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Who was that masked man?
Jeff Whitten NEW
Jeff Whitten is editor of the Bryan County News - photo by File photo

Stuff from the rear lines of a pandemic. 

Q. Who was that masked man?

A. It was I. In the Rincon Walmart, on a Saturday morning with the half of Effingham County not over at Kroger or Lowes. 

In addition to regular weekend clothes, I had my wife’s shopping list, and one of those masks you used to be able to get three for a dollar somewhere to wear while weed-eating your ditch and hopefully save your sinuses from perdition and doom. We had them in a cabinet somewhere at the house, and it was better than nothing. We do this for others, you see. 

I had some blue dishwashing rubber gloves on, too. And my ever-present readers, which I tend to wear like regular glasses to save having to put them back on to see what I’m doing. 

All told, the getup probably halfway met CDC guidelines. (Disclaimer: the mask made my readers fog up every time I breathed or said something or went near the cold food aisles to look for frozen French fries or hot dogs. Adding the gloves made me think of going MOPP 4 back in Germany when I helped beat the Russians during the waning days of the Cold War. MOPP 4 was like being jugged in rubber, somehow.) 

Here’s what I observed when I could see. 

For starters, wearing a mask in a store is about as surreal in reverse as seeing one of those beer-bellied open-carry heroes with a holster (complete with gun) in a supermarket. You know, the type who glares around at everybody hoping somebody pops off so he can shoot them in the butt. That said, nobody was carrying Saturday as far as I could see. Which wasn’t very far, actually. For all I know, everybody was toting except me. 

Lots of people had masks on, this being a pandemic, and like the people who wore them the masks ran the gamut from the homemade to more professional jobs, but I’d bet most of the people in the store didn’t wear masks. Truth is, I was surprised and saddened at the number of small children without masks. 

That despite my not really liking kids much, a reason I decided against having any of my own. It’s also why I decided against becoming a school superintendent, although I have likely been in the running for such positions often over the years without my knowledge. I probably haven’t been hired yet because the powers that be know if I were, first thing I would do is fire myself so I could get a fat severance package and go fishing. That would certainly cut out all the drama in between that usually accompanies hiring and firing of superintendents, anyway. Which should be a selling point. 

But back to Saturday. One fellow, who I could tell wasn’t wearing a mask by the smirk on his fat-faced lips, sang something about ducks as he strolled past me. He had one of those “I’m smarter than everybody” looks, too, though I decided since he was in the same place I was he couldn’t be that smart. 

Later, an older sort of woman came up while I was in line at checkout and wheedled her way in front of me by standing there looking pitiful. She only had one or two things in her buggy so I nodded her ahead of me. She didn’t budge.  

“Go ahead, ma’m,” I said. Alas, I must have mumbled, as people tell me I am apt to do, because she remained still. 

That wouldn’t do. 

“Go ahead, you only have a few things!” I shouted, not sure whether the mask was muffling my voice and wanting to be heard. Except it was more of a squeak because when I raise my voice without telling  myself I’m going to do it first that’s what happens. I startle myself and squeak. 

At which time my glasses promptly steamed up and I said “ah, (bleep),” and felt bad for cussing in front of a lady and squeaked “Excuse me!” while grabbing at my readers with my rubber gloved hands. 

The woman shrank back which for some reason made me shout, “Why yes! I am Dr. Strangeglove, at your service!,” or maybe I just imagined I said that. At the same time various exhalations and inhalations caused my cheap mask to pucker horribly (it was probably made in China!) and I had to unpucker it, as it were. 

The woman by now was no doubt thinking how glad she’ll be when this whole sorry mess is over and she can get potting soil without squeaky little old men in fogged up reading glasses, masks and gloves lurking at every turn. “Me too!” I squeaked, and my glasses steamed back up and my mask puckered up again, so I went back through the whole process, word for word. 

An hour later, I was home. 

I stayed there. 

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