Russ and I could hardly contain our excitement this morning as we suited up for the biggest moment of our fourth week of house arrest: a festive, much-anticipated trip to Old People’s Happy Hour at our neighborhood supermarket.
We’d stayed up late (well, after 9) last night to plan the expedition. Do we need coffee? Toothpaste? Cheetos? Toilet paper, of course, was a given. We didn’t want to miss any of the absolute essentials, as we mentally scoured the aisles on behalf of our growing list. We set the alarm for earlier than normal to be sure we could make it into the parking lot by 7 a.m., when the shopping carts would sparkle from their overnight antiseptic rubdown and the cashiers would be ready to greet us.
We donned our masks. Now, this was our second attempt to thwart the wily coronavirus, which — who knows? — might or not await us. Last week we failed. Russ ran into a problem before we’d even gotten out of the car, when the elastic that wraps around the ears popped out his hearing aids. I got as far as the door in mine, then sheepishly demasked. I stuffed it in my pocket with the feeblest of excuses: It just felt too silly.
Today was different. A good third of our fellow elders looked like cattle rustlers. We, too, persevered.
Shopping in masked incognito, it turns out, is more complicated that one might expect. What bothered me most was that, as an inveterate supermarket smiler and nodder, I was seriously hampered — not only by dutiful social distancing, but by being rendered expressionless. It deeply pained my Minnesota-sociable self not to smile and nod hello. Without the smile, the nod comes across as a tic. I practiced crinkling the wrinkles around my eyes to simulate the upper half of a grin, but that may have suggested mostly that I had a vision problem.
Which, come to think of it, I did. How on earth do you keep from fogging up your glasses?
I also learned that my “indoor voice” is barely audible when I’m more or less gagged. On the other hand, who could have known my “teacher voice” would alarm the entire frozen-food aisle?
Speaking of scaring the populace … allergy season has arrived at a most inopportune time. Sniffling beneath one’s mask is an interesting challenge. Worse, the tickle in my throat became downright alarming. At one point, I had to smother a cough, and everyone within hearing distance turned and stared. I felt like Public Enemy No.1.
In terms of what we’d come for, the trip was a huge success. We scored toilet paper! We also observed a good stock of most everything an elder shopper could ask for. The bakery was overflowing with pretty Easter-inspired cakes and cupcakes. Diet Coke was on sale. We could smell delicious chickens roasting — rotissing? — behind the now-empty deli counter. Holiday hams abounded in the meat cooler, and there was a glorious bounty of the tenderest young spring asparagus spears in the produce section.
When we checked out, the cashier (no mask) nodded wisely behind her Plexiglass sneeze guard as she scanned our load of loot, including the two huge bags of Canadian-style vinegar chips and four boxes of flavored Triscuits. “These are best-sellers,” she confided. Gee, I wonder why.
We topped off the week’s most memorable morning with a stop at Casey’s for gas ($1.59!) and half-dozen of their fragrant and freshly made doughnuts. We rushed home, ripped off those doggone masks, washed our hands to presurgical perfection and gobbled crullers and twists with the day’s second pot of the Elixir of Life — the essential plasma that’s keeping us going on these long, blurred, featureless days of quarantine. No, it’s not perfect, but still … life is good!