I had this realization the other day (actually today, if we’re being honest) that part of the issue with face masks is that it involves a symbolic — which is to say, real — admission of equality in the face of the pandemic, and of social others.
What do I mean by that? I mean that it is instructive that businesses can enforce the wearing of masks for customers, but employees cannot enforce the wearing of masks by their organizational superiors.
This struck me first when I popped into the office of a former colleague — now technically my aunt in the organizational structure — and she graciously said that I could remove my face mask. She didn’t mind.
This, for the uninitiated, is the signal ne plus ultra that one has entered dangerous territory.
Luckily, I played by instinct, thanked her, and demurred (somewhat dishonestly) that as I was living with my parents (not true, they’d decamped to Shasta County several weeks prior) I was taking extraordinary precautions.
I suspect that she appreciated my choice of words, as well as the fact that I did not linger, nor emphasize, the adjective. She merely indicated the presence of sanitizer and Lysol on her table, and proceeded to launch into a disquisition regarding how she had showed her husband the email where the Director, in so many words, invited me to go back to school and consult my professors if I had a problem with his proposed study design for eviscerating California’s semblance of a commitment to ensuring that when people strap 1-ton death rockets onto their crotches that they are at least minimally competent to steer.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. The semiotics of face-mask wearing.
Fast forward a week or so. I’m waiting outside the office of my nominal boss for approximately 15 minutes, rather ostentatiously wearing a mask, when the Director’s backup secretary says “um, [name redacted], there’s this dude waiting outside your office? For like 15 minutes? He’s got an appointment with you. Just sayin’.”
I might have made sure that she got a gift card for Administrative Professionals Day last month. Just sayin’.
What did this get me? Fifteen minutes with my boss. Where he did not wear his mask. Nor offer me Lysol. Nor offer me a drink from his wall of Yerba Mate (what the actual fuck) drinks that remind me only of the time that I watched a whole lot of alcoholic dykes cheer where the roller derby ladies spun each other around the track in the bowling alley in Grand Fucking Prairie Texas.
Wow did that go sideways. This was meant to be a post about, I don’t know, the subtle dance of masks vs. not masks. Maybe throw a Dunbar reference in to demonstrate my liberal arts cred. Maybe amp it up a notch with a reference to Faschen, and Mask of the Red Death, or something.
Okay, sideways, again with the sideways. Back on track. Where was I?
Talking, face to face, with my boss, less than 3 feet away. Where I had to, on the fly, decide how quickly (or not) to back up when he got too close. Which he is wont to do for whatever reason (personal social disphoria, cultural difference, general cluelessness, etc.). Where he lectured me on how I should tell vendors to shut the fuck up (really? Even vendors who likely are the personal, ahem, cough cough, form 500 disclosure mothafuckas) when they talk non-stop — I shit you not — for 56 straight minutes. That is fucking operatic, baby. Where he (shockingly, actually) failed to even bring up the name of the guy who — Sacramento is a small town! — connects us. The name of which he ostentatiously forgot.
I don’t know who that says more about. Him, or the guy whose name he forgot (“coop guy”).
What I do know is that my organizational aunt paid at least a semblance to condescending — note the choice of words — when she suggested that I could remove my mask if I wanted to.
My boss made no such effort. His lack of effort was possible due to social cluelessness, possibly due to a misguided effort at social niceties, but most likely an unconsciousness, but nonetheless vicious, effort to enforce social distinctions against someone who in other contexts might have impressive credentials.
But. But. But. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.