Chelsea’s Review: A good example of a 2020 nightmare is having to go down into a creepy basement in order to find a way to survive.
As I looked down toward my fanny pack, rummaging around to find some cash to pay for my 99¢ bananas, my mask slipped up to cover my eyes. I tugged it back down again, fully realizing that now my hand was touching the outside of the potentially virus-laden mask. I had to look up again as the cashier looked at me with compassion? contempt? I don’t know, I had a razor-edged mask stabbing me in the eyes! I could fish around for my money blindly by keeping my head up or I could fish around looking down into my bag while simultaneously tugging the lower edge of the mask down in order to keep the upper edge of the mask out of my eyelashes. I handed the patient woman a ten and she handed me back a bunch of ones that other people had no doubt been handling. I sighed heavily. There must be a better way, I reasoned. Advice to self: 1) Always pay with a credit card, which can be conveniently tucked into one’s back pocket. 2) Wear pants with back pockets. You can prudently stuff some cash in there as well. Outside the store, I liberally doused my hands with sanitizer.
I don’t go out much since the pandemic started, but I left my home today, to meet friends outdoors and do a little shopping. My comfort level hovers around neighborhood walks, driveway chats and 7 am grocery shopping. Social outings had been on postponement as they involved too many people and caused me too much stress. A necessary trip to the drug store tied to a visit with friends enticed me to don a mask and head out into the great unknown.
During my visit with friends and subsequent shopping, I could say that things were a bit better, safety-wise, than they were a couple months ago. People here are wearing masks. Everyone was masked, in every store I visited in this little shopping center. I smiled behind the safety of my new face-adornment. If more people would wear them, we could move toward something resembling our previous level of freedom. But first, the basic face mask needs to be more user friendly.
My husband and I started with some N-95 masks, conveniently stored in his basement woodshop for use while sanding, painting and woodturning. They are the most comfortable as they don’t waffle around your nose holes while you try to breathe in. Unfortunately, they have a one-way valve which allows the wearer’s breath to escape, decreasing any CO2 buildup and consequently tossing a few COVID 19 bits into the atmosphere. We ended up taping over the valve so as to spare our fellow Ashevillians from potential contagion of our making. Since we have a limited supply of these masks, I saved one, which I keep in the car for my once-a-week grocery run. I drew a smile on the front of it, in close proximity to where my mouth resides within, to show that I am a happy person with a taped-up mask that I use over and over.
My next mask arrived via USPS through a mail-order purchase made by my husband. It looked good on the webpage. Two layers of white fabric with a third layer through which one might slip one’s favorite filter. Prior to 2020, I never considered what might constitute a good filter through which I might have to breathe. Here are a few suggestions by non-experts: a) a coffee filter that you have to cut up to fit, b) a wet wipe that’s now dry, c) a dryer sheet that doesn’t smell like your mother’s underwear and d) the top layer of a maxi pad. I tried the dry wet wipe as that seemed the cheapest (I already had some in a drawer somewhere). Even an unscented wipe has a smell to it. It nauseated me. I had only one coffee filter left and I was saving that for company. Wishful thinking on my part. I have a strong hatred for dryer sheets, which rant I will save for another time. And the maxi pad? What ninny thought of this one? Not gonna happen here.
I decided that a filter was just another way of promoting the purchasing of the above suggestions and were probably being touted by the makers of such. I wore the mask sans filter. The spot designated for the filter, however, was a bit flappy inside. It was sewn at the top and bottom, but its’s square area did not extend all the way across the mask, leaving the sides droopy and inhalable. And the elastic was wimpy, leaving me at the mercy of the mask that moves. This was the mask that stabbed me in the eyes.
To the rescue came my son’s girlfriend. She knitted a really cool one, with a solid fiber liner, that is tied around the head, which means I can pull it snug against my face. My exterior now shows a mouth with teeth and a tongue! It’s so cute. And washable. When I received this mask, I began to notice that masks have become a fashion statement. I started a half-hearted effort to make my own after finding a pattern online. Three layers of fabric, with the middle being a piece of flannel cut from some old pajamas. I sewed a little pocket over the nose section so that I could insert a small piece of picture hanging wire to secure it over my nose. I used a lovely fabric from my collection of materials on the outside, giving it that hippie, tie-dyed vibe and a piece from an old sheet on the inside for a non-scratchy interior. I was very proud of this accomplishment.
What I didn’t have, was the elastic I needed for attaching the mask to my head. At the time, none could be found online—the only way I was willing to shop back then. After trying for a few weeks, I gave up. I scrounged around for an alternative. I recruited the spirits of old pioneer ladies, those who knew how to “make do” with the limited resources available to them. What was stretchy and could be slipped through the narrow cuff I had sewn at the edges of my mask? The first thing I tried was the waistband from my husband’s old underwear. It still had some give. However, it frayed when I cut it, the elastic being covered with comfortable soft fibers because, let’s face it, the BVD people never once considered further use of their elastic waist bands once the romance wore off. Bits of fiber continued to shred as I attempted to lace it into the cuff. I was successful, but the coolness of my accessory was diminished by the look of a tighty-whitey waistband around my head. Underwear companies are now making masks that look like underwear. No thanks!
I abandoned this tactic and searched around for something less pitiful. My eyes clamped onto an old headband I used for emergency hair containment needs. It was stretchy and thin and could be cut and rolled into a cord substantial enough to shove through the cuff and besides, I logically thought, it was used to being stretched around my head. The tensile strength of a headband depends directly on the width of its construction. Once cut and pulled, this material was as useless as a strand of overcooked spaghetti. Bereft of its companion fibers, the cut headband stretched, and stretched and stretched until I could wrap it around my head three times. Then broke. Strike two.
Next, I tried shoe laces. In the use of these, I would advise those making home-made masks that size matters. I tried some old hiking boot laces, which were broken and a bit frayed on one end. They easily slid into the cuff on the mask and tied. Once I was able to get them tied around my head, the length of the laces dangled down into my collar, flapped and tickled the back of my neck. And they refused to stay tied.
It was at this point I recalled the times I tied these laces while serving their intended purpose. There had always been a struggle. The laces are slick and often refused to remain tied. Pre hike, I would pull them with all the strength of my upper body, then hold that pull as I tied them twice, like the laces holding on the shoes of a kindergartner. To exert this kind of effort at the back of my head would require a second person with some experience in tying a corset. I decided to look for some ordinary shoe laces. I know of some with lobsters on them, saved from a trip to Maine, in a box, down in the dreaded basement. That expedition has yet to be launched.
Ye olde-school face mask
In truth, kind friends have offered me some of their elastic. But that staunch inner pioneer, along with her eco-friendly greater granddaughter, refuses to give up. I’m determined to find the perfect reusable, repurposed-able item available to me. If that frontier woman could boil down a whole, smelly buffalo to render its fat, I can spend some time in the dungeon rummaging through a few (too many) boxes. These are the sacrifices we make for our very survival and the latest fashionable accessories.
Trendy foot forward,
Guest Editor Chelsea prefers facial treatment masks to face masks but I’m sure her face masks are the most stylish of accessories. Her fine editing encouraged me to go with this story title. In addition, she has lovely skin.