Slackjaw
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Slackjaw

I’m A Misanthrope And That Is Why I Wear A Mask

A man in a surgical mask stands against a brick wall.
Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

As I walk down the street my eyes lock with Gary from sales. “Goddamnit,” I mutter quietly to myself. He’s the kind of guy who calls everyone “bud” or “bro” but isn’t actually close to anyone. I steel myself, preparing to be trapped in a conversation for at least 15 minutes. I’ll only be able to escape by agreeing to go for drinks at some indeterminate point in the future, just as I have half a dozen times before without follow-through. But he just walks by.

Dumbfounded, I stop dead in my tracks, remembering that I’m wearing a mask. I wore it to protect myself and others from coronavirus, but, unexpectedly, it’s protecting me from human interaction. This is amazing.

Not 15 minutes later I pass by a casual acquaintance. A friend of a friend. To be honest, I don’t recall how I know her. But we live in the same neighborhood and every time we run into each other she exclaims my name enthusiastically, like we’re old friends. I’m not sure what her name is and it’s way too late to ask now. I prepare myself for another uncomfortable interaction. But then I remember: I’m wearing my mask. My invisibility cloak, as it were. We walk by each other; two ships passing in the night. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Back at my apartment building, the elevator stops five floors before mine. “Ugh,” I sigh, thinking I’ll have to share the elevator with someone and possibly endure neighborly small talk. But I feel emboldened by my mask and shout, “Sorry! CORONA!” and press the button to close the door. My neighbor can’t argue with that. For the first time in my life, I feel completely invisible — and it’s great.

Feeling free and in control, I log on to Facebook for the first time in ages. “Happy birthday!” I write on the wall of a friend whose birthday party invites I’ve declined three years in a row. “Sorry we can’t get together this year! Maybe next year.” Then I log on to Amazon and buy a set of towels as a gift for my college friend who’s insisting on getting married in a pandemic. “Sorry, I couldn’t travel during the pandemic. I was really looking forward to seeing Winnipeg!”

My wife walks into the den, a frustrated look on her face. “Did you let the cats eat tuna in the bed again?” she asks. I did. I should apologize and promise to do better, but I don’t! I grab my mask and pull it over my face, rendering myself anonymous. “That could have been anyone!” I shout as I make a beeline past her and out the door of the apartment.

I feel incredible. I think about everywhere I can go, all the things I can do. I can reclaim the cafe I stopped patronizing when my boss became a regular. Or I could go to the Thai restaurant that I’ve been too embarrassed to return to since I accidentally ordered a Vietnamese iced coffee 16 months ago. I could go to the convenience store I’ve yet to return to since I clogged their toilet. This is what it’s like to have a new identity. A new life.

I strut down the street. There’s a bounce in my step. “I’m invisible and I feel great!” I shout, not feeling remotely embarrassed, because no one knows who I am.

“Matt? It is you! I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” It’s the friend of a friend whose name I can’t recall.

“Shit.” I turn and run away.

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