Unmasked: A Guy Walks in to a Grocery Store…

He had to walk by a sign that said that those entering must cover their nose and mouth. You couldn’t miss it: it was right in front of the doors.

Illinois is back under a mask mandate because hospitalizations are rising and the Governor, prudently, is concerned about running out of ICU beds and beds for other sick and injured people, including children.

I put my mask on in the car, walked into the store, grabbed what I needed, found a checkout lane, and started unloading. As I waved my phone over the payment device to pay, the next guy gets in line.

He’s not wearing a mask.

“I have an extra mask if you need one,” I say, fishing one out of my purse.

He raises his eyebrows, and then smiles and says, with intentionally fake sincerity, “I have one in my pocket, thank you. God Bless You.”

And that’s when I didn’t say all the things I should have said.

So, Maskhole, I’ll get those things said now, even though I wish I had said them to your unmasked face. If I was more social media savvy, I would have made a video of an exchange that would have gone something like this:

“Why is the mask in your pocket and not on your face? Do you breathe through your hip? Really? You must be an alien! Cool. But seriously dude, you wouldn’t want to take this virus back to your home planet. I strongly recommend you put your mask on, over whatever orifices you breathe through.

Oh, you’re not an alien? So help me understand: why don’t the rules don’t apply to you? Do you have some kind of exemption? No? You just don’t care that you could infect a child under 12, who can’t get vaccinated yet, when you breathe all over said child with your smug, arrogant, unmasked face?

And when said child becomes gravely ill, maybe even dies?

May God have mercy on your soul.”

It feels good to get that off my chest, but it doesn’t actually do any good. The mask wars are now being played out in schools in states with Republican governors, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida, where politicians would rather let their citizens die than impose mask mandates.

In Arizona, Texas and Florida, governors have actually prohibited local school districts from requiring masks, and have threatened to or actually withheld funds from schools that require them. A Florida court struck down an order prohibiting masks, but in Hillsborough County, Florida, where parents were allowed to opt-out of a mask mandate, thousands of kids have been exposed and are quarantined, leaving school again just when they got back.

The worst part of it? Craven, self-serving politicians are using COVID as a political tool.

“Rather than work with him to vaccinate the country, Biden’s Republican opposition has, with only a few exceptions, done everything in its power to politicize vaccination and make refusal to cooperate a test of partisan loyalty. The party is, for all practical purposes, pro-Covid. If it’s sincere, it is monstrous. And if it’s not, it is an unbelievably cynical and nihilistic strategy. Unfortunately for both Biden and the country, it appears to be working.”

Jamelle Bouie, New York Times Opinion, 8/31/21

At what point will rational people, who are willing to take simple measures like mask wearing to protect their fellow citizens from a deadly virus, rise up en masse and say we’ve had enough of this deadly, science-denying bullshit and require both masks and vaccinations? (follow that vaccination link for a wonderfully obscene rant against the unvaccinated).

Oh, that’s right – in states with Republican legislative majorities that represent a minority of their state got in power due to gerrymandering that reduced the voting power of people of color and pretty much anyone who doesn’t vote their way, legislatures have pushed through restrictive voting laws, also intended to suppress majorities that would vote those bastards out of office in a New York minute if their districts were fairly drawn, their votes counted, and their voices heard.

Those voter suppression laws include features designed to empower Republicans to overrule a legal, fair election: so these “lawmakers” are admitting that they will not accept the result of any election they lose.

I said I’d avoid politics in this blog – but this is less politics than survival: both for fellow citizens, regardless of politics, and for our democracy. I can’t face, or let Angelic Daughter be subjected to, a future where the whole country looks like Texas.

May God have mercy on us all.

Grateful that I live where I do, and hopeful my country can stave off a death spiral into authoritarianism, I remain,

Your anxious, bereaved, befuddled, and mask-wearing,


Globe mask image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Staying Alive vs. Living

Apparently a lot of people, including me, are suffering from a kind of “re-entry anxiety.” Even though vaccinated, the doubt about who else or is not vaccinated has people continuing to wear masks after the CDC says they don’t have to, in most (but not all) settings.

For the first few weeks of this freedom, I still wore a mask any time I went inside a building that wasn’t my own house. I wore a mask at drive through windows of fast-food restaurants, because the people working there still had to, and I thought it was only fair.

I wore a mask to my first eye exam in years, and I was very nervous when the ophthalmologist, who was also wearing a mask, asked me if I was vaccinated, and to take my mask off. I asked if I had to, and he said no, but the exam might take longer because I’d fog up the lenses he was switching (“better, or worse? 1 or 2?”) I resolved to breathe downward and keep my mask on.

After a few weeks of what we’ve been told is unnecessary masking, I began to think, dammit, at some point I’m just going to have to trust the science and take the mask off. What’s the point of making it through a pandemic to vaccination if I’m just going to continue living in fear and isolation?

This accursed pandemic came along just as Angelic Daughter and I were close to regaining some kind of balance and normalcy, carrying our grief within us but moving forward with our lives. Staying in has made us wary, lonelier, and more than a little jumpy. But as we got through the first meet-ups, the first hugs with family and friends who don’t live with us, things started to ease a bit.

I’m still nervous about variants, and now in some places the recommendation is to put the masks back on because of them. I’m also waiting to hear from the next rounds of research about whether we’ll need booster shots. But I just can’t waste any more time being paranoid and freaked out. There really isn’t any point to just staying alive, if you aren’t going to actually live.

As the calendar moves along, days come that are harder than others. Father’s Day has been tough for us these past 5 years, with all the unavoidable, perky ads about stereotypical things to buy Dad (grills!) bombarding us every time we turn on the car radio. This year, we chose a simple activity to remember Mike – we went to Dairy Queen and had a small treat each. We used to take family bike rides there, with Mike riding Angelic Daughter on a tandem, and me pumping along on my own bike. It wasn’t a short ride, but it was a beautiful one, along a bike path that led through a forest preserve, and then through a residential neighborhood to the DQ at the end of the block. Then we stopped by the cemetery where Mike’s ashes are buried, and despite prolonged dry weather, the flowers I planted there on Memorial Day weekend were OK. I watered them anyway, and was happy when what I gave them was augmented by a much needed gully washer of a stormy downpour that night.

As for Independence Day, our tradition has been to have a picnic at Mike’s grave site on the 4th, and we did that again this year, but on the 3rd, because the 4th was predicted to be very hot (it was) and we wanted to save a trip in case we wanted to go out near there to watch fireworks (we didn’t).

I’ve been spending every fair weekend doing yard work until I can barely stand. It makes me very sweaty and quite happy. But it is a solitary pursuit. For my next act, I have to find things to do that might actually put me in the company of people unrelated to me, with shared interests, who might become new friends. I’ve never had a lot of friends, and I’ve always been happy in my own company, but the lack of social interaction during work-from-home has affected me.

My wonderful employer is likely to let me work from home indefinitely, which is great (saves so much gas money, and gets me out in the yard as soon as I log off). But I don’t want to be just the solitary “widow with the garden.” I love to sing. I love to make people laugh. When I can figure out a way to do that again that feels safe, maybe I can get out there and make some new friends.

Wish me luck!

Until then I remain,

your less-frequently masked, still a little jumpy but feeling more confident,


Image by John Hain from Pixabay

From “Just don’t die, stupid!” to “Just don’t die stupid.”

You’d think that making it through to vaccination would be cause for celebration–joy, even. A new lease on life, a new beginning, hope, happiness, the whole shebang.

And it felt like that for a week or so. And then a series of external events reached straight in and grabbed my brain by the OCD and shook me around like an apex predator with its prey jangling from its jaws. Suddenly everything good seemed menacing, from plants in my backyard to the aches and pains I get from overdoing gardening in my backyard.

After more than a year of focusing on staying alive, I thought vaccination would free me to concentrate on living–really living, with all those things I’ve been saying I aspire to–kindness, love, laughter–and fearlessness.

Instead I found myself figuratively curled into a little fetal ball of anxiety. My rational mind understands how to grasp the odds of bad things happening, but the scaredy cat part of my brain doesn’t give a damn about probabilities. Nope, this brain goes straight for the worst case scenarios. I used to joke that I could make a living coming up with examples of the worst thing that could happen, for disaster planners to, you know, plan for.

My Dad taught me to “use my bean” to solve problems. Observe, apply reason to what you see, experiment, and if necessary, improvise, to build, repair, or learn whatever you wanted. Works great, but it can go haywire when you’ve got a brain that absorbs and retains all kinds of obscure facts, and attaches far too much importance to the scariest, even if most unlikely, ones.

“Using my bean” to get myself safely and successfully through life and its foibles has served me well, but it came with baggage: I knew that the worst possible thing I could do is do something stupid when I knew better. If you’d ever been on the receiving end of one of my Dad’s silent, withering looks as he methodically went about cleaning up a mess you made doing something stupid when you knew better, you’d have the same profound fear of screwing up over something dumb that I do.

Which is why after a year of getting through one day at a time in survival mode, telling myself “just don’t die, stupid” I am now robustly afraid of dying stupid (OK, stupidly, for all you adverb fans). Meaning wouldn’t it be ridiculous if, after making it through to vaccination, I fell off a ladder and broke my hip and died of complications from that? Or if I screw up putting my new chain saw together and hack off an extremity and bleed to death? Or if accidentally splash myself with birdbath water and get some weird infection?

You see where I’m going with this? I seem to have developed my Mother’s exceptional ability to see the cloud in every silver lining. Way to go, Annie–that’s really living!

This has got to stop. I keep telling myself that nobody lives forever, you only live once, stop being so risk-averse, you are frittering away precious time with worry, etc. But I’ve still got so much work to do, getting things in order for what happens after my eventual (and far in the future, I hope) demise, that it’s imperative I don’t die until that’s settled, and I’d especially like to avoid dying stupid(ly).

There have been multiple articles in major newspapers about how weird it is to come out of pandemic survival mode, about how lasting the mental health impacts of the past year are likely to be, and about how there aren’t enough therapists to go around. May is mental health awareness month, and everyone on the planet has been deeply affected by the past 14 months, so let’s all just give each other a break as we take baby steps toward something resembling “normalcy.”

For me, the best baby step yet was hugs from my brother, the day after he was fully vaxxed.

I won’t stop scanning the news for any tidbits of improvement in the dire situation in India and elsewhere in the world, where vaccines aren’t getting into arms anywhere near fast enough. But I’ll try to be grateful for the baby steps I’m taking, even if my heart still starts pounding in the presence of the unmasked. I’m not ready to unmask myself yet in any indoor environment with people I don’t know, but I’ll get there.

If I don’t die stupidly in the meantime, that is.

Deciding to be proud of my gardening-related aches and pains, and to push away anxious thoughts about weird plants and birdbath water, I remain,

your emerging slowly after several weeks of figuratively cowering under the covers,


Featured image by beauQ from Pixabay