Masks, Politics and Workmen

Two months ago, I called my regular plumbing company to fix a leaking bathroom faucet, to fix an outdoor hose that leaked when in use, and to tighten two toilet seats.

When the plumber showed up, he asked if I wanted him to wear a mask. This being October, eight months into the 2020 Global Pandemic, I said, yes, please, I have a heart condition. 

Within two weeks of his visit, the bathroom sink was intermittently dripping, the toilet seats were sliding sideways again, and the pipe on the inside of the house that controls water to the outdoor spigot had started dripping.

When he returned, he came to my door wearing a Trump mask. 

Now, without one political item on display, my house’s decor nonetheless reflects clearly that mine is not a Republican household. He remembered I wanted him to wear a mask, but the passive-aggressive visual was coupled with his obvious irritation that his work had been questioned.

Did he remember I have a heart condition? I don’t know, but with his politics displayed on his face as he spoke to me, I knew he most probably hangs out mask-less with everyone on “his side” of the mask question. His nonverbal display that he is a Trump supporter meant I learned his presence in my house carried a higher risk to me.

Ten minutes into his work on the bathroom sink, he took his mask off, and proceeded to work for an hour in my home without wearing his mask. 

A Trump supporter, breathing mask-less in my home for an hour.

Why didn’t I tell him to put it back on? I’m an older female who lives alone, who doesn’t like confrontation, who has been a hermit for eight months, who is often socially inept, and who has an angry plumber working on a job he already tried to fix once before. I didn’t say anything.

A Trump supporter, breathing mask-less in my home for an hour.

I’d been a germaphobe already for years, but recently developed a heart issue, so I’ve been extra careful since last March 2020, when I put myself into isolation. I had been stocking up since February, way before anyone in my circles was worried about Covid. For months, I wore my mask to cross the street to the mailbox. I lost a budding relationship with someone who also prefers to live mask-less, “not in fear”.

On the day the plumber came into my home, aside from a Sunday job I had outdoors during the summer, where I wore an n95 and used tons of hand sanitizer, I have been isolated for nine months. I’ve seen almost no friends or family, I’ve eaten out three times, and I’m doing what I can do to live through this pandemic. I’m a solitary person, so I’ve been busy with projects and I’m not particularly sad to be alone.

I’m not a scaredy-cat. I don’t “live in fear,” although this virus scares the sh*t out of me. Why does it scare me? Because up until now there’s been no vaccine.

I’m not a fearful person, I’m just careful. I’m an adventurer, a wild one, a roamer, a trier-of-everything, an anthropologist. I’ve traveled (alone) through most of the United States, to Egypt, to half of Europe, to the Caribbean. I’m not just a traveler, I’ve also lived (alone) in France and in Mexico and in New York City. I’ve trekked through the jungle alone, counting snakes. I’ve gained entry to urban, rural and remote environments that most people don’t even know about. I don’t live in fear.

However, to be able to land in Egypt, where I finished my novel, and to land in Mexico, where, alone, I made a photographic survey of 25 archaeological sites, I needed tons of vaccines for diseases that don’t show up much in America. Some vaccines took three visits. They stuck vaccines in my arms and thighs and butt. Lots of them, for Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Rabies, Meningococcal Meningitis, Hepatitis B, Malaria Prophylaxis, Yellow Fever, Diphtheria and Pertussis, Polio Booster and more.  

Right now, outside in the apple pie and baseball American world I grew up in, there is a deadly disease in the air, just like in those foreign lands, a disease for which our bodies have NO protection. It’s the freakin’ luck of the draw whether you survive it or not. 

I can’t imagine saying to the Egyptian or Mexican authorities, eh, no thanks, I don’t need or want the vaccine you require me to have in order to enter, and I don’t care if I catch this thing that could kill me, just stamp my passport.

In the movie Contagion, when Dustin Hoffman looks up at the vent and realizes the disease is airborne, he’s terrified. That’s what Covid is! Airborne! How isn’t everyone terrified?

This time, next week, if I’m not careful, I might be in an ICU bed. Is my Will up to date? Is my house clean? What if this time next week I am on a ventilator? Is everything in place? Who will feed my cat and water my plants? If I die, will the cat end up in a shelter? Are the dishes done? 

No, I don’t live in fear, because I do everything possible to stay safe no matter what country I’m in or what I’m doing. However, this man instilled in me a state of baseline terror for the 14-day incubation period. I did update my Will, and wrote down my account numbers and passwords for my executor.

Right after he left, I sprayed Febreeze everywhere, shut the bathroom door and worked upstairs for several hours before Cloroxing the bathroom. But I’ve read enough of the studies to know if he was an asymptomatic carrier, I still might have caught it. Sure, I was wearing my mask, but I wasn’t wearing goggles or ear coverings. The windows in the house weren’t open. There wasn’t great ventilation. There could be pockets of his breath floating around the house.

Here is the crux of the problem. With half our population believing masks don’t matter, they will just keep giving it to each other, the other mask-less ones. But they will also give it to at-risk, hyper-careful people like me, people who are health-compromised and more vulnerable to this virus.

The shredding of our civil society we are observing in increasingly hostile exchanges is partially rooted in the bold wearing of political affiliation symbols.

Don’t we all remember how we were taught we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in mixed company, i.e. people you aren’t sure agree with you? There’s a reason for old adages. Keep your politics to yourself. Keep your religion to yourself. 

The political sign wars between neighbors is sad to see. Once living peacefully side-by-side for years, now they can’t stand each other. I watched one corner near me start with one or two signs, and by the end of the campaign period, almost every house had a Biden or a Trump sign. Why does my neighbor need to know my political affiliation? Will it change their political affiliation? No. So why advertise it? All it does is antagonize these days.

But, especially important, please, please, PLEASE, if you are a workman coming into someone’s home, a place the homeowners have been keeping as virus-free as possible, keep your mask on. You’re in someone else’s space. Care. You should have shoe coverings too.

Imagine it like cigarette smoke. You can smell it from across the room because it’s floating on the air. If you’re sitting right opposite someone, it’ll be much more pervasive. Covid-19 particles float in the air too. We just can’t smell them. When you wear a mask, you keep the Covid particles from floating out into the air on your breath. Normal, cloth masks don’t catch them all, no. But the volume of them and therefore their potency is enormously diminished.

Your political mask? The public displays of private political affiliation? Put it all away. Pack it in the closet. Go vote when it’s time, but otherwise stop it. Especially at your job. Get a friendly mask. When you’re in mixed company, be friendly. Talk about sports … gardening … the weather. Whatever side people are on, we’re Americans first. Make an apple pie. Share it.

3 responses to “Masks, Politics and Workmen

  1. Dear Cat, thank you so much for putting your thoughts on paper for all of us. We, too, have been isolating since March to be extra careful. Being also a non-confrontational person, and since you were alone in your house, I sadly agree with your concerns regarding the plumber’s potential aggression. I do like your argument re following laws and guidelines for foreign trips, but refusing to do so at home! Stay safe 😷 Write more❣️

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