Even when we listen, we don’t often hear

“I don’t like wearing them,” said the younger woman, sitting in the front parking lot. Her sunny summer dress, brightening up the otherwise drab asphalt. “They get so sticky and gross.”

I don’t either, I thought. Facemasks tend to get grimy pretty quickly. For all those people who cite their inconvenience for wearing a mask for an hour while at a restaurant, try wearing one for a few hours. You will quickly see how uncovered and unhindered breathing spews quite a lot of stuff out, all of the time. Add in some physical exertion (say going up and down the stairs a few dozen times to the parking lot) and you will really get my drift. Don’t want to wear that mask? Quit crying you big baby, that person waiting on you has had one on for hours. And, if you have the misfortune to sneeze or cough, things will really go downhill from there.

“They are such a pain, you have to wash them every day, and then you have to try and coordinate them with your outfit. I’d really just rather not bother,” added the young woman.

I went to pick up her empty plate, and then realized that I couldn’t. That was a job exclusively for the busboy. It’s not a union thing. It’s a cleanliness and health thing. People delivering food should not cross-contaminate by clearing dirty plates and glasses. Unless they can wash and sanitize their hands in between. And when the facility for doing either, is 50 yards away, you tend to stick to the rules.

Its been a long time since I waited tables. Once someone goes behind the bar, it’s awfully hard to get them back out on the floor. Maybe it’s because people treat bartenders differently than they do waiters. I don’t know why that is exactly, maybe it has something to do with seat elevation? Or maybe it’s a power control dynamic? All I know is that it is absolutely true.

But in a global pandemic, you do what you must. Which, truth be told, was always the deal in the restaurant business, even before Covid 19.

“But honey,” said the older woman, who I now guessed was her mother. “You just have to. People will give you dirty looks.”

“Let them,” said the younger woman with that arrogance so associated with youth. “I don’t care if they even say something. It’s my body and my right.”

Just then a man in a ratty red bandana backed into me.

“Have you seen my date?” he asked looking around aimlessly.

I had. She had left in her car, parked about 8 feet from their table, about 20 minutes ago. I thought about saying something, but instead just shrugged.

There’s always been a sense of anonymity in being a server or bartender. People will sometimes look right through you as if you aren’t even there. That is until they need you. Nowadays, with a mask and some deliberate distancing, we might as well not even be people. Something that one might think would compromise tips. But add in a handheld credit card device, and the eyes of the person being tipped focused directly on you, as you contemplate zero, 15%, 18% or 20%, and well, let’s just say things work out alright. Anonymity might breed contempt but it’s really hard to screw someone and feel good about yourself, when you are literally face to face with them.

“They’re disgusting,” said the young woman. “Those silly straps chafe and stretch. And depending, they barely even cover up what they are supposed to.”

“But you can’t be one of those types that don’t wear them,” exclaimed her mother, exasperated.

“Take it from me,” I said, placing down a clean plate and studiously avoiding the dirty one. “I don’t like wearing them either.”

Both women recoiled and then looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. It wasn’t, I had been to their table a half a dozen times already.

“What?” they both said in unison. “Have you been listening to us?”

I don’t know how they thought someone less than four feet away reaching in between and around them couldn’t hear what they were saying, but suddenly I felt very conspicuous.

“Masks,” I stammered out. “I don’t like wearing masks either.”

“We weren’t talking about masks,” said the younger woman icily.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-I don’t know exactly what they were talking about, but I doubt we’ll be getting a letter.

-Actually, I do have an inkling, but that’s only because of a sudden summer breeze.

-Three feet of wood between me and my guests is just about right.

-Thank goodness for masks and increased anonymity.

– You can teach an old dog new tricks. It just takes some extra time, and occasionally, a rolled up newspaper.