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Tales From the Quarter: Unmasked...and Feeling Naked

09:00 July 16, 2021
By: Debbie Lindsey

My dermatologist assured me that my minor facial surgery for a skin cancer would not leave much of a scar. I assured him that it didn't matter because I was "keepin' the mask" and had no intention of ever showing my face south of my eyes again. The first facial muscles to succumb to gravity are those around one's cheeks/mouth/chin/and jaw-line and no hair cut obscures this. Fortunately, scarves and turtle necks effectively hide the tell-tales signs of age attacking your neck. So with stylish sunglasses, a swathe of silk, and a snug fitting mask that cups your chin, you can knock 10 to 20 years off. Men don't show this facial aging quite the same as women—different skin/muscle thing going on and also the benefit of sporting a beard if needed. Yet, even guys benefit from the agelessness of these COVID masks. Oh, and of course masking is meant to allow us a chance to circumvent death by COVID so that we might have better odds at living long enough to have wrinkles and sags to complain about.

Trust me, I feel lucky to have the lines in my face as they attest to many wonderful years lived. But if a mask can hide some flaws and allow me to put off the cost of having my teeth bleached white enough to resemble a LED light bulb, I'm in. We have all bitched blue streaks about the annoyance of masks and with good reasons. Eye glasses fog up, mask-breath is torturous after a garlic dish, and how many of you have drenched your face in hot coffee or a glass of wine due to mask-forgetfulness? Yes, it's a real thing—mask-forgetfulness. If you have grown accustomed to wearing one for long periods of time, that coffee break can be a rude awakening that you didn't slide your protective gear down. And we are now experiencing a second season of getting to wear mini-saunas attached to our faces. But let us not forget how snug and warm they were during the winter months. Still, even I, the world's biggest advocate of masking, who's mantra has been "What would Fauci do?," must admit: being able to disrobe my face when out taking a walk feels pretty good.

Of course the moment I see someone approaching down the sidewalk, I guiltily slip it back on. "Mask Breaks" feel like leaving home without your underwear—kinda naughty good, but with potential for danger and embarrassment. There are little freedoms that we have all experienced when behind our masks. That incognito feeling is quite freeing when passing that "bad break-up guy" or "the hostess of the bridal shower you should have attended." Sometimes you just need to dash into the grocery store and shop quickly without social distractions because your bladder is about to burst.

My favorite hiding-in-plain-site pleasure is being able to sing along with my ever-present transistor radio tuned to WWOZ while out walking. I am cursed with a terrible singing voice, but can now belt 'em out with Rebirth and no one on the sidewalk can tell—the mask has a nice muffle-effect. I can also just enjoy talking to myself out loud now without pretending to have a smarty-pants phone plugged to my ear. And we all have that neighbor, co-worker, or customer that deserves a righteous "f**k you," and now you can mouth it and follow-up with a firm sticking of the tongue out at them; and they are none the wiser! No make-up or sunscreen wasted from the bridge of your nose down, no lipstick to re-apply all day; got a big-ass canker sore? No worries; no one can see it! That bowl of grits on your way to work is your little secret as you flick bits from your teeth until lunch break, and that spinach salad will not embarrass you later! I am not advocating poor dental hygiene, but eating on the run needn't cause embarrassment—there is plenty of time to brush and floss once home and you best be sure to do this because you are now addicted to Zoom for your book club group. Working and socializing in your PJs and slippers is great, but your teeth will be on display.

Also, don't forget to position your Zooming laptop to show your best art or bookcase (borrow impressive literature from those "Little Free Libraries" while slipping those Danielle Steel romance novels under the bed). Love them or hate them, you have worn them for so long that facial recognition has changed. For me, I cannot identify new friends and acquaintances without their masks on. Folks I have come to know and/or work alongside since The COVID are strangers to me if I see their photograph, say on Facebook, without the facial garment. You come to know the eyes, nose, hair, hat, eyeglasses. Ran into a fellow volunteer I work with, he was maskless outdoors walking his dog—his face was too much information to take in, but his signature baseball cap I knew! The opposite goes for old friends that you see in the grocery store in their KN95—no familiar nose or mouth, that beard is hidden, the dimples concealed. By the time this magazine is in your hands, perhaps my man Fauci will have given us un-sanitized, gloveless thumbs up to remove masks completely. I certainly will not miss The COVID cooties, but it will take a minute for me to let go of my security blanket, my blankie—my mask.

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