Of Masks And Men

Because even a home-made mask is better than nothing.

We are now being advised to wear some kind of protective mask whenever we venture outdoors. Even home-made ones are said to be better than nothing, and there are quite a few imaginative designs out there, tributes to American ingenuity. Nevertheless, Dear Leader will not be setting the example by wearing one himself. He feels it’s not presidential. “I just can’t see it,” he said, in a moment of uncharacteristic humility.

In contrast, I have complied ardently with this directive. I wore my precious N95 to the grocery store and to the ATM. I wore it when I put out the garbage and when I brought in the mail. But I was afraid that, if I wore it out back to the spa, it would get wet. I was sure that wetting it would ruin it, so I had to come up with some alternative masking arrangement, a waterproof one.

Something made of cloth seemed like an obvious choice, but when I looked into it further, I found that cloth masks have serious drawbacks when they get wet. Virus particles normally travel through the air on droplets of spittle that my loving neighbors have coughed, sneezed, or otherwise excreted into the air. These droplets may get caught on a cloth mask before reaching my face, at least slowing their viral passengers’s attempt to reach my lungs. That is the theory.

But if the mask is wet, things work differently. Wet cloth clings to your face, and capillary action draws the virus particles directly down to your skin. I needed something else.

The internet seemed to offer all sorts of possible solutions. I found instructions for making masks out of flags and jock straps. I found ads for welding shields and for virus-resistant face creams. But the welder’s masks were all on back order, and I was sure the face creams would irritate my skin.

Rummaging through the garage, I came across my old snorkeling gear. At first, I was certain this would be perfect, but I soon ran into a few complications. First, the mask covered only my nose, not my mouth. I solved this problem by using the snorkel, stuffing tissues into it to act as a filter for the virus, and sucking as hard as I could in order to breathe. This effort made me perspire, however, and that caused the mask to fog, blinding me as I tried to grope my way out of the tub and back inside. I fell and hurt my knee when one of my fins caught on the edge of the deck. There had to be another way.

After discarding a few ideas involving flower pots¹, I hit upon the notion of using gallon freezer storage bags. They are cheap and disposable, transparent, and easily affixed to the ears by cutting a two-inch slit just under the reinforced slider. I added a bit of tape to keep the slit from spreading. My first prototype was a little flimsy, but I bolstered it with a bungee strap around my forehead, and it stayed in place well enough.

I was left with the problem of getting a virus-proof closure around the edges. A video about the right way to put on a surgical mask stressed the importance of a good seal. Let me point out that this can be difficult if you have a full beard.

But there are tricks. One, that I learned when I took snorkeling lessons, is to use vaseline. So, after shaving a clean line under my chin at the neckline, I smeared gobs of the stuff all around my head and neck, working the bag into place. I put it on extra thick at the top of my head, because that’s where the bag’s corner was, and my hair, although thin, kept getting in the way. I had to use another bungee.

I should stress that this was a prototype. I realized that I would run out of air. Had it worked, I would have punched another hole in the bag and run a piece of rubber tubing through the kitchen window, bringing virus-free air from indoors. But as things worked out, I got vaseline on everything until I couldn’t see through the bag, and I slipped three times trying to get out of the tub. It was getting to be dinner time, so I finally gave up.

Washing off the vaseline proved to be another problem. I got it all over the bathroom walls as I tried to shower it off, but it seemed that no amount of soap and hot water would break its grip on my hair. Despite all my scrubbing, I still felt its tackiness.

I needed a solvent that would effectively dissolve the stuff. Fortunately, a very large jug of alcohol, used for decontamination, was sitting in the kitchen. Even with that, it was difficult to get that stuff out of my hair. But after using half a gallon, at last I felt pretty clean. A little dizzy from breathing the fumes, but finally able to go make dinner. After a quick rinse, I headed for the kitchen. By now, I was famished.

Dinner was to be some leftover stew that only needed to be heated on the stove. My eyes were watering, I was still woozy from the fumes, and something — I thought it was water — was dripping onto my shoulders as I poured the stuff into a pan. I twisted the knob on the stove and heard the igniter click a few times before the gas caught, but the flash of combustion seemed a lot more vigorous than usual. The last thing I remember was a loud Whoosh.

There is a magic trick that involves burning alcohol in your hand. Actually, it is the vapors above the alcohol that burn, leaving your hand unscathed. This wasn’t quite like that. As the fumes ignited, they took most of my remaining hair with them. I tried to take some consolation from the fact that I did need a haircut, but I was really upset. While I was passed out, the EMTs had eaten my stew, and one of them had the nerve to say it had too much garlic.

¹As a diving bell

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 7

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

Groceries. I went to market this morning to replenish my supplies. The hazmat suit hadn’t been delivered yet (they’re on back order), but I was out of bananas, so I had to go. Force majeure.

New Leaf has a seniors hour when they first open in the morning, so I rolled out of bed, wolfed down breakfast, and headed down there in the car. Passing by Surfer Beach, I saw that there were barricades and no parking signs along the parking strip. But you could still park in the dirt lot by the skateboard ramp, and there were a few boards out on the water.

At New Leaf there were two or three people waiting outside for the store to open. Donning my N-95 and blue vinyl gloves, I got a cart, wiped the handles down with an alcohol wipe, and waited a few minutes along with them. Standing a couple of meters from the closest one, I held my cart between us like a shield. Then, the staff began metering people into the store through a single open door.

Inside, people tried to stay the proper distance apart. It wasn’t crowded at all when the place first opened, but after twenty minutes it began  to fill up. Seniors with carts would meet where the aisles intersected and everyone would stop, afraid to go through. After you. No, after you, really. I will write to store management and suggest the installation of traffic signals.

Some items were well stocked while other shelves were completely bare. There was no rhyme or reason to it. But I got most of what I needed, including bananas, and headed for the register, where I carefully inserted my credit card into the slot without touching any part of the machine. Then, I used homemade hand sanitizer on my gloves and headed out to the car.

Decontamination Procedure. People are concerned that the groceries they buy may themselves be contaminated. As a public service, I will now describe the procedure that I used to avoid bringing the virus home.

Decontamination began at the car. I popped the trunk open with the key fob that I had placed in my right jacket pocket. After loading the groceries, I cleaned my gloves and the key fob with a dash of sanitizer from a dispenser that I had stashed back there. I globbed some on the door handle for good measure, took off my mask, and drove home.

In the garage, I took the bags out and unpacked them on the concrete floor. Bags and boxes went directly to the recycling bin. I had prepared a spray bottle filled with 70% ethanol (EtOH), which I used to douse the items before bringing them into the house. Alcohol is as effective as bleach, and much less obnoxious to use. A spray bottle, such as a house plant mister, is a convenient means of delivery.

Once everything was inside, I washed my gloves again with alcohol and then did all the doorknobs, refrigerator handles, etc. I removed the gloves by turning them inside out, discarded them, and washed my hands with soap and water. Then I threw my clothes into the hamper and headed for the shower.

This procedure may be supplemented at any time by any or all of these optional steps:

  • touching wood
  • throwing salt over one’s shoulder
  • placing garlic on the new groceries
  • drawing a chalk pentangle on the floor around the groceries
  • tying a red string on one’s wrist
  • planting St John’s Wort
  • invoking whichever god one believes in

We’re Down to Our Last Roll – 4

Shelter-in-place observations. An ongoing chronicle of the plague.

3/25 Today was the first time I ever washed a banana.

I suppose it was a bit paranoid. I had watched the guy at the grocery store unloading bananas from the shipping carton into the bin, and he was wearing blue vinyl gloves. But who knows who put them into the box? Who knows what other customer handled them before I got there? How long can this virus live on a banana, anyway? Probably longer than I can. Apparently, it can survive up to 24 hours on cardboard.

*

Half Moon Bay Distillery was giving away 170 proof ethanol, BYOB, limit half quart per person.

That’s what I was told, but what I heard was Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, for that is where I used to drink before draft beer became a memory. And so I went to HMB Brewing Company and was told that no, they were not giving away alcohol, but HMB Distillery was.

That’s what I was told, but what I heard was Moss Beach Distillery, for we used to dine there, years ago. And so I drove two miles to Moss Beach, and at the Distillery I was told that no, they were not giving away alcohol, but HMB Distillery was. I finally found the right place, a large shipping garage where all the streets come together in Princeton.

In the middle of the concrete floor, a large silver colored vessel that looked like a coffee urn sat on a small table. A divine chalice dispensing holy water. I stood in awe for a moment. The priest, a friendly bearded chap with blue eyes, was overseeing everything while standing twelve feet back. He invited me to fill about half of my Rubbermaid bottle. I was wearing the blue gloves that Burt sent me, so I did not hesitate to grasp the handle.

I was careful to wash everything down with disinfectant when I got home, and then I incinerated my clothing.