Waiting at what appeared to be the shortest line at the supermarket, I began to wonder what was taking so long. Then I noticed the clerk was confined to a wheelchair and he was wearing thick yellow rubber gloves, the kind I wear for scrubbing pots.
He appeared to struggle, just to push the buttons of the cash register. Aren’t his hands uncomfortable inside those heavy gloves? What will he do when it gets really hot? Won’t his hands sweat?
Behind me the next customer was humming to herself while unpacking her cart. She placed her boxes of cereal, cans of soup, cartons of diet soda on the conveyer belt and banged into me with her elbow. Although signs in the stores still advise observing a six-foot distance, no one is reading them. Her white hair signaled to me she was likely vaccinated and because I’ve been fully vaccinated for several months, I wasn’t threatened by her proximity.
We still wear masks. Well, most of us wear masks. I prefer to err on the side of caution. Other versions of the virus may be circulating and while it is unlikely I can transmit anything, it is better to set an example.
While everyone in the USA now has the opportunity to get vaccinated; each individual is free to make his or her own decision. Not everyone wants the jab. Some people may have underlying conditions that may prevent them from receiving the vaccine.
I wanted to tell the clerk, he shouldn’t bother wearing gloves any more because according to recent research, the novel coronavirus is rarely transmitted from surface to surface. Periodic hand washing would suffice in addition to his mask. But I didn’t want to intrude. If he felt more protected by wearing gloves, don’t meddle, I told myself. Let it be.
The grocery shopping routine is slowly returning to the way it used to be, prior to the pandemic. A greeter no longer stands in front of the supermarket counting the number of customers allowed to enter. In many stores the arrows that used to direct traffic down aisles in one direction have been removed. Stores are operating at one hundred percent capacity. We are gradually returning to “normalcy,” but the process is erratic.
Every so often the clerk’s face mask would slip down and he’d have to reposition it back on his nose. Still wearing those yellow gloves, he’d grab the edge of the fabric. Sometimes when the mask slipped, he’d pause to lift a water bottle to his mouth. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. He is of our frontline workers, when many businesses are struggling to fill vacant positions.
Each grocery bag was pulled out individually from a waist-high shelf. As the groceries were tallied I packed my own purchases.
“Thank you for bagging,” he said.
“Thank you for being here,” I should have said, but instead I said, “Have a good day,” a standard American trite expression. Those four words mean absolutely nothing when accompanying a circular smiley face. Those four words can also mean everything you wanted to say. Thoughts that might include: I feel really badly that you are stuck working this shitty job looking extremely uncomfortable and I feel sad that we live in a country where people are so rich they can own twelve houses and a private jet while other people can’t afford a decent meal or a trip to the doctor.
The United States has a long way to go. We are a selfish nation. The refusal to wear masks to protect the vulnerable is just one example of how many American’s actions can endanger others. Currently millions of people around the world, including American citizens overseas are waiting for the opportunity to be vaccinated, while we have surplus doses of vaccine and the supplies to manufacture more.
As long as the coronavirus continues to infect millions around the globe, variants can still arrive on our shores. The ground I tread on is shaky. We are infinitely better than six months ago, but until the global pandemic has ceased we should remain vigilant. We are not completely safe from the novel coronavirus.