In a public service announcement produced by the state of New York, the actor Paul Rudd promotes mask wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He takes a fun approach to getting the message out: The 51-year-old portrays a 20-something rapper. The kicker shows Rudd and another man, masked, remarking on how easy it is to cover their faces. Then viewers see them “eating” sauced chicken legs — through their masks.

I laughed out loud when I saw it. I am trying to have a sense of humor about the fact that wearing a mask all day is not fun. At all. I’ve been a strong proponent of mask wearing for months, but I have to be honest.

I hate it.

On weekdays my mask goes on about 6:45 a.m. and comes off around 2:15 p.m. I get a break at lunch, when I take a walk and then eat in my office with the door closed.

I’m a school librarian, so I’ve been wearing a mask all day for more than a month now. It does get easier. To a point. I don’t have the urge to rip it off at 8 a.m. anymore. I usually don’t feel exasperated until 1 p.m. or so. That’s about the time my iced coffee runs out.

Speaking of which … I thought I’d achieved the greatest happiness I was likely to in this pandemic when I discovered I could buy jugs of unsweetened Starbucks brew in the supermarket. I’d often whined before this discovery that getting coffee was too complicated. I didn’t want to go into convenience stores and the lines at Dunkin’ are always so long.

Then I discovered that at school I couldn’t really sip coffee in a leisurely manner. At my desk, well away from my colleagues and library patrons, it was only permissible to lift my mask from my mouth and take a sip, then replace the mask.

This is why I still have coffee left at 12:30 in the afternoon.

After I touch my mask, I hand sanitize. Then it’s back to whatever I was doing, for 15 or 20 minutes, when I repeat the procedure.

Of course, this is just a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. But as the saying goes, “It’s the little things.”

Also, it’s not the only thing. I have allergies, so some days I feel stuffed up, despite taking medication. One morning I put on my mask and felt, as I often do, a sense of panic. Usually it dissipates, but this day it didn’t. I finally realized I was having trouble breathing. I wasn’t getting enough air.

Bright side of mask wearing: Nobody can see you breathing through your mouth.

Sneezing is a problem. I have felt sneezes coming on a few times, but managed to quell them. If I do sneeze into my mask, I’m going to have to change it. That’s why I keep a package of disposable masks on my desk. I am ready for a sneeze emergency.

A friend enjoys drinking seltzer during the day. However, the bubbles sometimes make her burp. Moisture then rises above her mask and burns her eyes.

These problems are real, people.

No one knows you’re smiling behind your mask. I can’t stop doing it but have to add a wave when I pass students and colleagues in the halls. I could say hello but it’s hard to hear people through a mask unless you’re in a quiet place and no farther than the required 6 feet.

It’s almost impossible to help students through the plexiglass shields that now line the circulation desk in the library. If I don’t know a student’s name, which I need in order to check out an item, it takes the two of us several minutes to communicate with one another.

Sometimes I feel like I’m garbling words. Forget words like “specific,” which I have a hard time within the best of circumstances. My lips are chapped. I think the bridge of my nose is getting irritated.

The other day, I felt a hair in my mask. I’m sure it was mine. But still.

More bright sides to wearing a mask: I can eschew makeup, except for my eyes. I can eat garlic and onions at lunch. That piece of broccoli stuck between my teeth remains my secret.

Mask wearing is our best defense against COVID-19. When I go out on my daily walk and take my mask off, I feel liberated. But I know it’s only an illusion. We are trapped right now, in a way of life that is keeping us from each other and eroding our economy. When I put my mask back on, I am doing my part to free us from this terrible, toxic prison.

One day, as I finished my walk, I discovered a small bug in my mask as I went to put it back on. I couldn’t remove it, as my hands had already touched the outside of the mask.

I put the mask on anyway. Tough times call for fearless action, people.

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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