At the gas station, a woman pulls up on the other side of the pump. “Are you a Chiefs fan, or a Jayhawk fan?”
She has a mask covering only her mouth. I’m masked though, and we are outside.
“Uh, Jayhawk fan,” I said, since I have no interest in racist mascots or games that result in so much brain injury.
“So I have these,” she said, holding up two plaques, one regular Jayhawk, one Jayhawk playing basketball. “Which one would you like?”
“Sorry, not today,” I said. “But good hustle.”
I meant good hustle. In New York, good hustle is one of the primary routes to respectability. Midwesterners don’t generally like to be seen as hustling. It suggests you might need money, which you shouldn’t.
How would an older woman take my comment? I cringed. Well, I tried to say something nice.
Survived the weekend staying in my apartment while my cousin got married 40 miles away. It’s the only major family function I’ve ever missed, in 43 years.
I drove to a drugstore in the next town over. There were signs that said to drive to the drive-through window for the covid test.
Behind his window, a young white guy walked me through each step. It felt so good to be walked through something, and to know I was doing it right. I thought of the millions of times that, as a teacher, I’ve broken down directions into tiny steps, the billions of times I’ve repeated myself, or slightly rephrased what I said, or gestured, to get my point across.
Because he had told me clearly how to complete this depressing duty, I was a little in love with him by the time the swab had tickled both my nostrils to a sneeze. Fifteen seconds each.
Now I know for sure how to get myself to sneeze, should I ever need to. I don’t know why I would need to, but then, I didn’t know I would need to stay out of my parents’ houses for months.
On my way home, I stop to pick up groceries. Fifteen people are holding signs on a sidewalk. How could there be a protest I don’t know about?!
It’s a pro-life protest, right in front of the huge parking lot where the university held all its covid testing, a month or so ago.
They’re spaced out for pandemic safety, but still I find it so strange. What are they doing? Either it is amazingly admirable, or completely ridiculous, in our current crisis.
One of the protesters is a nun in an old-fashioned habit. None of my nun friends wear habits. So whatever.
The road by the grocery store has been completely ripped up now, only one lane of traffic. So I do the new around and about route. It keeps changing. The spot where you picked up your groceries kept changing, and now the roads keep changing.
I text, and tell them my name, and then a young man brings out my bags. As he picks up one of them, the cinnamon rolls and cereal and mac and cheese boxes fall out.
I did not get out of the car to help him pick the stuff up.
“I’m sorry, I just-“
“No, I’m sorry, I’m only not getting out of the car because pandemic.”
So someone, in this situation, must yell and throw a fit. I’m better than that person. But not so good that I stop myself from explaining why I have been impolite, so that he knows I am good.
He put three brown bags of groceries in my back seat.
“At least it’s really nice weather,” I say. I desperately miss talking about the weather with all the random people I ran into. It wasn’t the weather, it was, “hey, I’m a person, you’re a person, I see you there, person, existing in the same place I am existing.”
“Yeah. I wish they would finish working on the road. The traffic flow is weird. And I’m trying to figure out how to be prepared for when it’s snowy out here.”
“Oh, me, too,” I said. “Me, too.”
Image: “Young Husband: First Marketing,” Lilly Martin Spencer, 1854, Metropolitan Museum of Art.