Special to Circling the News
As I walked through the village toward Erewhon Market last week, several appropriately masked townspeople greeted me by name, but I’m quite sure that based on my feeble response, I fooled absolutely no one after failing to recognize any of them.
“And how is everybody at home?” I replied to one masked stranger who shot me a quizzical look as we passed on the sidewalk. I’m afraid that I might have misrepresented his present status regarding “family life.”
Recognizing friends who are wearing masks is difficult enough, but when my glasses fog up because of the facial covering, the situation gets even worse. And without glasses, I quickly begin doing my “Mr. Magoo” impression and greeting stop signs.
Those issues are even more compounded because everyone’s voice is muffled when speaking behind their masks. We seem to have reached a veritable impasse in communication and identification.
But I was able to recognize my longtime friends and neighbors Bobbie and Alan the other day. It took me a minute to realize that with bandannas covering their faces, they could easily have passed for a modern-day version of “Bonnie and Clyde.”
We exchanged greetings, and when Alan told me they were headed to the bank. I tried to hide my suspicions about their motives there. I could almost envision Bobbie in a sassy pose (aka Faye Dunaway) with foot planted firmly on the front bumper of a sleek new 1934 Model A Ford, armed with her 32-caliber Colt pistol and sporting a Havana Corona in the corner of her mouth.
Speaking of strained communications, I stopped by one of my favorite local restaurants the other day and ordered a takeout dinner at the front door. Since the waiter and I both wore masks, the ensuing disjointed conversation digressed into a scene that rivaled Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.
Me: “I’d like to order the Albacore tuna melt and hold the onions.”
Waiter: “The avocado tuna salad and extra onions?”
Me: “No, the Albacore tuna melt and HOLD the onions!”
Waiter: “Okay, the Albacore tuna roll with onions on the side.”
Me: “Fine! That’s close enough.”
Waiter: “Okay, I’ve got it. Your order should be ready in ten minutes.”
Me: (muttering to no one in particular) “I might as well have ordered pizza since I’ll be getting whatever he decides to put in the bag anyhow.”
When I opened my surprise dinner package at home, I found an avocado quesadilla and tuna salad with PLENTY of extra onions on the side. But despite our complete communication breakdown that evening, I decided that his idea of what I should have for dinner was probably even better than mine.
This also made me think that UCLA extension should offer a new course in “masked” communication that would help us all speak more distinctly while wearing facial coverings. Perhaps it would give me a better chance of getting my Albacore tuna melt next time.
You may remember that an unfortunate misunderstanding was the central theme of a popular Seinfeld episode back in the ‘90s. While having dinner with a New York fashion designer who was known as a notorious “low-talker,” Jerry unwittingly agreed, by simply nodding his head, to wear one of her new “puffy” shirts when he appeared on an upcoming Today Show.
That episode made me realize that I’ve been doing an awful lot of nodding in recent weeks when I’m unsure of what friends are saying underneath their masks. I now worry that if I’m not careful, I could easily end up wearing my own “puffy” shirt.
In fact, while chatting with neighbors recently, I suddenly lost the drift of our conversation as they were telling me about their upcoming trip to the Bahamas, and I simply began nodding to them. Later, I realized they were also discussing what to do with their four-year-old twin boys while they were gone. Yikes! What exactly had I just agreed upon with my nod?
I can now envision a moment in the near future when I could be screaming out my front window, “But I don’t WANT to be a babysitter!”
Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisades resident whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald. You can read more of his columns on his website: http://bobvickrey.net/