I suck at getting groceries. I always just end up leaving the supermarket with a bunch of canned goods and wine. So I’ve resolved that, for the duration of the quarantine, I’m just gonna do my shopping at Walgreens, or CVS–which is exactly what I was doing yesterday, walking to the convenience store a couple blocks from my apartment to get some soups and tortillas or whatever, when for some reason, on my way back home, I crossed in front of a pizza shop where a middle-aged dude said hi to me.
He was wearing a surgical mask and plastic gloves and he was leaning back on the tailgate of what I imagine was his truck, looking reposed, but he was also bouncing on his heels a bit. Looked happily agitated.
He said, “Hey sir.”
It bears mentioning, for the uninitiated, that men have this coded manspeak where we can communicate shit with different kindsa nods, the most versatile of which is the single solemn downward nod, with an accompanying half-smile. The single solemn nod is a gesture of acknowledgement, and a polite refusal of conversation.
I gave him the single solemn nod.
But he doesn’t seem to get it. Says, “Everything good with you, sir?” He hopped forward from his truck and took a couple lackadaisical steps toward the sidewalk where I was passing by.
My hands were fulla groeries, I was kinda saddled by the weight and moving awkwardly, so for the sake of just addressing the issue I stopped and said, “What’s up.” (Note the period instead of a question mark.) I was thinking of that grocery store I’d read about in the news, I forget where it was, but they had to throw out more than $30,000 worth of product because some crazy woman went in and coughed on everything.
The dude shrugged, seemed put-off by my tone, then told me, with a tone of his own, “Yeah have a nice day, sir.”
I went on home.
Still don’t know if that guy was selling something or if he was gonna ask me for money, or if he was maybe just tryna be friends, but he was wearing gloves and a facemask. Surely he realizes there’s a pandemic. Surely this is not his usual ensemble. So too must he realize that people are on guard against one another and not really looking to schmooze with strangers in the direct midday sun. And certainly not when they’re lugging thirty pounds of groceries with no kind of protective apparel.
Maybe this wasn’t so neighborly of me. Maybe a moment of crisis calls for something more cordial, like I should’ve been more sensitive to the fact that this dude was just maybe a little stir crazy, and restless about his pizza, so he wanted some conversation.
That being said: in my couple years now of living in Little Havana I’ve been approached by one person who didn’t want money, and what that one other person wanted was to use my cell phone. I’m inclined to maintain that, being a broke service worker and receiving such solicitations literally five to ten times a day, I’m quick to dismiss anybody’s effort to speak to me on the sidewalk.
On paper, though, that sounds really ugly. To reflexively assume that everybody who approaches me is up to something. That they aren’t just maybe looking for a connection?
In this case it’s a little more existential, since the world is literally trying not to get a virus that’ll kill or incapacitate you, but still.
It got me thinking.