Writing Out Loud:
Mask Talk

By George Stahl, Special to the Sun

On the heels of the outbreak, and continued threat of COVID-19, many unwanted and awkward changes have occurred. That’s a bit of an understatement if there ever was one.

As a result of these changes, we have been forced to rethink, and adjust to what is now the necessary, and right thing to do. As it is explained to us.
Many of these differences are not temporary either.

Most changes, which seem like inconveniences now, will prove to be as natural as chewing gum before too long, and we will not see them as even being anything new after a while. Old hat, as they used to say.

Unfortunately, some of what we are asked to do, and that will be around for some time, will not be so easy to adjust to. Recently, a newly instituted ordinance went into effect. It is now mandatory for everyone over the age of six to wear a mask out in public.

If a person is in a situation where the six feet of separation rule cannot be enforced, they must wear a mask. If they do not comply, on their second offense, they can be fined up to $50, spend a week in jail, and be on a ‘wear no mask watch list’ for six months.

The entire time, being under strict surveillance. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. But there is the possibility of a fine. The mask ordinance has stirred up some controversy among the citizenry, and there is no end in sight.

That’s because, like it or not, wearing a mask out in public is no longer a request, or an ‘urging’. This has been a challenge, both for the wearer and the one the wearer is communicating with.

Before we begin to read and write, we learn to talk. Know what language we speak, we get the idea of putting words together, long before we are taught whether they are nouns, pronouns, verbs, or adjectives.

We know the definitions to words even before we can read a dictionary. So, you would think that we have this communicating thing down pretty good, right? Well, for the most part the majority of us do, at least we did before the mask.

Throw in a piece of cloth across your mouth, and now you have a new set of problems. You’ve heard the term, use your indoor voice? Not anymore. That indoor voice sounds muffled, and confusing when you are wearing a mask.

The person you are talking to is only hearing an adult from a Charlie Brown cartoon speaking to them a lot of the time. Watch the next time you are talking to someone wearing a mask, how you will find yourself imitating a dog when his human is trying to get him to understand something.

You will tilt your head, furrow your brow and pant excitedly, until you finally yell out, ‘What? I can’t understand you!’ Not to worry, fret, or give up hope, in ever speaking to another human being on an intelligent level again.

Sooner or later, in man’s quest for capitalizing in on capitalism, all in the name of progress and the betterment of humanity, some one will begin holding seminars, writing books, and giving lectures on ‘Community in a Mask Wearing World’.

Classes on how to speak ‘Mask’. If you are a business, you will be taught how to communicate with your customers better, place orders more accurately over the phone, to avoid being shipped twenty dozen cases of something you didn’t order.

If an individual, you will learn the art of the ‘Mask’ and you will be able to deal with everyone from the gas station attendant to the clerk at your corner grocery store. You will not only learn how to use your behind the mask voice, but you will be better in tuned with your ears when you are hearing what the other person behind the mask is saying.

You will no longer be in the dark, and you will no longer need an interpreter when talking to that same store clerk, gas station attendant, bus driver, or your hair stylist. You will be fluent in the language of ‘Mask’, and you will be the envy of all of your friends who are still among the head tilters.

Imagine the look on the person’s face (that’s all you can do, is imagine the look) when they ask you, ‘May I help you?’ muffled behind the cloth, and you answer them, ‘Yes, I’d like….’ correctly.

People will think it’s some sort of a trick on your part, or maybe, just maybe, they will ask you, ‘How did you do that?’ Just smile, exaggeratedly and they will see the smile lines at your temples. Yes, as an added bonus when you learn to speak ‘Mask’, you will also be given tips on how to utilize what portions of your face that are still visible, to convey emotions.

In an advanced course, you may even master the art of expressive sarcasm. You can learn how to contort your face in such a way that, others will not only hear, and see your words, but they will feel your intent and purpose behind them.

Calm down now, though. As of now, no such training is available, but soon, very soon, I’m sure it will be coming to a hotel meeting room somewhere near you, but attendance will be limited, very limited, 10 to 20 at a time most likely.

In the meantime, as we are all walking around looking like Bain from Batman, with our masks, remember the next time someone says, ‘Hellwo, caun I hulp u?’ the winds of change have not stopped, and everything will become clearer as time goes on. So, keep a stiff upper lip…behind the mask.

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