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Sushi Key West masks

Mask hacks, or lessons learned from wearing a mask in Key West

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

08/11/2020

I’ve spent the cash I used to spend at Saturday wine tastings on designer masks from the 801 Girls; I’ve made a bunch of my own; friends gift them. I can color fashionista my masks with my T-shirt du jour.  I’ve got ones to skin an N95; ones with coffee filter pouches; ones with ties; and one made of some gawdawful polyester that works about like Saran Wrap. I’ve got that fancy neck gaiter that one wets, snaps and dons to cool down while wandering outside.

I’m no fan. Masks are hot, tickle my nose, tug at my ears, contribute to the loss of earrings. A short bike ride to Fausto’s and they’re soggy and smelly, the elastic stretched and the mask sagging below my nose. The ones with ties wrap themselves into sweaty knots that defy untangling. And, the buffs? Like a girdle for your head. (Girdle? Google can help.)

Crikey, folks, I’m pretty sure I can make this statement without doing a lick of scientific research: No one LIKES wearing a mask.

We do so because it’s better than coughing and sneezing and spewing germs into your hand, shoulder or (ewwww) arm pit. I’ve seen enough of those graphics on how far droplets and aerosols from a sneeze (or an aria) can travel to make me want everyone to wear a mask forever. That spewing is just nasty. We wear a mask because “the law” says we have to.

We wear a mask because, well, right now in Covid-19 world there’s no solution better than listening to old-fashioned advice from mom: Cover your mouth and nose; wash your hands; and, for heaven’s sake, stay away from strangers.

Here’s how I cope:

Don’t argue with the true believers. There are two kinds of true believers. There are the ones who would measure, if they could, your mask’s air flow and position, then turn you over to the code police. They’re on a relentless hunt for proof of man’s inhumanity to man. The second true believer thinks herself a freedom fighter on par with suffragettes, civil rights activists and John Adams and Patrick Henry of the Founding Fathers band. I can hear them singing “Give me liberty or give me death.” I mean, I love a bunch of these folks because they’re friends and family. But it’s a mask. Not quite in the same league as the war of independence.

Find a mask that fits. Women know a bra is a relentless, annoying, cumbersome irritation — and that fit matters. Guys, wear a jock strap for 8-12 hours daily. You’ll get the idea. The better the fit, the less its unpleasantness. Find a mask that fits; it matters.

Ditch those white-and-blue things. You ought to have masks whose colors, patterns and designs look nice. It’s the difference between wearing your ratty pajamas to the grocery store and wearing shorts and a new T-shirt. Those white paper things are just ugly — unless you are a health care professional and then they look GREAT. Add some color and a touch of whimsy. Life’s way too short not to smile. Even if I can’t see your toothy grin, your eyes do sparkle.

Wear a neck gaiter (buff). These suckers are pretty much mandatory fashion wear for Key West folks who work outside. We’ve been buff wearers for years. Neck gaiters are acceptable pandemic face coverings, though a Duke University research project says gaiters are worthless in preventing me from breathing germs all over you. Makes sense if you think about it. Gaiters were designed to protect you from the sun and are a bit of a deterrent for such as airborne dust, mold and pollen. They are designed to allow maximum air flow for folks who need the protection but who are working, playing or exercising strenuously outside in the sun or heat. Pull one over your head, pull it up over your face; go do whatever you need to do outside. It’s not doing anything about the coronavirus, but it still “counts.” It will give you sun protection and you’ll breath in and out fine.

Master the three-step outdoor mask positioning protocol. Most of the sniping and snarling between the two, true believer camps comes over the “I am outside, there’s no one the heck around me, so why do I have to wear a mask”? Well, the simple answer is what you mom used to say: Because I said so; and because the kid with the spit wad refused to do the right thing so everyone gets punished. I walk or ride my trike all around the island. I hate wearing a mask, but I do. And, like most sane and sensible people, I’ve got a mask protocol.

    1. Chin strap. Elastic behind ears, mask tucked under the chin. If I’m sitting on an empty beach, chin strap it is. Easy to tug up when I see another human or code enforcement. Covers up the turkey gobbler wattles that people of a certain age know too well.
    2. Under the nose. You already know this one since most of us have done it when no one is looking. Or because the sweaty, stretched elastic failed. Just be sure to pull it up if there are folks nearby.
    3. Bridge cheat. This is my personal favorite for pedaling through the cemetery or across the park, places where there might be brief, passing glances with people with whom I will have no contact. The bridge cheat is fully masked, but with the very top pulled down a hair so I get air and — unless you are following me around with a measuring tape — you’ll never know.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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