How a couple mask-kissing on the subway and the book ‘Emergency’ prepared me for the pandemic
How I lost my mask virginity, if you will, is different than many other folks. These words are a bit of a ‘reflection’ even though it’s December 2020 and we are nowhere near done with this virus. These experiences are unique and I hope contribute some form of context to those still on the fence.
I’ve been riding NYC subways for 14 years, most recently my path was on the 7 train from Queens to Manhattan. The 7 train starts in Flushing where Asian ethnicity population is anywhere from 69% to 75% depending on your data source. JFK International airport is not too far away. Some time in February 2020, I was having a rough morning on my way to work. Coronavirus had not really hit the US yet. An Asian couple wearing masks were hugging and being affectionate near me. The guy got off at Grand Central, and she stayed. They good-bye kissed with their masks on.
I remember thinking, not nicely, ‘take your masks off if you’re gonna kiss, geez!’ I texted my non-city dwelling sister about it, but, it really was an in-person thing to see. I left the train confused.
Then I felt a little insulted, like ‘what, the 7 train air isn’t clean enough for you to kiss? I’ve been breathing this shit for a decade plus, guy.’ This is the inflection point that I think a lot of people, specifically white guys, do not analyze enough. I had to internalize my thoughts, think this through, and come out the other side as a good person. This incident put me out of my comfort zone in a good way, I just didn’t know it at the time.
On March 13th, everything came crashing down. That was my last day on those rails for at least three months.
Back in 2010 I read Emergency by Neil Strauss. On the cover it actually says THIS BOOK WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE.
“The world is in crisis. If you’re looking for an emergency escape plan, this book is it.” -Rolling Stone
In Emergency, author Neil Strauss recommends a bug out bag. If you had to leave your home right now, what bag would you grab and what stuff would you take? Knowing that possibly your home could be gone the next time you’re back. Neil recommends a ton of bug out items. None more relevant today than ‘dust masks.’ The book prompted me to buy several items back in 2016, including N95 masks. Once in a while I’d inventory the bag and feel I was prepared to flee NYC from a bomb or missile attack. I planned out my walk up the FDR to the Bruckner, like they do in the movies. On second though I’d probably steal a Citi Bike.
On March 13th, I marched home, unzipped my bug out bag and pulled out my masks. Still in the original box, I hadn’t used them once. I showed my girlfriend — ‘look I’ve got these masks that everyone suddenly wants!’ Her response (she’s part Japanese, FWIW) was ‘those are super heavy duty, I’ve got a fabric one.’ But of course a week later they became our ‘indoor’ masks for grocery shopping and essential indoor visits. And the masks, shit, maybe have saved our lives?
Suddenly the kissing couple came back to mind. I knew my gut reaction was not nice, yet I held onto it for at least a month. Once I put these masks on, I felt remorse. I wanted to find them and say ‘it was perfectly fine for you to kiss with masks on, no social points deducted.’
Which brings me to my Aunt ‘Shelby’ which I put in quotes cause that’s not her real name. She’s been a supermarket cashier in Florida for over 25 years, now into her 70s. I spoke with her in April and below is the middle part of our conversation:
Shelby: I get scared when Asian customers with masks come to my register.
Joe: Well, the masks are to protect them and us, also that’s not nice to say.
Shelby: No I only get scared when Asian people wear them cause the virus is from China!
J: Okay, that doesn’t… forget it. Good night Florida woman!
She’s not the sharpest tool in my extended family tool box, but I love her. Maybe she thinks I’m not sharp too. I don’t know.
All this is to say, what makes me different? I found myself kind of excited to wear masks that were stuffed in a backpack I’d been moving around my apartment when I cleaned. It was some sort of reward I left for myself five years back. Yet there are millions of people on the other side of this thing saying it tramples on their freedoms? North Dakota police released a statement saying some bullshit about mask mandates infringe on constitutional rights? How is it that grown adults have positions that are such non-starters? How can anyone doubt Dr. Fauci? Then again, how did 70 million people just vote for Trump?
Do you end thought sequences like that too?