It was a bright summer day and my husband, Paul, and I were picnicking in a small, lakeside park. I asked him to take my picture. I’d been enjoying posting photos of myself on the various day trips we’d been taking on Facebook. It was a joke — where would I turn up next?

There were two couples at a nearby table, and as I posed on the shoreline, one of the men came over and asked, “Do you want me to take your picture together?”

“Oh, no, thank you,” I said instantly.

The man scowled and turned away.

And just like that, I’d found a new way to be rude in this pandemic.

Reject nice people.

Until that moment, I’d only gotten testy with people who invaded my space. They were about to enter the 6-foot safe zone. It’s not easy for me to tell people to back off, but fear has ironically made me braver.

Upsetting a person who was trying to be helpful, however, was a whole other ballgame.

Should I have said, “I’m sorry, mister, but nobody touches my phone but my husband?”

As we learn more about how COVID-19 spreads, I have relaxed a bit. I’m actually not as worried about touching surfaces as I used to be, primarily because I’ve trained myself not to touch my face until I’ve cleaned my hands first. Itchy eyes just have to wait.

My phone, however, goes up to my face. I don’t know if I could ever disinfect it enough after a stranger handled it to feel comfortable talking on it in the conventional way. I’d be using speaker phone for the rest of its life.

No, I had no regrets in refusing his offer. I remember early on in this thing talking to a man walking a dog. He was trying to socialize his companion. “Can you give him some treats?” he said.

Before I could respond, he was putting some kibble in my hand. As I said, this was early on, before we were wearing masks. The interaction was brief, but for two weeks I worried I’d been exposed to the coronavirus.

One of my favorite things to do while out walking, which I try to do daily, is interact with people with dogs. A couple of weeks ago, Paul and I were sitting by the river after our walk, when a young man came by with a beautiful black lab puppy. We exchanged pleasantries and oohed and ahhed over the dog. The young man said, “Do you want to say hello?”

“Oh, no, that’s OK,” Paul and I said in unison. Then, having learned from lake encounter, I added, “In normal circumstances, I would love to pet your puppy.”

In this case, my concern would be that everyone would forget to social distance because all our attention would be focused on the pup. Since we were outside, no one was wearing a mask.

Now that I am back at work as a school librarian (it’s adults only at this point), I’m finding another social sticking point — door opening. Most of my life in the past five months has been spent at  home, outdoors or in the supermarket. The doors in the latter are hands-free.

Now I am in a place where to enter and leave involves two sets of doors. People are going in and out at the same times of day — morning, midday, afternoon. Holding the door open for the person behind me is ingrained in my psyche, I would wait until a person several yards behind reached the door.

Now, I fling open the door harder than I need to, so it will stay open longer. Hopefully this gives the message, “I know you’re back there, but this is the best I can do if I’m going to keep my distance.”

One day, before the full staff had arrived and the front doors of the school were locked, a colleague let me in. He held the door open for me. A door that opened toward me. Oh, dear. I would have to violate the 6-foot rule. I told myself that we were masked and I was just passing by. And thanked him.

Another day, I went out a side entrance to go for my lunchtime walk. A different co-worker was behind me. When we reached the first set of doors, I went through and held it open for him by hanging on to the edge farthest away from him.  “Got it,” he said.

Same thing on the second set. Now, that’s the way to do it, I thought. We didn’t have to get too close, and yet we maintained the social convention.

When we got outside, I laughed and said, “It’s complicated.”

He said, “You gotta do what you gotta do.”

My colleague understood, and showed me a way to compromise.

Unlike the man at the lake. When his party left, everyone else remarked on the fine weather and expressed variations of “Have a nice day.” He scowled again.

I just heard that KFC is dropping its slogan “finger lickin’ good,” for obvious reasons. I’m just hoping the man at the lake has realized by now why I didn’t want to hand him my phone.


Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].

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