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Face masks! They are literally everywhere thanks to the worldwide pandemic. This must make all convenience store clerks and bank tellers very nervous. It has been a few weeks since this epidemic transitioned into a pandemic, so it took a while before the mask thing really took hold. Now, masks are ubiquitous. That esteemed medical journal, The Washington Post, now declares everyone should be wearing one.

I agree, so, I do, but I found out it has its drawbacks. My mask is a homemade, artistic affair, created exclusively for me by a nice lady at a nursing home I attend (and maybe should be living in). It is made with pirate-print cloth with skull and cross bones on a black background. Very avant garde in an amusing, swashbuckling way. Avant “garrrrrrde” as it were.

When I first put it on going to the grocery store (my singular vacation destination over the last month), walking past one of those grocery store “banks”, the teller slowly pulled down the bars with one hand while the other hand slipped beneath the counter feeling for the silent alarm button. I smiled at her, hoping to reassure her I had no nefarious intent (unless searching for cauliflower and brussels sprouts is nefarious as some believe, including my own wife). The teller did not smile back, instead stared warily as I walked past.

“Wait!” I thought, “she can’t see me smile reassuringly.” So, I slipped the pirate mask down to reveal a reassuring smile; this harmless reveal seemed to cause an even more repulsed look on her face; her alarm button hand tensed. Apparently, wearing one of these things results in an unappealing accumulation of various body fluids in one’s beard. She gave me that “put it back on” stare, similar to the one my dog gives me as I prepare for a shower.

As I repositioned it, I thought, “This thing must have been previously worn by a friggin’ pirate, and one unhygienic, garlic-marinated pirate at that…who hadn’t bathed in a couple of years.” I thought, this permeating, road-kill offensive odor will dissipate. It didn’t. It seemed to get worse at the mask warmed to body temperature. By the time I got to the sour cream section, it was definitely increasing, and by the cheese section I was certain someone had punctured the limburger. I was becoming vertiginous by the time I reached the Velveta. It was all I could do not to ripe the thing off and flush it down the Safeway unisex bathroom toilet while I was in there stealing toilet paper (which requires a special tool in case you’re interested, called a chainsaw). I use the unisex bathroom, to answer your unasked question, because I have never really been sure. Oh, I thought I had, but when that first unisex sign went up sometime in the last century it caused me to question my prior choices; sort of a Shakespeare moment, “To be or not to be…” and “et tu, Brute?”…although anyone named “Brutus” probably doesn’t have any such self-doubt.

So, as I entered the unisex bathroom, pulling off my odiferous pirate mask, I realized a fellow unisexer was using a stall, and by the smell not of the “number one” category. That’s when I realized this new odor was actually better than the bouquet from my pirate mask. That’s when I realized it was not the pirate mask that was the culprit, OMG! HORROR of ALL HORRORS! I HAD HALITOSIS!

That is when I realized I am not alone: surgical mask mass halitosis was sweeping the nation, and I had better start hoarding not toilet paper and Clorox and bread and baker’s dry yeast (that’s right, I can’t find dry yeast)…I need to start hoarding breath mints and mouthwash!

But, all said, I know my pirate mask tells others I care about them; that I care so deeply about my fellow human beings that I risk self-asphyxiation. Beside, not wearing one screams “I am an idiot, but I am a really tough, brave, fearless, don’t-care-about-my-fellow-humans sort of idiot, and besides, I have really bad breath, and I can’t find the Listerine.” I realized after comprehending the bank teller response, hiding my face was actually doing a huge favor to the world.

And, finally, my advice to all grocery clerks…beware of anyone walking through the grocery store’s automatic doors wearing a pirate mask carrying a chainsaw…your unisex bathroom toilet paper is at risk.

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