By Anne T. Donahue
Recently, I did the impossible. I got into my car, I drove to the mall, I parked at the mall, and then, after putting my mask on, I went inside.
An act of bravery? Clearly. But also, I was one of the first people inside, maybe six people were shopping in general and I needed to go to The Body Shop because their shipping fees are ridiculous, and I need their tea tree toner to keep my mask acne at bay.
And since, I have gone to a whole slew of stores. (Just kidding, I go only where it is nearly barren and if not, I go where everybody is still so afraid of standing near another person that you get aisles of merchandise to yourself and everyone apologizes for even looking down the same aisle you’re standing in.) (Here’s looking at you, Value Village.) Can I handle eating inside a restaurant? No, and also: oh my God no. Will I head to a patio? That is a very polite “no thank you” from me. Hell, I’m not even going to Toronto from Cambridge until I know for a fact that I won’t bring a virus home to my mom and dad. (Love you, GTA but alas: I am scared.) And movie theatres? Bless your hearts, but I saw Outbreak and I will never un-see the image of the coughing man landing everybody around him in hospital.
So it is with this mindset that I have drawn up a guide to going into a place that you maybe haven’t gone to in four-ish months. I am anxious, I am paranoid, I would bathe in a vat of hand sanitizer if it was asked of me. (And even if it wasn’t.) This is not something for people who’ve been going to parks since May. This is for like minds who desperately need tank tops and know that if they can go to the grocery store in March, you can move swiftly in and out of a clothing store like a discounted t-shirt ghost.
Step 1: Eat and drink something
Do I sound like your mother? Good, I am. Do you want to take your mask off and eat in the store? No, because a) you’d have to take your mask off and b) that’s gross for everybody around you. So enjoy a snack. Consume three gallons of coffee. And bring water with you that you will chug once you return to the car because hydration is important.
Step 2: Re-assess your mission upon your arrival
Last weekend, my dad and I needed to go to Canadian Tire, and we were so excited about this particular errand because we’re very bored and desperate to look at those weird garden statues they sell. (Who buys those? Does anyone know what I’m talking about? There’s a bench shaped like a horse!) But then we saw the line. The line that wrapped around most of the building. The line that insinuated that it was going to be hectic and the joy of obtaining a new garden hose would be squashed by the two people we saw not wearing masks.
So we left. We left and congratulated ourselves on a job well done. If you feel weird about going into a place? You do not have to go into a place. You can go to a new place. Or a different place. Or you can accept the shipping costs and delayed mail delivery and be a person who does not go to stores right now. Remember this: you can always leave and you should if you feel uncomfortable. Who cares if so-and-so just made reservations at Jack Astor’s tonight? You will be plagued by worry and second-guessing for weeks if you push against your gut that’s screaming, “Um . . . no, you idiot.” The store is not going away. And the store should not stress you out. Leave the store. Get out of the parking lot. Order a delicious fruit smoothie from someplace and revel in knowing yourself.
Step 3: Take the damn hand sanitizer
I like to sanitize my hands before I go anywhere because I am very cool and punk rock, but man alive: you will feel like an asshole every time you deny the complimentary hand sanitizer because “Oh, I just sanitized!” sounds like a lie, and you will look like a massive tool. (I know this because it happened to me, and I looked like an absolute demon.)
“But Anne!” you contest. “This weird sanitizer all the stores are using smells bad!” Oh, I know. It smells like licorice and chocolate and fire, and I do not know who approved it, but they absolutely want us to suffer. But who cares. So what. Put more of your own sanitizer on your already-sanitized hands and counteract the smell that I promise will follow you across the globe and through the sands of time. Also, you will feel better. Like, “Look at us! We’re all working together to stay safe!”
Step 4: Do not compromise your space
Two! Metres! Apart! This is something you can achieve, or at least try to achieve, even if it makes you look like Laura Dern in Wild when Reese Witherspoon sees her all over the place, watching her. This is what keeps me calm. If someone is too close, I move away. If someone surprise corners me in a space I’m now forced to share, I stare like a movie villain the other characters have been warned about. “This is my house, and I live here!” is now the version of Laura Dern you will become. Mainly as you step away, move on, and return from which you came after the person who clearly does not know what six feet looks like has finished looking at the used CDs.
Step 5: Surprise! Engaging with other people can make it all easier
One of my favourite things about our mask law is that I don’t have to make small talk with anybody anymore, and it’s wonderful. But also, sometimes I still want to engage with other people in a way that doesn’t creep either of us out and doesn’t infringe on space and safety. So I smize like there’s no tomorrow. I get very serious about saying, “Oh, I’m sorry!” and “Whoops! Pardon me!” and I know I’m about three days from saying “Whoopsie Daisy!” like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. I look like the female human version of Mr. Peanut, I am sure, but it’s fine. It’s friendly. For like, one minute I feel less alone.
Step 6: Be so polite to the cashier and staff that you feel unsure of yourself
This is what matters even more: if you are buying something at a place, you are the reason this person had to come to work today. And maybe they want to be there! Maybe they love going to work! But also: don’t assume that it’s their pleasure to serve you. Be nice. Ask how they are. Don’t complain. Don’t blame them for their company’s pandemic rules. Keep your damn distance. Don’t interrupt them when they’re explaining something and say, “I know.” Are you in a hurry? Too bad. If you’re so busy, you shouldn’t have gone to Bath and Body Works for more hand sanitizer. So you listen. You engage. You be a goddamn good person, and you wear your mask the correct way, and you do not challenge them if they say, “Oh, I’m sorry, we can’t use reusable bags right now.” Now theyare Laura Dernand this is their house (and they live here).
And now that I’m here, if you just attended a rave or some shit where 29525825 people attended in secret, please stay away. You don’t get to shop right now. You can shop after you are tested, or after you spend 14 days in your home, asking yourself if that party was fun enough to justify . . . anything. (It wasn’t.) Please don’t make the lady buying toothpaste at Shoppers sick because you think science isn’t real.
Step 7: Get into the car, slather yourself in hand sanitizer, take your mask off
. . . And don’t you DARE throw it outside. (It goes on the seat to be washed, or thrown into a garbage can like a citizen.) But look! You did it! You ran an errand! Are you tired? I bet you are. I am, and I only wrote this thing. Yesterday, I went to Value Village and my city’s very small, half-empty mall and came home absolutely depleted. It was a lot! Who are these people going to restaurants right now? How are they doing it? Bless their souls. But you bought jeans! New ones! Ones you may not be able to try on until you get home, but you can always return them if they don’t fit.
But that’s a guide for another day. Masks on!
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