[OPINION] The Great Unmasking

Allegra Gatti Zemel is a Westport resident of 8 years, and mother of 3. She works in healthcare. In her spare time, she writes about real life.

Real life includes the pandemic. Allegra says:

1st Selecctman Jim Marpe and the Westport Weston Health District lifted the indoor mask mandate on Thursday. That means if you’re vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask at Trader Joe’s, CVS or any other place you frequent on regular (in my case, daily!?) basis.

(There are exceptions. Check local and individual policies.)

Alas, gone are the days of picking up a cantaloupe and trying to assess its ripeness without the telltale aroma at the stem. Pineapples, tomatoes, peaches — I rely on my nose for selecting all of them. Without my sense of smell, over the last 20 months, I’ve arrived home with a handful of duds.  

The blast of coffee aroma that greeted me at Starbucks has been reduced to a mere hint seeping through my mask.

Allegra Gatti Zemel

And remember when you didn’t touch your face or mask without hand sanitizing first? You certainly didn’t lower it. My mask ensured my bubble of safety, for a long time.

But Friday, with the indoor mask mandate just lifted, I liberated the lower half of my face. Here’s what happened.

I toured a friend’s new space, partially renovated for sale but being renovated further, and was overwhelmed by the dampness. My nose smelled wet wood, wet plaster. Not wet paint. I wonder how many new homeowners took their masks off to smell their potential new home.

I got my hair cut in a salon with a hairdresser I’ve seen 3 times in the past 20 months. Any adult with hair remembers the urgency of that first time back in the chair, and the ability to subsequently maintain what just felt like self-care,

Despite our hours together, she had never seen me without a mask. As I sat in front of the mirror she looked at me, really saw me, and said “Oh my goodness – I’ve never seen your whole face. You’re so pretty!”

I blushed, said thank you, and panicked.  Did I have anything in my teeth!? I haven’t worried about that in a while. But as we talked, she got to see my expressions – my reactions, my smiles, my thinking face.

While she painted rows of hair and sculpted an impressive tin foil head piece, my eyes watered from the smell of ammonia. As she masterfully unwrapped my hair and washed it all out, my head tilted back in the sink, sniffer straight up to the air,

I was overwhelmed by the chemicals – familiar, but daunting. Is this the best thing to be putting on my head? My nose was looking out for me again.

I headed to Sono Fieldhouse for pick up (my daughter is playing on a new team in another town this year so I hadn’t spent much time in the field house before masking.

Ripe is not the word. Hordes of sweaty (masked) children and teenagers, hour after hour, increasing with age. They ran, trapped and passed the ball on artificial turf that doesn’t aerate or circulate air under a dome, with not enough windows to open to purge this intense use of space (and the smell that accompanies it(.

It was rank. Musty. Foul.  Dare I say putrid?  Let’s just say very, very smelly.

Lots of bodies. Not a lot of air circulation.

Then Friday night, as I walked from my car to the sliding door entrance to Trader Joe’s under a dark cold sky, I saw my breath in front of me. I wished I had a face covering for warmth.  

When I got home I called the second person I’d heard that day who had a terrible stomach bug. Isn’t it flu season now?

I remembered my masked hair dresser, who is in nursing school. She said she’ll continue to wear her mask; she lives with her mom, and doesn’t want to bring anything home to her.

I realized: I too will probably continue to wear my mask, for at least a bit longer.  It’s gotten so wonderfully commonplace. Safe.

My nose had a day out, indoors. That was enough for now.

Still, maybe I’ll start lowering my mask from time to time. I’ll smell the good stuff — and the bad — now that I can.

7 responses to “[OPINION] The Great Unmasking

  1. I applaud the author’s decision to continue wearing a mask, as I would urge any person on Medicare to continue doing. Yes, I’m still on daylight savings.

  2. I’ll continue to wear my mask for two reason: 1 There’s the safety factor. This pandemic is still here and it’s flu season, and this year’s flu shot may not be as effective as in other years! 2. I actually look more handsome with my mask on because it hides my double chin.

  3. I love this article. You made me laugh out loud. Thank you!

  4. Suzanne, My fantasies in life have been to work as a stand-up comic, hit the Powerball for 350 million, and meet Dan Woog. So far none have come true.

  5. Excellent piece and phenomenal author!!!💗💗💗

  6. I enjoyed your wonderful words–well written; you expressed yourself like a Mr. Rogers: it is fall the leaves are turning colors and we can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas,

    warmest regards to you,

Leave a Reply