The Unspoken Benefits of the Much-Maligned Mask

| 24 Dec 2020 | 11:30

I recall my very first face mask as if it were constructed yesterday. I cut up a thick teal colored cotton tee-shirt and folded it carefully, just as I’d seen it done on the internet. I used the rubber bands that came with my home-delivered newspapers to secure the mask behind my ears. This four-layer creation was so thick it most resembled a very generously padded bra. It was a wonder that I could breathe through it at all. The first time I wore it to go do laundry downstairs in my building, I started hyperventilating, nervous to be among other people, trying to work really fast and attempting to suck in just enough air to get through the loading process. I was afraid that if I continued like that I would simply pass out on the laundry room floor and people would just step over me on the way to the dryers.

Soon, friends from various parts of the country started sending me a wide variety of masks. Some were home-made with pretty prints, real ear elastics and metal nose pieces. One friend sent me five expired N95s (who knew they could expire?). They were the stiff constructed type with elastics that reached around my whole head and got tangled in my hair. The elastics were so dried out that they usually snapped off and hit me in the face. I removed the bands and replaced them with cut-up strips of silver flecked panty hose that I’d inexplicably kept, still in the package, since the 1980s. I sewed the stretchy strips to the mask and tied them tightly around my head.

Another friend sent me ten of the newer N95s which didn’t fit me right at all. They gaped where they should have hugged and pushed up against my bottom eye lids, forcing my eyes shut. It’s hard enough to see down to your shoes wearing any mask – but this was impossible, and painful to boot. My glasses also fog up immediately, making it a challenge to see even two feet in front of me. I read that cutting up a strip of a Swiffer pad and placing it under the top edge of my mask would stop my warm breath and nasal ooze from fogging up my glasses. I never tried it (seemed like a waste of a good Swiffer pad) but I guess at least I could have been confident of having a dust- free nose.

After almost a year of obscuring our faces, I’ve found several masks that are very comfortable. And with the vaccines approved, it seems that the end of the pandemic is on the horizon. While that’s great news, I have to admit that I will miss my face coverings and the many things they cover.

For example, during these past nine months, I didn’t fret over any errant hairs or blemishes that occasionally appeared (probably as a result of the masks) and I was thrilled to conceal the bags under my eyes, which were generally the size of small carry-ons but could grow to the size of steamer trunks depending on my ever-fluctuating stress level. I was also glad to conceal my clear braces, which I started wearing during the pandemic. I’d long wanted to straighten my teeth and what better time? While they are virtually invisible in person or on Zoom, they push my lips out just a little bit, giving me a Betty Boop-ish pout.

Finally, I’ve found that masks can conceal my ire quite effectively. I’m able to sneer, bare my teeth and even curse softly without any repercussions. This came in very handy during a recent visit to the supermarket. The woman directly behind me on line removed her mask and proceeded to eat a cup of Jell-O chocolate pudding with a little wooden spoon. When I heard her lips smacking, I turned and asked her to kindly put her mask back on. She glared at me and kept eating. I glared back. She opened her mouth – and this time, instead of inserting the spoon she spat “I don’t have COVID.” I said nothing. “I’ve been tested,’ she continued. “Have YOU been tested?” Again I said nothing but took advantage of my mask to flare my nostrils in annoyance, unobserved.

At some point in the future, masks will likely be a fading memory. And despite the negatives, I prefer to consider the beautiful simplicity of a piece of cloth that can help keep us safe, cover our imperfections and muffle our curses.

Mona Finston is a partner at MoJJo Collaborative Communications, a virtual PR firm. She’s worked as a performer, singing all over the U.S.A. Mona is currently working on a book of essays about her most unusual mother and a screenplay about the fantasies of an older woman.