COVID-19 has taught me the value of escape

I’ve never been comfortable with routine. It is chafing. It isn’t that I fancy myself a free spirit, more of an oddball outsider with one foot over the line. I’m used to being a day late, or hours too early questioning whether I should even be there. Now I have to conform to the realities of a pandemic inspired lockdown. And getting out often only makes things worse.

I went to the store and forgot to wear my mask. I spent a lot of time picking it out. I have quite a few bandanas and wanted to wear the right one. This one was a bandana I bought several years ago at Swapper’s Day, it is black with red roses and white skulls. It reminded me of the Grateful Deadness album, “Skulls and Roses.” Life is filled with odd coincidences, isn’t it? Anyway, I forgot to take my “mask.” I know about the warning from the CDC, and I meant to wear it, but this whole COVID-19 thing has me in a serious funk, and my mind is a little fuzzy.

It was just a quick trip to get some things we needed. The store was filled with people wearing masks performing complicated maneuvers trying to stay six feet apart. Apologies muffled by bandanas, dish clothes and filleted socks.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to crowd you.”

“Oops, excuse me, I didn’t know we were so close.”

It was like a gang of polite bank robbers performing a germaphobic dance scene from West Side Story. “When you’re a jet you’re a jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day.” As long as you keep your distance, that is.

Walking through the store I felt naked. Even though I wasn’t the only one barefaced I couldn’t help but feel everybody was judging me. I couldn’t blame them. We all have to do our part, and I was falling short.

These are odd times. I feel guilty when I have to go to the store and buy a few groceries. If I don’t wear a mask I feel filthy.

They installed plexiglass shields at the checkouts to stop the spread of the virus. It added to the oddity of the situation.

Last week I stopped to get a bottle of bourbon. The liquor store was packed. Everybody looking for a little something to get them through, no prescription required. There were social distancing lines applied to the floor, and an armed security guard sitting a stool right inside the door. He was a heavy, older man who looked comfortable sitting on the stool, almost like they were made for each other.

I got a bottle of Jim Beam. Recently I saw a picture from the sixties of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Linda Ronstadt one of them was holding a bottle of Jim Beam, and in the world of today, a little guidance from a few old friends was comforting.

Taking my place in line I stood on my spot, six feet away from the person in front of me. A guy took his place in line behind me. One of his friends came in and they started talking to each other, pretty soon they were standing right next to each other. Before long they were standing right behind me, talking about their weekend plans, their neighbors or coworkers, I couldn’t tell which, but it was people they knew well.

Soon it seemed they were standing almost on top of me, talking, laughing and breathing, germs, bacteria, virus, who knows what flowing from their friendly conversation. Washing over me, and I wanted the guard to come over and make them leave. He didn’t.

After I paid for my “medicine” and walked toward the door he was still sitting there.

“Have a nice day.” He said. His smile was warm and friendly.

“I will,” I said, holding my brown bag up as proof. “You too.”

These are odd times, my liquor store has a security guard and social distancing stripes painted on the floor. People wear masks in public and cashiers are protected by plexiglass shields, the world has taken on a sinister post-apocalyptic hue. We will probably get to the other side, but I’m not sure we are going to look the same when we get there.


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