I went to the supermarket this morning. I’d been dreading it, but it had to be done. I needed cat food. needed butter. I needed toothpaste. I needed onions. But I also needed the truly critical items like tonic water, about a pound of (medicinal) gruyere, dijon mustard, and a couple of potted geraniums for the deck. I decided to go early, and set my alarm. Unnecessary, as my internal Plague Anxiety alert system jolts me out of really weird dreams every morning at about 6:45 sharp.
I dressed for combat, which is to say, I wore gym clothes and a cute floral cardigan that could be easily washed. I did a few exercises. I tried to map out a strategy. I took my shopping list and a neighbor’s shopping list and left the house. In the parking lot, I put on a face mask. I put on sunglasses. I wrapped a long linen shawl scarf around the facemask 3-4 times for bonus protection. It was very hot and I could barely breathe, but PUBLIC SAFETY! I put my credit card in one pocket. I put my phone, my keys and a bottle of hand sanitizer in my bra. I put on rubber gloves. I was already sweating profusely. I looked like I was about to perform dental surgery in a sandstorm, but you know, like a hip sandstorm. I could still breathe, as long as I didn’t try to move too much or too fast. I exited the car. Before I even got to the cards, I touched my face. I threw the gloves away.
Inside, the store was mostly sedate. The employees, unmasked, waved, still somehow recognizing me swaddled as I was. Maybe it was the cardigan. I tried to devise a tactical path. By the time I reached produce, I’d passed at least two people. Were they six feet away? Less? More? I couldn’t tell. Peril was at every turn. I tried to make a run for it in the bread department. I felt like I was in “1917” except with fewer adorable English boys and more lonely, masked, terrified people buying Family Sized Doritos and frozen waffles, who refused to make eye contact, as if the virus could be caught by simply acknowledging that other humans existed in the universe. On the pasta aisle, I got trapped. Another customer’s cart stalled at each end. And the only thing I’m more afraid of than COVID is inconveniencing someone. How would we pass each other? How would I ever escape?
“Excuse me,” I said. The other customer looked at me peculiarly. Was I took quiet? My voice so dampened under roughly three yards of adorable floral chintz face mask and a heavy linen shawl, worn bandit-style. I flushed with embarrassment and with lack of oxygen. The other customer stepped back. I made a mad rush for the dairy, heart racing.
I apologized profusely to the cashier for my overwhelming cart. “Two orders,” I said, as one of the masks started to slip. Then the other. I tried to suck in my breath in the idle hope that I could hold them in place without touching, but I don’t have those kind of cheekbones and I was already short on air and realized I wouldn’t be able to bag the groceries if I passed out. I bagged frantically, throwing groceries hither and thither. I apologized to the cashier. The mask slipped. I tried to adjust it so it would stay on my nose and touched my face. “Oh Christ,” I said. “I’m done for. We’re all done for.”
The cashier, unbothered, asked if I needed a receipt. I thought about whether I would be the one that killed her because my mask slipped. She seemed like a nice person. I wondered if I should apologize again. My glasses were fogged with sweat, so it took like three times for me to get my pin number entered correctly.
A heroic supermarket employee offered to help with the second cart I required for the disaster I’d made. He was unmasked, ungloved, smiling. I wondered if I would inadvertently kill him because of the face touch thing. “Thanks for helping,” I said. “Thanks for being here. Thanks for being alive and being you!”I was getting weirdly choked up, perhaps because I was actually choking on the scarf. He was getting uncomfortable, so he ran back in the store.
I loaded the groceries. I sanitized. I touched the door handle. I sanitized. I took off the scarf and mask. I sanitized. I took the keys out of my bra. I sanitized. I took the credit card out of my pocket. I sanitized. I took the phone out of my bra. I sanitized, then sanitized again, just in case.
I drove home. Still alive. For now.
The geraniums look smashing, by the way.
Picture today is of Marble Canyon, Arizona, from October 2018, which seems like the exactly sort of place where you might theoretically have to perform dental surgery in a hip sandstorm. Or at the very least, cut an imposing figure in a bandit scarf and cute floral cardigan.
As of this writing, 298,352 people have recovered from COVID-19.