Still Life With Masks
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter…
-Henri Matisse, talking about his still lifes.
Through all these memorable events, normal life was what I was seeking to preserve for myself.
– Richard Ford, "Canada"
I had my first lap swim in my local public pool this week. Registration had taken place on a cool, rainy day. I was the second customer and there was no one behind me. I was on my own, sequestered inside my mask, imprisoned in my personal anxieties about exposure. Every day new challenges, I thought to myself. I already need a nap. I had my paperwork—application, check—and wondered why the process hadn't been computerized, why we couldn't register online, and why the teenagers behind the table were sitting shoulder to shoulder behind a long table. Is that what the "guidelines" say? Really? That proximity is okay so long as we wear masks.
And what about the lap lanes? I asked the man in charge, after he told me that the kids would be okay because he was following the guidelines. "Three lanes will be open all day, as before. Two to a lane," he said.
"Lap swimmers breathe hard, right?"
"You'll start at opposite walls."
"And meet in the middle? Really?"
Then I thanked him for working so hard to get the pool open for the July 4th weekend. I didn't mean a word of it; I was ingratiating myself.
When I got home, I said to my husband, "I can either let all of this go, and not swim in this very convenient pool all summer, or I can go crazy and make it better for me, and others. If I were a parent of one of those high school kids, I'd be upset."
He told me not to be a policewoman yet again, to relax, take a breath. He meant well, of course. I had already gone crazy earlier in the week about new tenants in our complex not wearing masks. I didn't report them to any enforcers, whoever they are, and I didn't scold them like a curmudgeon. No, I have a new shtick: I carry extra masks with me and say, "Do you need a mask? I have some spares in my bag."
Stay quiet or go crazy? The decision, dear reader, was a no-brainer for me. I called a woman I know on the Town Board who has kids and understood my alarm. "It just takes one and the whole place will get shut down. I'll get right over there," she said. I called the Ulster County Department of Health and miraculously got someone on the phone in charge of pool openings. I am a "citizen journalist," I explained.
"We are not allowed to be interviewed," she said.
"I will not quote you," I assured her.
We had a long chat about intelligent interpretation of guidelines. And she said she'd "take care of it." So now, heaven forfend, I am indirectly quoting, or barely quoting, the kind woman on the phone. She was responsive. I was grateful.
Then I watched Governor Cuomo's press conference, the first since he'd announced he was ending daily briefings. He is beside himself with worry because of the surge in other states, is vigilantly watching our numbers, and holding off on re-opening restaurants for inside dining. Thank you, Governor.
I have read somewhere, and have written in this blog, that activism is a civic responsibility, much like jury duty. Most importantly, it works. On the day I had my first swim, another table had been added to the registration area, and the high school kids were seated far apart, disinfectant sprays at every station. I breathed a sigh.
The swim itself was not without incident. Kids were running around unleashed and a couple of beauty queens were sunning themselves on the gradated steps I use to get into a lane. Though I had a lane to myself, the protocol remains two to a lane. Apparently, chlorine gets splashed everywhere and kills the deadly virus. At least that is what the experts are saying to us today. And, just for today, I choose to believe them.