The Hero Wears A Mask

It isn’t often that I wish I was less sensitive but yesterday was one of those days. Yesterday, I was blindsided by a stranger who singled me out as the lucky recipient of his sizzling, unsolicited aggression. Like a branding iron, it scorched my mood and scarred the day. 

The upsetting incident occurred at the UPS store on Shame Avenue right here in River City. I had arrived at about the same time as another man, who very kindly held open the door as I lugged in six cartons that would be delivered to loved ones in Oregon, Alabama and Ohio. I was called right up to the counter where a young employee named Brianna began the unhurried process of taking the boxes from me and then measuring and weighing them, entering data into the computer system, printing labels, and both of us checking the paperwork for accuracy. Six times, Brianna pulled the final forms from a printer and presented them to me for my signature.

True, a plastic shield suspended from the ceiling hung between her register and the customer side of the counter. But there was a lot of interaction between us, both verbal and physical.  

At some point when Brianna was busy I glanced behind me and was startled to see that a single file line stretching all the way to the door had formed. My brain registered that every person in line was wearing a mask, and I nodded silently to myself in appreciation and approval. Then I looked back at the employees behind the counter and noted that everyone but Brianna was wearing a serious mask. Only she was wearing the type of paper thin disposable mask that nail technicians wore before Covid-19. And then I noticed that she was wearing her paper mask so that it fell below her nose.

Should I say something?

I considered the facts. Per usual, I had been a docile, patient, cooperative customer. I figured that at five boxes in, we had established a pretty good working relationship. Most of all, the thing itself was important.

So the next time she glanced up at me I said, softly and conversationally, “You know, your mask is ineffective when it falls below your nose.” She rolled her eyes before retorting, “I’ve worn it above my nose.”

Past tense. Hmm. How to point out the obvious? 

“Okay,” I said gently, “but when it falls below your nose it is no longer effective.”
She rolled her eyes and looked away. 

Okay. Whatever. All I had to do was pay and I’m outta there. I paid. I left. 

I was pulling my car door open when someone saying, “Ma’am, hello Ma’am–” pierced my conscious mind and I looked around. A man looking like he had just come from Brooks Brothers and his favorite barber was calling to me. I was confused. I knew I hadn’t left anything behind in the store. It wasn’t the season to drop a glove. 

“You do know that the plastic shield is there for your protection?” His tone was supercilious with a vengeance. 

As is typical when I am blindsided, I was stunned into near silence. A lottery drum filled with tickets of information tumbled in my mind. Yes, I thought, but that’s a closed room with no open windows and the same air circulates and re-circulates and oh by the way what about the other employees on the same side of the plastic shield which isn’t solid anyway and the science of these molecules says for God’s sake please just wear the mask like you’re supposed to is it really that difficult and . . . . well, you catch my drift. 

Mr. Pleased With Himself kept up a barrage of condescension until something finally snapped in my mousy little mind and I said “Oh, go to hell.” 

He sneered. 

I turned to get into my car and heard someone else talking to me. I looked up. It was the very nice man who had held open the door when I arrived. His expression was both kind and concerned. He didn’t like the way the other man had been gunning for me. 

“What you don’t know,” he said, “is that when you turned around to leave, that girl said out loud ‘I just wanted to punch her in the face.'”

I was stunned. 

“This guy is an ass,” he continued. “How about the simple fact that it’s STATE LAW? It’s STATE LAW!”

Meanwhile, Eighteen Holes kept up a stream of invective.

I looked at the nice man. He jerked his head toward The Ass. 

“Want me to take care of him for ya?” 

I smiled. He smiled. I noticed a little boy was seated in the front on the passenger side. I thought, “Kid, I hope you know what a wonderful man your father is.” I wish now that I had said it out loud. 

We got into our cars. I look carefully behind me, as I always do, before backing out. Good thing I did because The Jerk had pulled his car into position directly behind and perpendicular to mine. Great. He was hoping I would back into his car and then there would be a war. I sat there. I sat there longer. The nice man looked questioningly over at me. I pointed. He shook his head and his voice sounded sad when he said, “I’ll follow you out of here.” 

Here’s the thing. The man who noticed, who helped, who stayed with me all the way out of the parking lot and into the stream of traffic taking us on our separate ways was a big, big man dressed in a tank shirt that should have been retired a long time ago. He was driving a very old, very rusty car that looked as if it required prayers every time the ignition was turned. If the two men were books, the Hero was wearing a book jacket that suggested he was the kind of person who was more likely to be disparaging of Covid-19 precautions. More like the kind of person I’ve seen on television protesting against Covid restrictions.

But it was obvious to both of us that the other guy is someone who has cruised through life so pleased with his pompous, powerful self, he has always gone out of his way to step on all the bugs.