I walked into a trinket store to buy my lover a trinket, not expecting within minutes my life would be on the line.
The middle-aged woman that ran the place, an emporium of beads and jewelry, scarves and stuff of no discernible purpose, handed me a trinket and … it’s difficult to admit … her finger touched mine. A stranger’s finger touched my finger! No alarms went off in the store but I summoned the proper indignation and told her outright, in the language of Molière, that she had committed an offence upon my person, an assault and I would call the cops if even a fingernail grazed me again.
Like a good American, she reached under the counter and pulled out an AK-47, ripped off her mask off and said, “Go ahead, make my day,” as the gun barrel caressed the tip of my nose, her offensive finger no longer on me but the trigger.
Okay, I made up the stuff about the gun. In fact, we both had a good laugh over the criminality of touch. As Covid plays out, with hope going up and down like the Dow Jones, touching a stranger has become as scary as, well, not sanitizing your hands 18 times a day if you’re out and about. Or, worse, brushing into a fellow shopper who has made the inexcusable decision to walk in a direction other than what is stencilled on the floor of just about every store.
As offensive as touching the keypad on a credit card thingamabob that was touched by someone else. There is a chance that the previous reprobate had Covid droplets on his finger, either from picking his nose or sneezing onto his finger, leaving the keypad infectious. If you then took the finger you used on the card reader and rammed it into your nose and snorted, or rubbed your eyes, well, nothing would happen.
The fact that there appears to be not a single case of Covid spread through fomites has not dulled the “Sanitation Theatre” that has swept much of the world. Of course, the new variants from far flung parts of the globe may well be spectacularly infectious and deadly. Some fear rubbing shoulders in the supermarket with someone who also has a hankering for fresh strawberries could kill ‘im, but there’s no evidence that is the case.
There is some anecdotal evidence that suggests retailers are using Sanitation Theatre to attract and reassure. “C’mon in, you’re safe here. And while you’re here, follow the arrows that have been thoughtfully placed to drag you through the entire store in the off chance you’ll see something else to buy.”
Retailers are hurting. And now they’re finding people aren’t that thrilled to work so many hours on their feet for minimum wage, locked behind a plastic shield, wiping down everything that has been poisoned by a human hand or a bag of potatoes. Minimum wage doesn’t pay the bills and people are studying career options.
Covid lockdown has made some employees, especially younger folks, see the light: “There has to be a better way.” Hence, more elderly folks manning the cashes, padding pensions that aren’t big enough to allow them to eat and pay the rent and buy Lysol wipes.
What is true is we’ve become scared to death of each other. Walking down the sidewalk, people step into the street lest they come into contact with the dust on my lapels or the dried souvlaki drippings embedded in my jeans since March.
Lining up at the cash, I silently measure the masked consumers in front and behind me? Is that two metres? Though now, it seems, aerosol delivery of Covid and its variants doesn’t know two metres is the magic safety zone. Indoors, it’s a frequent and footloose flyer and can get you anywhere the wind takes it. Designer masks, anyone?
Sanitation Theatre has contributed to fortunes made by online delivery services and online retailers and has many other retailers and restaurants bankrupt. It’s easier to get something shipped than be bathed in sanitizer repeatedly and marched from one end of a store to another. And there’s something less than romantic being served at a restaurant by someone wearing a face shield and goggles. After a glass or two, you begin feeling you’re in the ER, waiting for the breathing tube to be shoved down your throat.
Covid is as pernicious as it gets. But we don’t need to make it worse by using it as a marketing tool. In the States, where everyone is armed to the hairline, more ridiculous measures make for itchier trigger fingers, if that’s possible. Federal Court in California just ruled assault rifles are like Swiss Army knives, only noisier, though I’ve never heard of a Swiss Army knife putting holes in 50 people in a few seconds.
So, wear a mask and hug your friends, just don’t sneeze in their faces. If you brush against someone at the supermarket, don’t incinerate your clothes or boil yourself in Lysol.
We have seen the enemy and it is not us. It’s Covid. And you won’t catch it bumping into a fellow human or their Golden Retriever. Things are crazy enough.