The looser the straps, the itchier your nose. That wouldn’t be a problem if we hadn’t eaten so much lockdown bread.
I should explain, and I will. First, let us consider a piece in the Washington Post. The writer had a novel idea — you could even say “novel coronavirus” idea, because that’s the prism through which all light must pass these days.
“The key to escaping lockdown? Sleep in your guest room and pretend it’s a trip.”
If you don’t have a guest room? Spend the night in a closet. Pretend you’re locked in an elevator in an exciting vacation destination! Why stop there? Fill a beanbag with Brie and pretend you’re on a hot-air balloon ride. Smear caviar all over the dog and pretend he’s ... I don’t know, the Queen’s naughtiest corgi.
We are past all the coping and “new normal” stuff and Zoom jokes and hardy-har tales of bartering Charmin for flour. That was forever ago. This is now, this is May. Mentally, we are done. Fiscally, many are tapped.
We’ve spent weeks feeling like a snail crawling on a cheese grater, and we’re itchy, techy, peeved, grouchy, like someone living over and over and over the day before his parole hearing.
How bad is it? In the last week I’ve seen at least three examples of people who were almost curt with a checkout clerk. In Minnesota terms, this means we are on the precipice of anarchy.
Well, OK, maybe not. But last week I had to go to the bank. There were three people in line outside the door, and everyone had a mask. It looked like a comedy about very polite bank robbers in Sweden, where people have a sense of civic responsibility.
“Axel, I see you, too, have come to rob the bank. But the bank is low on cash today, I understand. Hello, Oscar? Is that you? Have you come to rob as well? Gentlemen, I propose we go in one at a time, and only take a little. Agreed?”
“Well, when that fellow who’s in there now finishes robbing, one of us can go in next. Axel, why don’t you go first. No, I insist.”
The queue outside the bank wasn’t a surprise. This is a city where people form an orderly line to get on the bus. At this point the masks aren’t odd, either. I catch sight of myself in a mirrored window, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a mask, realize I look like an FBI Wanted sketch, and it’s normal.
It’s also slightly ridiculous, as the mask does not have a tight seal, and I’m walking on a deserted street that lacks only tumbleweeds and a sun-bleached cow skull to complete the picture of desolation. But hey — you never know. The Invisible Man could have uttered an explosive cough 3 feet ahead of me, and I could walk right into it. So mask up.
I also had gloves, because Lund’s got in a batch the other day. “Whoa, those will come in handy if I want to touch anything. On the other hand, I would have to touch the box to buy them. Maybe I can do a Chuck Norris move and knock one into my cart with my foot. No, my pants are too tight. Yes, this is exactly how I thought 2020 would go when we sang songs on New Year’s Eve: Pants too tight from lockdown bread to karate-kick protective gloves into the shopping cart.”
You’re being silly, I thought. You’re being paranoid. Just use your elbow.
Anyway, I had gloves on because I would have to enter my PIN at some point, and that reminded me of the madcap days of yore when we entered PINs with devil-may-care, bare-naked fingers. Those were the days when people would use touch screens to place orders at a fast-food restaurant and then pick up the food with their hands, which now seems like playing Russian roulette with a submachine gun.
There was one person ahead of me in line, and one behind me. A lady came up, unmasked, and asked if we were waiting to get into the bank.
You are tempted to say, “No, someone put these pictures of shoe-soles on the ground and covered them with a powerful adhesive; we’re all stuck in place, helpless. Have you any solvent? Turpentine might do. Yes! It is the line for the bank!”
But you don’t, because, well, it’s not nice. And you want to be nice.
Inside the bank the teller behind the plexiglass had a mask on. “Hwre you dunetdy?” She asked, which I eventually figured out was “how are you going today?” in muffled mask-speak.
“Mffly trrd ufal this,” I said. Mightily tired of all this.
We kept up some chipper small talk. It was halfhearted, but we tried. That’s what I’ve noticed about all such exchanges in the stores: People are trying to be nice. Keeping up the vestiges of conviviality, because the alternative is just sullen and depressing — and because you sense, or at least hope, that some loosening is en route soon.
Yes, loosening! We’re all in the mood to hear what’s loosened next. We’ve been in psychological straitjackets for weeks, and if they could slacken the straps that keep our arms fixed in place, that’d be great. You never think about scratching your nose until your arms are cinched, and then it’s a big deal.
The looser the straps, the itchier your nose. It is physically impossible to scratch your nose with your elbow, but if you were limber enough, you could use your heel — if you hadn’t bulked up from lockdown bread.