all going to the same retail stores and the same theaters. But now we are all kind of scared of each other.
So there are no conversations like there used to be. And there aren’t any smiles or everyday remarks with your neighbor. Mainly because you can’t see your neighbor’s mouth, so you never know if they’re smiling, or talking, or what.
Sometimes I wonder if our world will pull through this. Sometimes I feel like this is one big sci-fi movie. I’m not complaining. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of change, I’m just wondering if I will recognize this old place?
I hardly recognize it now. And I get unsettled sometimes.
Already I don’t recognize baseball, which is coming back after a long absence. The major leagues have changed some rules due to COVID-19. There will be no fans in the stands. Ball players are not allowed to spit sunflower seeds under threat of execution by firing squad.
Truist Park in Atlanta will be a graveyard. There is even talk of robotic umpires. It’s going to be weird.
Ironically, around this time last year, my wife and I were in Atlanta, watching the Braves play. The sun was hot. Forty-two thousand people were sweating in unison. I was eating nachos from a helmet. Life was good.
The thing about baseball parks is that everyone is together. You sort of make friends with people who sit in your section. You’re thigh-to-thigh with complete strangers, and you’re pulling for the same team. You become buddies. You high-five. You spill your beer all over each other. I will miss that.
Maybe it will come back one of these days, but right now it’s ancient history. And I just wonder about us.
There is a little girl in the checkout line ahead of me. She is pretty, with braids woven tightly against her head. Six, maybe seven. She is helping her mother unload a buggy.
We are mostly Floridians in this store, and our state has had more COVID-19 cases than you can shake a mask at. And it’s getting worse.
The little girl is wearing plastic gloves and a mask with cartoon characters on it. At first, I’m thinking it is a shame, that a child has to grow up in a frightening world like this.
But do you know what I notice? She doesn’t seem like any of this bothers her. She is a child. Happy. This is just the way the world is. Love it or hate it, she accepts it. No big deal. This is life. Might as well enjoy it.
She looks at me and I can tell she’s smiling because her eyes become little squints. She raises her hand and waves at me. And even though I’m wearing a mask, this tiny human being sees past it somehow.
“Hi,” she says.
This is all it takes. This is all I needed today. I raise my hand and say, “Hi.”
And just like that, I know we’re going to be okay.