A mask. A Tim. An Albertson's.

Shopping

Love in the Time of COVID: Shouting in the Grocery Store

Real-life encounters between humans in a virus-infected world.

My mom is 75. She’s a teacher and an artist — fiber, watercolor, pretty much anything you throw at her. With the CDC’s new recommendation, she made me some masks. All respect, but they aren’t pretty. That said, they seem to work well, far as I can tell. They have a bendy metal piece sewn above the nose. I wore one yesterday, for the first time, to shop for groceries, some of which were for her. It was a weird experience.

First, the shelves at my Albertsons in Casa Linda look like the shelves in a country that is not the richest, most privileged place on the planet. Some items are stocked, others aren’t. You don’t make a shopping list and tick it off anymore; you have a general idea of what you need, and then you just grab what’s available, even if you don’t need it.

Then there is the mask. I’m sure I’ll get accustomed to wearing it. But for my first shopping excursion, I felt claustrophobic. And everyone else, of course, looks like they are about to stick you up and demand your eggs. The variety of masks interested me. Some surgical, some homemade, some just a scarf. I saw a woman in the produce section wearing a rainbow-print mask and I said to her, “Hey, that’s a cool mask.” She looked at me and made a noise I couldn’t classify. It’s hard to tell what someone thinks when you can’t see her face. Did she think I was being sarcastic and that I was homophobic? Ugh. This is what I was worrying about when I was grabbing some romaine and saw a dude riding a Rascal that I nearly got into a fight with.

I’d encountered the older man earlier, when I had my eye on the red bell peppers. He scooted in front of me on his Rascal and started fingering the peppers. No mask, no gloves. But, you know, OK. He was an older guy and infirm enough that he needed the electric Rascal to shop. So I gave him a wide berth.

Moments later, though, when I was going for the romaine, out of the edge of my vision, I thought I saw his hand dart from some produce and to his mouth. It was my mask, I thought. And my weary 50-year-old eyes. No way did he just do that. But then I walked a few feet and realized the guy had just scooted by the red grapes, one bag of which, at Rascal level, was open. And then I saw the dude circling back through the cheese section, clearly chewing.

I started at about 50 mph. I said through my mask, “Say, man, you eating grapes from back there?”

“Naw,” he said, not looking at me, continuing to Rascal.

I looked down and saw that he was cradling about five red grapes in the hand that wasn’t on the handlebar. I lost it. Went to 100 mph instantly, yelled loudly enough that I guess everyone in the produce section could hear.

“Yo, dude! You’re eating grapes!” He kept rolling toward the bread aisle. “I can fucking see the grapes in your hand! This is not the way you do it! We can’t get through this together with people putting their hands on the grapes!”

At that point, I was hyperventilating behind my mask. I went through checkout — using my own enormous blue Ikea bag, bagging my own groceries, laboring with about 60 pounds of goods out to the parking lot — and had to sit in my car for a few minutes to gather myself.

Take the mask off. Radio on. Deep breath.

Wash the vegetables and fruit when I get them home. Miles and months to go before I sleep on this contagion.

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