Once upon a time, in March 2020, I taped a paper mask to the inside of my front door as a public health and safety reminder. But because I tend to leave the house without at least one of the essentials (keys, cell phone, leash, poop bags for Toby, the Terrier mix), I wrote “Mask?” on the mask.
This winter, the number of things I forget doubles to include hat, scarf and two gloves, and the “mask” sign didn’t do much good. Within weeks, it became as invisible as the peephole above it. But the mask taped to my door isn’t the only visual cue reminding me to mask up. There is a basket brimming over with them on a table right next to the door: masks of cloth in many colors and patterns, and two kinds of disposable non-surgical paper masks.
Sometimes, when I get down the block and realize the lower half of my face is naked, I get lucky and find a mask in a one of my pockets. If I’m heading to the car, there is usually at least one ragged sour-smelling mask in the car. (Do you follow the recommendation to wash cloth masks with hot, soapy water after every use? I thought not.)
Long ago, at the very beginning of the great masking, covering nose and mouth was a kind of emergency. At first, you couldn’t get a mask for love or money. I am not a crafty person, but the internet supplied patterns and tutorials for making them, and I had sewing machine and some well-worn cotton dish towels with a pattern of a gaily colored chickens. I whipped up a half dozen lopsided masks with four ragged strings that would not stay tied.
Mask purchases ensued: First, a few cotton ones I spied in a display near the supermarket checkout — small and flimsy. Then a box of 50 disposables at a pharmacy chain, some of which are probably still around somewhere around the house. I purchased a few beautiful masks made by a Syrian refugee who had been a tailor in the old country (I lost those almost immediately). I ordered some from an Israeli non-profit that employs creative elders, keeping them socially engaged while earning some money. They were handsome but not a good fit. I bought a few at an art museum gift shop. I found my favorite at a shoe store and have no idea where I lost it.
The urban landscape is littered with lost and abandoned masks. Most of them are as unsightly as used Kleenex, and probably should not be touched without protective gloves. But now and then there’s a rose amid the rubbish, like the child-sized mask with rainbows I spied under some bushes.
My current mask rotation consists of some black KN95s that make me look like a pointy snout sloth but are relatively breathable, a few pricey cloth ones recommended by a physician friend, which cover about 2/3 of my face and are cozy in the wind, and a nice black-and-white cotton mask, a gift, covered with famous quotes from Shakespeare: “To be or not to be,” “Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
But the best mask in the basket lights up in a variety of colors, patterns and flashes wild enough to induce a seizure in the vulnerable. I’ve only wore it once, on Halloween, and maybe I’ll put it on again for the July the fourth, my own private fireworks. Though by then, it might look like an artifact of times gone by — mighten it?
How will we remember this year — and counting — of la vida enmascerada?
I’ll certainly remember Nancy Pelosi’s wardrobe of masks; she seems to have one that matches each of her vivid ensembles. On Pelosi, a woman who dresses to please herself, her facial rainbow looks like a rebuke to the deniers and super-spreaders who refused to do the right thing in the “love-your-neighbor” department.
But now the CDC says it’s okay for the vaccinated to go maskless when outdoors and physically distanced from those whose vax-status is unknown. I’m ready and eager to walk out my door and trade smiles and hellos with passers-by. On the other hand, I’ve heard from people who declare they will wait before exposing nose and mouth to the world. Vaccine-hesitancy meet bareface-hesitancy.
I don’t think that masks will disappear after the emergency ends. People may wear them during flu season to avoid infection, or to protect others from their own head colds, or to limit exposure to allergens. Much as I hate to say it, COVID-19 or one of its nasty relations may come roaring back. So don’t do anything rash and throw away your stash
Meanwhile, we can start planning a season of picnics and cook-outs where we will gather with friends to chat untethered to screens, without moderators or muting. And breathe deeply.
Posted in Cognoscenti