Maskmaker, maskmaker, make me no masks

The outdoor mask mandate has finally lifted and we don’t know how to behave. In fact, many have opted not to change their behavior at all, continuing to wear masks out of precaution or habit, I’m not sure. We still have to slip on masks when we step indoors anyway, so we all wear them somewhere–if not on our faces then dangling from chins, wrists, or elbows.

I feel positively undressed leaving the house without a stifled nose and mouth. Sometimes in public I get that sudden cold sensation like those nightmares of being at church without sufficient attire.

And I realize how much I relied on my mask to skip flossing after breakfast. Or how I developed the habit of puffing a breath to push my mask away from my face. Now I let out a big puff and nothing happens (except the passerby who eyeballs me).

I’m now aware of the faces I’ve been making behind my mask. “No more beaver faces!” I remind myself now and then. Making beaver faces always gave me a private satisfaction when I was particularly tired of masks. I’m trying to kick the habit.

Yesterday, I saw the police and subconsciously grabbed for my mask before I remembered. How strange to march past them in a freedom that last week would have solicited a fine!

With this measure of freedom, I choose to be respectful of those who continue to wear masks, whatever their reason may be, giving them extra social distance or momentarily slipping on my mask in their presence. If I want them to respect my choice, I need to respect theirs. But don’t mind me over here doing a happy dance…


Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

Prepositionless laughter

A friend was telling us about someone she knew who got a fine for not wearing a mask. “The police gave him a fine for 300 euro and 50 cents.”

“Fifty cents?” I asked.

She nodded vigorously. “Yes. Three-hundred euro and 50 cents.”

We giggled and speculated where the 50 cents came from. Disobeying the law isn’t something to laugh at, but the ludicrousness of the amount caught me off guard. In Spain, indecent exposure has nothing to do with nudity on the beaches and everything to do with not putting a piece of cloth on your face. 

I told my family, “I get tired of wearing a mask all of the time, but I found a way to amuse myself. Yesterday, I made a beaver face almost the entire time I was in a store. It gave me this strange and private satisfaction.” 

So we laugh because sometimes we are helpless to do much else. Except maybe go crazy. A friend told me that when she worked in the Alzheimer’s ward. The pain, the sadness doesn’t disappear with a laugh, not even close. But the day we lose our sense of humor, we are treading close to insanity. 

Maya Angelou said, “I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.” 

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in line, waiting to get onto our late bus back to Immigrantville. A man who had just disembarked, stood in front of the bus and snapped a photo. He didn’t look angry or particularly devious. A little high, maybe, but I didn’t bother accounting for his mental state. He looked non-confrontational enough. 

That is, until he approached the bus driver’s window. Shouting echoed through the hollow bus station. I still didn’t pay attention; Spanish culture is usually loud and abrupt.

But I gasped when coins suddenly showered the bus floor. The man had reached through the driver’s window and flipped the coin drawer. I didn’t hear everything that went on, and I’m probably glad I didn’t because as the man slinked away, the driver bounded off of the bus, bellowing a word I won’t record for posterity. 

There in the bus station waiting room, one pummeled the other with a “caution wet floor” sign. Then one threw the other against the glass wall with a thud. It was impossible to tell who was winning, but they were planning to kill each other, I was sure.

With the other stunned observers, I started toward the action with absolutely no clue how to help. Someone had the presence of mind to flag down a passing police van and a crew of armed officers piled out to join the action. 

Shouting, police removed curious onlookers. I was praying aloud from behind my mask. The anger was real, hot, coming from somewhere deep that had risen to the surface after being suppressed for too long.

As we waited for the information to be gathered and fines to be issued, passengers gathered the coins that had scattered, whether to help or to help themselves was a little unclear. Others returned to the bus, laughing. 

Wait. Laughing? What was wrong with these people? Had they no respect? Maybe not. But maybe, the incident was just enough to push them to their own edge and they had two options: lose it or laugh. 

In Arabic, there is an important distinction between laughing at and laughing with. In those near-crazy moments, the distinction isn’t so clear. Sometimes it’s just prepositionless laughing, laughing to keep your nose above the murky waters of life until your flailing arms snag the rescuing hand of Hope.


Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

Of masks

Stuffed in our masks, we boarded the bus one by one.

Some bus drivers only wear masks because they have to. You can tell by the way they wear them… and let their passengers wear them.

I’m the passenger who covers her nose to board, but pulls her mask down enough to breath during the ride. I figure that if they ask me to cover my nose, I’m obligated. But if I have it covered when I board, they won’t ask me and I won’t feel obligated.

And anyway, this bus driver was the type you didn’t approach with a half-hearted, nose-sticking-out mask job. He asked the lady in front of me to tighten the metal part across her nose.

Masks are odd. We get used to smelling our own breath and inhaling our own carbon dioxide. We see masks looped on forearms, hanging from one ear, or even hanging from rear view mirrors like pairs of fuzzy dice. Where they aren’t required,  we pull them down into beards where they gather the sweat that rolls down our faces under the Spanish sun.

Some masks make me smile behind my own mask, especially the masks that stick out like long beaks. And I want to laugh when I see the occasional gruff man wearing a flowered fabric mask. Some women use their hijabs as masks. And the elderly men lined up on park benches, masks slightly askew, always make me want to snap a picture (and I never do).

Mask-wearing in Spain is still mandatory in public, indoor settings or in crowds of people, such as at the market. Regardless, I am one who forgets on occasion and walks into a store maskless. The last time I did,  neither the other customers nor the clerk were wearing masks. 

When I asked why, the clerk shrugged and said, “It’s hot.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. It’s one thing for me to wear a mask popping in and out of stores; it’s entirely different to wear a mask day in and day out in a tiny, stuffy grocery store. 

Today on the bus, the driver wasn’t the only one intent on upholding the mask law. 

“Put your mask on well,” an interfering Spaniard barked across the aisle at a North African. 

The conversation took two seconds to escalate. Neither side gave in. Other passengers  whipped their heads around. The bus driver slowed. 

“Wearing this makes me want to vomit! Do you want me to vomit?!”

“You were told to wear your mask when you got on board, you have to wear it well. It’s obligatory.”

I tried to tune out the voices until, “YOU’RE A RACIST!” 

How did a health issue suddenly turn political? I guess the U.S. isn’t the only country with resentment and conspiracy theories simmering under every surface, frustrated behind every mandatory mask. 

As for me, I didn’t dare tug my mask below my nose on this ride. Maybe that’s why I got so sleepy and almost missed my stop!