The Mask He Refused To Wear

Old Man Mask

Our freedoms feel significantly infringed upon as the pandemic expands in breadth and scope, and it makes you wonder about the validity of safety and freedom in theory and practice. It’s hard to know what to believe because people in high places tell half-truths. So, we trust our guts and the virus spreads. But it was going to spread either way, right? Right?!? Institutions fail in spectacular form. The confusion is palpable, and the anger justified. Previously stable ground is crumbling beneath our feet. The reality of the year 20/20 and the perfect vision those numbers represent have devolved into a powder keg of social unrest on both sides of the aisle.

An elderly man came up to my register with intense eyes and a clenched jaw. He was clearly upset at something and I knew immediately that I was going to hear about whatever he needed to get off his chest. When customers bring their problems to me with an unpleasant attitude, I tend to disengage but remain friendly and move past those interactions as quickly as possible. It’s a well-honed defense system that I must facilitate on a frequent basis, unfortunately. That is the world of customer service. That’s life on the grocery line.


“This is such bullshit.” The elderly gentleman said shaking with rage and not wearing a mask. I didn’t catch this man’s name but let’s call him Harold.

“Sorry, I’m not sure what you’re…”

He held up his mask and said, “I don’t wanna wear this thing. It’s itchy. I can’t breathe. And it’s not doing anything to protect us.”

I immediately understood his frustration. I mean, no one asked to participate in the masquerade that is the pandemic. It’s uncomfortable, unhealthy and unfortunate. But any legitimate point he may have had fell flat while bitching about perceived grievances to some guy who is just making enough to pay rent. Maybe he should write his Senator or maybe he should just fuck off. Either way, none of our managers forced him to wear the mask. He was asked to put one on, politely, and he refused. That could’ve been the end of the discussion. He was free to do as he pleased even if it’s potentially unsafe. But I wonder if he thought he was changing hearts and minds as he unloaded on me. What was the purpose of his rebellion?

Mask Anarchy

Click bait headlines abound during our modern era. We must be vigilant to think thoroughly about how we react to the words people write. We should pick our battles wisely. He was huffing and puffing and acting like he was doing me a favor by being irate at something none of us could control. I replied, “I understand. I don’t like them either.”

But he continued squawking as I rang up his groceries. He didn’t notice that I replied. I mean, why would he consider the employee or his fellow patrons? Afterall, he was on the right side of history and I just needed to understand his lamentations. The sound of his voice quickly turned to rabbles.

“Rabble? Oh…Rabble, rabble, rabble, rabble. You rabble what I rabble, Rabble? Rabble is Rabblin’ bullrabble”

“I think you took your card out of the chip reader too fast. Try and put it in again.”

“Really? OK. I just rabble for all you rabblers. You’re getting rabbled on by all the rabbling and rabblers in their rabble, rabble, rabble.”

“Yeah man, I hear you. Thanks for coming in and stay healthy and safe.”

“You too. Rabble, rabble, rabble”

I was grateful for the “conversation” to come to an end. It was exhausting. It rolls off my back and I moved on to the next customer. I don’t see the point in carrying a stranger’s baggage even if it’s a potentially deadly virus. I have enough shit to worry about in my life. But I do wonder what motivates people to invade a stranger’s life with negativity like that old man did to mine.

His problems were overflowing into a random cashier’s life.  Maybe he was deeply worried about government control and he had no other way to express himself? I mean, that could be the case, but I doubt it. People that are genuinely concerned about others don’t start screaming at them at 8am. And they probably follow guidelines that make sense for the most part. When you are around a bunch of strangers cover your mouth. Pretty Easy.

I think his rage stems from a basic loss of control. His idealistic life had been turned on its head and now he longed to find something to blame and he needed an enemy and he thought we had common cause in his fight. We might, but not for the twenty minutes he spent in the grocery store.

Masks in The Trash

The combative nature of these interactions is not beneficial to anyone besides the people who seek gain power. The world is falling apart and there is so little we can do. But we can wear a mask and possibly help our fellow humans stay safe. You are not a sheep if you wear it. You can be rational and civil at the same time. Even if they don’t do anything. Big. Fucking. Deal. Get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible and don’t take it out on strangers.

I’ve had floor seats to watch a bunch a people that are scared shitless during the pandemic. And it’s not pretty. But it’s incredibly human. We are fragile and social and it’s inevitable that we fall apart from time to time. It’s so easy to lose sight of what’s important when we focus on politicized issues instead of being polite in a grocery store while you shop. It’s more worthwhile to provide a positive example for others. Be kind, wear a mask, focus on cohesion, remain rational, and don’t rabble on about bullshit at 8am to underpaid service industry people, because your attitude is more contagious than any virus, and no one cares.

3 thoughts on “The Mask He Refused To Wear

  1. You are right, I don’t work at the grocery but often see and hear the panic that causes short tempers, including mine. People driving like crazy because pandemic and anytime they have to go out in public like the grocery. I try to remember, like you pointed out, carrying others’ baggage ? is part and parcel of this time. I work in customer service, but on the phone and I applaud you and your coworkers as you have the face to face contact and have to keep your cool in very trying situations.

  2. Nicely done! I am sorry you have to be the receiver of such attitude. I hope you have a great weekend!

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