It was something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. I had to visit the local home-improvement store. Normally, I actually enjoy a trip to the huge home improvement store. I love to browse the aisles just thinking about stuff I’d love to buy and things I’d like to do around my home. I can spend an hour, sometimes even two, just roaming around the kitchen section and fantasizing into a frenzy about which tiles I’d buy if I ever had the money to redo my master bathroom. But since the mask rules came to be, it’s obviously less enjoyable to browse. So now it’s in and out as quickly as possible.

But last week, I had surgery that required incisions on my face and ears that I had to treat gingerly. Not only could I not wear a mask, but even the wind blowing against my face would sting. And even though the "Emperor" Governor’s executive order gives an exclusion if there’s a medical reason for you not to have a mask, it wasn’t like I was going to explain this to anybody.

I practiced my lines for the inevitable verbal altercation and then decided I’d have to take my chances and walk in to the store, like a big girl, ready to take whatever criticism was thrown my way. It was a weird sensation after first walking in, the whole breathing-freely-in-a-store thing. And while no one actually told me out loud what they thought, there was plenty of non-verbal criticism.

People stared at me as if I had three heads. A man looked at me sadly and shook his head somberly, as though he’d noticed a heroin needle protruding from my arm. One woman stared at me angrily for a good two minutes until it became so uncomfortable I finally had to look away. A large dude with a red bandana slung messily over just his mouth pulled it down and gave me a wide grin. Was he showing me solidarity? Or did I just look really good today?

Interestingly, not one employee seemed to be judging me at all. So when I left the store I asked the very helpful guy who was helping me load air conditioners into my car why none of his coworkers had asked me to leave or, for that matter, said anything at all. “Oh, we’re not allowed to say anything to the customers about masks,” he told me. So I asked him if customers get into arguments about the mask issue. “Oh, all the time,” he said. “That’s why we don’t need to police it. The ones wearing masks just trash the ones who aren’t!”

Yet, aside from the glares, the stares and tsk tsks, the mask people refrained from yelling at me. I guess I just got lucky.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Judi Franco. Any opinions expressed are Judi's own.

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