When Life Was Simple (Sigh.)

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes.

I am ironing coffee filters for my masks.

Early on in the pandemic, when masks were not easily available, I read recommendations for creating them from doubled tee shirt cloth with a filter pocket filled by a flattened coffee filter.  Testing had shown such three-layer homemade masks to be efficient at stopping virus particles.  And so I made masks, a dozen or more, hand-sewing them for my friends and family, and ironed coffee filters to insert in the pocket.

Later, cloth masks having become readily available, I purchased a half-dozen expensive but comfortable coverings of thick, double-layered soft cloth.  But then (of course), recommendations changed. Double-layers weren’t enough in the face of virus variants; no, a triple-layer mask was necessary.  Buy new ones, the Pandemic Gurus recommended.

New masks not being planned in my budget,  I began double-masking and returned to inserting a coffee filter between the two masks.

And so now I stand at the ironing board, ironing coffee filters for my masks, while watching my DVDs of “Downton Abbey”.  I’m watching the episode in which Matthew’s fiancé dies of Spanish Flu.  The irony (bad pun intended) of this is not lost on me.

I long for the days when running an errand merely meant picking up my car keys and putting on my shoes, perhaps a coat or jacket or even a hat or gloves.  Now my errands, those such as I absolutely must run, are an Olympic marathon in preparation and clean-up.

Before even leaving my house, I set a bowl of water in the microwave, ready to be heated for scalding my masks when I return.  The countertop where any shopping sacks will be deposited is protected with wax paper.  I place disinfectant soap, a nail brush, and a spray bottle of strong isopropyl alcohol next to the sink.  I rub the lenses of my glasses (some small protection for my eyes against airborne viral particles; I have not worn my contacts in months) with shaving cream to keep them from fogging up.

In my car, small paper sacks sit opened and waiting on the seat.  One will contain discarded mask filters and disposable gloves; the other, my used cloth masks.  I prepare a mask for each stop I must make, placing the filters between them, and lay out pairs of disposable vinyl gloves on the passenger seat.  Whether the gas pump or shopping cart or door handles or ATM buttons, I’ve touched nothing for months without wearing gloves.  Questioned by one stranger as to why I wore them — “The virus particles are in the air,” she instructed me officiously — I could only answer logically,  “Well, they’re going to land somewhere, you know!”  I check to be sure that I have both hand sanitizer and another spray bottle of disinfectant in the car.

Masked and gloved, I race through my errands (pumping gas, taking a package to the post office, or picking up groceries, almost the only excursions I’ve allowed myself in 11 months) trying always to avoid the cretins in the aisles wearing their masks as “nose-wipers or chin diapers”; changing my contaminated PPE between each stop.  Returning to my car, I strip off masks and gloves carefully, dropping them into the paper sacks,  before disinfecting everything I have touched and sanitizing my hands.

Returning home, I toss the paper sack containing used disposables into the garbage bin and carry the sack with masks into the house. I scrub my hands thoroughly, and once more disinfect everything I’ve touched—door handles, car handles, alarm buttons, purse, wallet.  I carry in my purchases, placing them carefully on the waxed paper.  I scald my masks in boiling water and agitate them with disinfectant soap, then rinse, spray them with alcohol and hang them to dry.  I wash my hands again and put my purchases away, then pull up the wax paper and disinfect the countertop.  I wash my hands a third time.

This, this is now my new reality, and that of millions of other people, as we try to avoid the virus; waiting ever hopefully that our number will come up and we will be scheduled for the vaccine; frightened always that all our efforts to be safe will fail, and we, in the most vulnerable of groups due to age and chronic illness, will contract and die of Covid-19.

I remember when life was simple.  I remember complaining about the restaurant a friend preferred; about believing that, living alone, I knew what loneliness was. Now I would gladly go to any restaurant, just to be out once again.  Now I know more of loneliness than I have ever endured in a very solitary life.

The world will turn, I know; this will end.  Someday, Covid-19 will be merely a sad footnote in the history books, to be wondered at by generations that have never known pandemic.

It can’t happen soon enough. 

You might enjoy looking at these thoughts through another lens, by reading, “In the Moment”, which can be found archived from April 12, 2018.

The Person at the Other Fax Machine

§  The most terrifying moments of that awful video are to be found in the behavior of the person in the far right corner at the end of the clip.  §

I rarely speak of current events in this blog, since doing so would counter the purpose of my motto: May Something Said Here Touch Your Heart, Make You Laugh, or Give You Hope.  Few situations in our current world could achieve even one of those goals!

Yet there are some incidents so dreadful and obvious that it would be almost immoral to evade them. They cry out to be acknowledged, no matter how dissonant and disheartening the subject.  One of these situations is surely the horrific behavior of those who, in the guise of standing up for their rights, threaten or attack others who reproach them for not wearing face masks while in the middle of a worldwide plague, and contrary to the orders of local governments or the requests of private property owners.

I won’t take up the questions of whether masks are protective or not; whether they are a violation of one’s constitutional rights; or even whether they shield the wearer or those with whom one comes into contact.  Those matters can be endlessly debated.  The real question that I’ve uncovered (while watching countless videos of people being attacked or beaten or threatened) is why society has degenerated to such a point that these behaviors are accepted with little more than a shrug or a sigh.

I run through just a few of the incidents, all captured on camera, watching them play horrifically across the movie screen in my mind:

The hapless individual threatened by a livid man in a local Costco:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/07/08/i-feel-threatened-who-protects-shoppers-angry-anti-maskers/5389199002/
The elderly disabled veteran brutally punched over and over:  https://www.newsbreak.com/washington/spokane/news/1615195034250/see-it-suspect-caught-on-video-punching-elderly-disabled-veteran-during-mask-dispute-cops-say-perp-knocked-victim-unconscious-broke-his-jaw
And, perhaps worst of all, the middle-aged organ transplant recipient heaved into a bone-shattering crash by a hefty young woman:
https://www.nj.com/bergen/2020/07/woman-with-cane-violently-assaulted-at-nj-staples-after-asking-customer-to-wear-mask-video.html

Of all of them, I think this last incident shocked me the most—not because of the violence, since other videos and reports have displayed far more brutality; even fatalities.  But what I found most disturbing in the attack by Terri Thomas on Margot Kagan wasn’t the fact that a beefy young woman would brutally assault a slip a lady who was not only old enough to be her mother, but who probably weighed in at 95 pounds soaking wet. No, that sort of unconscionable behavior is all too common these days. Nor was I flabbergasted by the inaction of the employees and customers captured in the video (despite later claims that they rushed to the victim’s aid after the close of the surveillance clip).  Their immobility as the victim lay injured on the floor was shocking, but not surprising; compassion and courage–gallantry–are all too lacking in today’s society.

No, to me the most terrifying moments of that awful video are to be found in the behavior of the person (man? woman? I think it is a woman) in the far right corner at the end of the clip.  Watch carefully, and you will see that, as Ms. Thomas storms out of the store, this customer cautiously toes aside the fallen cubicle divider that was overturned in the fracas—pushes it away with a foot, and then calmly returns to her copying or faxing or whatever transaction she had been making before the violent altercation began.

To say that this display of utter indifference chilled me to the center of my soul would be to describe Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell as a cool spring breeze. I watched that entire disturbing video over and over, each time thinking perhaps I had missed something—that there was some mitigating factor, some reasonable excuse, that this person blithely turned aside and continued processing paper.

But there was none.  No mitigating factor, no reason, and certainly no excuse.

The very idea that someone—anyone—would turn their back upon the victim of a horrific assault and coolly continue running off copies, casually ignoring the entire situation, speaks terrifying volumes about the moral state of our populace.

Somewhere, someone has seen that video, and recognized the person at the fax machine.  Someone—some friend or family member, perhaps even a pastor or rabbi, has gazed (in horror? unsurprised?) at the behavior of that individual.  Perhaps they said something; tried to rebuke him or her.  Perhaps (more likely) not.

The rest of us will almost certainly never know who it was standing at the other fax machine that day.  And I doubt that individual will ever read this blog post.  But I say now, and will forever say, that their behavior was an affront to human decency as grave as any assault committed by those who threaten, slap, punch or spit upon their masked counterparts.

I’m sure The Faxing Person would shrug, as unconcerned by my opinion as they were for the victim of the assault. But their display of inhumanity was deplorable. And they should be ashamed. Quite thoroughly ashamed.

If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy “Political Civility”, in the Archives from July 3, 2019.  (On the other hand, you might absolutely hate it!)