My new roommates and I went to Whole Foods the other day.  We wore our cute, personalized cloth masks and after waiting in line out front of the store, six feet apart from other parties, we got inside and quietly roamed the store, giving space to all the other masked shoppers.

Everyone was in a mask.  Actually, a woman and her teenage son weren’t, but they were the literal only people without some kind of face covering.

More recently, another friend and I stopped in Safeway after climbing in some rural area and I noticed that no one but eye-rolling employees wore masks.  Maybe like, three customers.  My friend and I weren’t wearing masks either; we’d just been outside all day and needed to make a quick stop, and I completely forgot what u n p r e c e d e n t e d times we were in.  Oops.

I’ve been ruminating on the phenomenon, how it seems like affluent grocery stores are filled with mask-wearing shoppers and the every-man’s store just…isn’t.  Its the same at Fred Meyer vs Market of Choice.

I’ve been wondering if this is a socioeconomic issue, where the working class just don’t have the same access to information about public health and safety as do their upper class neighbors.  Or is it political?  My Facebook news feed is full of conspiracy theories about Bill Gates creating the virus, the CDC lying about the numbers, how we’re a police state, etc. etc. and I honestly get it; my life got upended in this pandemic and I was mortified of losing control.  More specifically, of being controlled.  (“What do you mean I can’t park at trail heads? This is literally public land!  It’s mine!”)  I’m watching reasonable friends share admonishments to the rest of us to “wake up!” and realize we’re being duped by millionaires who are apparently obsessed with vaccinating poor people into oblivion.  Also, this is America! Don’t tread on me!

Sometimes lately it feels like masks are more of a show than anything; I wear a mask to prove I’m educated and care about my neighbors.  Its a kind of real life virtue-signaling.  Maybe the upper class, and those who want to be upper class, are just facing more social pressure to be good, to be moral, and protect the elderly and immune compromised.  Maybe a lot of them are just trying to escape the social stigma they’ll face at Trader Joes if their face is bare.

It feels like not wearing a mask is a political statement; I’m maskless because I’m not like you sheeple just trusting a corrupt big government. Wake up. I’ve seen memes about masks and ignoring the arrows and walking the wrong way down grocery store aisles shared by my conservative friends, and the general vibe I get is they’re fiercely protective of their rights to choose (ironic!) and their freedom of expression. They’ve never felt so policed.  They feel its unjust to force a population to wear something on their face that they don’t want to, and they’re reasonably wary of governmental control.

Or is it that just the salt of the earth working class in these rural towns aren’t sitting around debating big government or conspiracy theories about Bill Gates?  They’re essential workers; they’re busy just going about their lives, and their friends and coworkers aren’t wearing masks so they don’t think about it.  Their communities aren’t pressuring them to don masks the way affluent communities seem to be doing the opposite, and again, I don’t know if its out of genuine concern or if its out of some need to prove how educated and compassionate they are.  Or is it mostly social pressure?

I have no idea.  I’m just musing.


Why do you wear a mask to grocery stores or why don’t you?  And does it change, depending on the grocery store you visit?  What about when you stop at cafes for a latte?  I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

4 thoughts on “Unmasked

  1. Reply
    Amelia - May 7, 2020

    I wear one. It puts me in a panic and I’m hypervigilant about anyone coming into my personal space, especially when those people don’t wear masks. I often have to cry as soon as I get into the car. Thankfully, my husband is able to do most of the shopping, or we have enough to wait several days to do a grocery pickup. We’ve spent a couple hundred dollars on masks—not that we have tons of them. Just a couple each and there are only 3 of us. I am really thankful for the privileges I have—especially that I have white skin which basically means I can choose to wear a mask or not and I don’t have to wonder if someone will profile me.

    Arizona is… redder than I’d like. A friend was intentionally coughed on by an unmasked man in a grocery store. Another was mocked by a gas station attendant for asking another patron to keep his distance. People encroach on my space at the grocery store, laundromat, even on my street.

    But I miss movie theaters. Bars. Coffee shops. Hugs. Mostly hugs. I don’t know what’s right or best. I’m just trying.

    Thanks for writing, Jess. Keep doing it.

    1. Reply
      jmadmin - May 7, 2020

      Thanks for reading, and for your response! I’m so sorry your anxiety has been the way it is. I get it. I’ve never felt more afraid of strangers or grossed out by normal activities as I used to. My skin is falling off my hands and fingers from how often and violently I’m
      washing my hands.
      Arizona is…not my favorite state. I can only imagine the backlash people trying to follow CDC guidelines there have been receiving. My friend went to the post office the other day in a mask and said the guy behind the plastic barrier taking her package made fun of her for it. W. T. F.
      I’m currently in Bend, but half an hour North its way more rural and that’s where I’ve noticed fewer, if any, masks and socail distancing practices.

      I miss everything, dude. I miss shitty bars and getting bored in coffee shops and kissing my friends’ faces whenever I want. I’m very fortunate to be in Oregon, where we have some of the lowest cases and deaths of any state and tons of access to the outdoors, but yowza; I miss my life so badly.

      Thanks again for reading. Miss you tons.

  2. Reply
    Amber - May 8, 2020

    Here in the Wild West, it’s about 50/50 whether we’re masked or unmasked. No real dirty looks either way, and not a lot of difference ratio wise if you’re breathing the air of an upscale spot or Walmart at 3:00 a.m. People are generally courteous about keeping their distance, but the one way arrows in grocery stores are largely ignored and if two people are eyeing something on the same shelf as I’ve not seen a problem with them squeezing together to both get it.

    Me personally? If I go where they’re required I put one on without feeling violated or repressed, but I don’t have one all the time. I’m following the lead of physician friends who are glad we all sheltered at home when we did but are suggesting we ease ourselves out of isolation and spend more time washing our hands and cleaning our environments than breathing in our own carbon dioxide.

    Without one on, I’m more acutely aware of my space and what I’m doing with my hands, what I’m touching, and where I’m wiping them off.

    But there’s always going to be a different approach here – I live in a state nearly 300 times the square miles of the city of Los Angeles, yet one quarter of the population. No we currently have fewer than 20 active cases of covied statewide, and only two new cases in the past week. Overall we feel like we’ve flattened that curve here, and are hurting people more now by keeping them at home. A little “herd immunity” is in order, is the general consensus.

    We’ll see.

  3. Reply
    Sarah - May 8, 2020

    New Season’s in Portland requires masks at this point. A couple days ago (or could it really have been yesterday??) we were in kind of an emergency situation to get food for my brother and had forgotten masks. The best alternative was to go to the Wallgreens next door and buy a couple handkerchiefs that I’m sure had been touched and handled by plenty of randos.

    I’m on the fence about wearing a mask, but I definitely am not stoked to be required to wear one. Especially since the CDC hasn’t actually claimed any proof that home made masks are effective in reducing exposure. They found that in areas where people wore masks the rate of infection was lower, but there are a lot of different correlations to draw (not to be confused with causation). If there were enough resources for the government to give everyone an N95 then I would certainly wear it. But for now, I wear a mask to make other people comfortable. Washing your hands thoroughly, maintaining 6 foot distancing, and avoiding touching anything I’m not going to buy seems more important.

    Aside from all that, I’m so glad you’re deciding to publish your writing! I’m inspired. I have a wordpress too, but I don’t write as often as I’d like.

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