Department Of…And…They’re Off!
Tomorrow is the official day in my state, Oregon (and also Washington and California (Oregon) when the mask mandate is lifted. Excusez-moi; it’s actually/officially lifted “after 11:59 p.m. on March 11.” 
Recently I’ve overheard at least two conversations  wherein people were talking about having a mask-burning party to celebrate the lifting of the mandate. Moiself gathered that these parties were more about embracing reaching certain pandemic milestones, and were light-hearted, akin to the tradition of the celebratory mortgage-burning parties. These intended parties were to be nothing akin to the hostile, the anti-mask demonstrations held in certain areas of certain states during the past year, e.g. Idaho, where mouth-breathing child abusing ignoramuses red-staters taught their children to embrace their parents’ imbecility and anti-science stances:
“Parents cheered Saturday on the steps of the Idaho Capitol building as children threw handfuls of surgical masks into a fire. Far-right groups and some lawmakers held similar demonstrations in more than 20 Idaho towns, seizing on growing impatience with COVID-19 restrictions.
‘Hey fire, you hungry?’ asked one boy as adults watched him toss face coverings into a burn barrel. ‘Here’s another mask!’
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and state Rep. Dorothy Moon addressed the crowd of more than 100 people, standing behind a lectern on the Capitol steps. Nearby, a banner with the racist phrase ‘Wu Flu’ was draped over a replica Liberty Bell….
Idaho is one of 16 states that have not implemented a statewide mask mandate….
Idaho leads the Pacific Northwest in COVID-19 cases and death count per 100,000 residents. In the Gem State, people are dying at almost twice the rate of Oregonians, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.”
(“Mask burning rally in Idaho fans COVID-19 worries in Oregon” OPB 3-8-21)
I don’t think moiself will be burning any masks any time soon. Rather, I’m going to pause and take a moment of gratitude for the lives that mask-wearing saved, as documented here and here (and also here and here, and….) and also be grateful for how wearing masks contributed to a record-low flu season during the COVID pandemic.
Nope; not gonna burn, gonna celebrate, I thought to moiself, while I was out walking a couple of “laps” around the movie theater I’d arrived at. I had 20 minutes before the show began, and as I walked I looked at my surroundings, as I am wont to do, and my eyes were drawn to a trash comparison. Walking along the sidewalks of the busy streets by the movie theater, as well as the non-busy back alleys, I noticed one distinctive bit of trash which rivaled cigarette butts in number: discarded facemasks.
When I think of all the excess trash the pandemic brought us, it frosts my butt. It seems like we’d just gotten people to bring their own reusable bags when shopping, and to even consider bringing their own reusable drinking straws and take out containers when dining out…then came COVID and the (unnecessary, it turns out) regressive turn, back to the one-use, discard-after-use, plastic everything. This increase in our trash made me almost as sad as the number of COVID deaths. I’m not exaggerating.
“The amount of plastic wastes generated worldwide since the outbreak
is estimated at 1.6 million tonnes/day.
( COVID pollution: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on global plastic waste footprint, Science Direct, 2-21 )
* * *
The Department Of Returning To Normalcy 
Moiself is not One Of Those People ® who rant and rave about self-checkout lines at the grocery (or other, but mostly grocery) stores – about how they are evil corporate plots to reduce employment (even though they probably are), or how they are bring us one step closer to Orwellian scenarios, or how they are just inefficient or whatever. I use the self-checkout option, occasionally to frequently, depending on the store. When I have a whole lotta items in my cart I’ll use the regular checkout lines…unless they are quite backed up, in which case I’ll do the time math in my head –
do I have more complex items which will require manual input and/or the self-checkout clerk’s attention – e.g. fresh produce and/or bulk items which require weighting and manual input of codes, wine – or primarily pre-packaged items, which I can scan almost as quickly as an experienced checker –
and pick one or the other.
Midway through the pandemic restrictions, the checkout clerks at New Seasons  and I began joking about when the “return to normalcy” would begin, and what that normalcy would look like. The NS clerks always seemed somewhat apologetic about their store’s policy banning customers bringing their own/reusable bags. They were also one of the first stores to return to letting customers bring their own bags, and then one of the first to return to bagging customers’ purchases in the reusable bags.
Most of the other grocery stores I skulk around patronize have both regular and self-checkout options, the latter with no item limits (some still have a “15 items or fewer” option). But I’ve learned, even if there is a line of three carts ahead of me in the regular check outline, if I have a cartload of items it’s ultimately worth it to get in the regular checkout line.
The checkers are just more efficient – surprise! It’s what they do, all day long. And the logistics of the self-checkout stations…urgh. I can count on the fingers of two hands the number of times they have truly been *self*-checkout (as in, no store employee contact) for moiself, despite my having used the self-checkout option hundreds of times.
It seems like I can’t get through checking out my own groceries without needing the employee in charge of overseeing the self-checkout lines to come over (and input his or her magic code, or whatever) when my self-checkout scanning machine refuses to scan any further because:
* it didn’t register the proper weight of an item
* when I rearranged an already checked item in one of my bags, trying to make room for another item, it thinks I took some items out and didn’t put them back
* I need an age/ID verification for an adult beverage
* I need a verification on the weight of my bags after I checked the “I brought my own bags” option on the scanner and it didn’t register them because my bags are deemed either too light or too heavy
* after I get the okay for my bags and arrange them in the (inadequate) space allowed, one end of one bag slips over the edge of the counter, and thus the last item I placed in it doesn’t get its weight registered properly
* the organic beets I’m trying to buy have no UPC code/tag and are not listed in the “look up item” option on the scanner….
All of these and many more scenarios stop the scanner, and trigger the dreaded hopeful, “Help Is On The Way” message on the scanner’s screen. While waiting for the HIOTW employee to arrive I often look around at my fellow self-checkout-ers.. I see that they are also awaiting the same service; I see one of them shake his head and grumble that he’s been waiting for five minutes to get help because the loaf of the store’s freshly baked bread – FFS, he only has ONE item – lacks a scannable code, and the store’s self-checkout line overseer/employee is helping another customer scan their 985 coupons….
My favorites in the we-are-all-waiting-for-the-help-that-is-on-the-way group are the sweet and petite elderly women who wave their hands in a Yoo-hoo ® manner at store employees, optimistically yet incorrectly assuming that this will expedite the process.
Once again, I digress.
*Most* local stores have returned to allowing reusable bags, but why *all* have not returned to bagging a customer’s purchases using that customer’s reusable bag is a mystery to moiself. After all, this is what we’re all supposed to do – bring our own bags – right? There are a few grocery stores that, if you are in their regular checkout lines, will not bag your groceries if bring your own reusable bags. Yep, I’m talking to you, Albertsons (and Safeway…and since one chain bought the other several years back, I’m assuming this is the parent company’s policy).
At first, I thought it was a staffing issue. The last time I was at Albertson’s I decided to test this notion by going through a regular checkout line. There were two people and their respective cartloads ahead of me, and an employee other than the cashier stood at the end of the cashier stand, bagging the customers’ groceries in the store’s paper bags. So, they *did* have staff available to bag. When I unloaded my cart, placing my two reusable bags along with my groceries on the conveyor belt, the cashier pointed to my bags and asked me if I was “comfortable” bagging my own groceries.
Perhaps noticing the lack of enthusiasm in my, “ ‘Comfortable?’ Uh yeah…downright cozy” reply, the cashier followed up with, “We can’t do that” (indicating my reusable bags) because of “the COVID thing.”
Which is ridiculous.
I did not tell her that her company’s policy is absurd, seeing as how she was a rank-and-file employee who was just following the store’s policy. But the other employee, the one who either was the bagger or was temporarily functioning as such, stepped aside, yet remained at the bagging station…to do what? I wondered, as I pushed my cart to the end of the checkout line and began to bag my groceries. So, you’re not going to bag my items, you’re going to…uh, provide them with an escort? Or chaperone me, while I bag them? Dude, what is your function?
Many months ago at the afore-mentioned NS market, when they were still not bagging your groceries if you bought your own bags, the checkers and I joked about how it was understandable to have such draconian policies, two year ago, at the very beginning of the pandemic, when people weren’t sure what COVID-19 was or how it was transmitted. But we’ve known for some time that COVID is an airborne virus. You are not going to get it from my woven grocery basket, nor from my reusable bag made of nylon or another synthetic materials.
I tried and (mostly succeeded) in not berating store employees for following their company mandates, no matter how *not*-based-in-reality such mandates were. There was one notable exception.
Several months into the pandemic moiself tried to donate cans of pet food to a local animal shelter. This is something I did periodically, although this particular trip was in response to moiself’s having read an article about how the shelter was going through tough times and needed donations for food and other basic animal care items. A volunteer at the shelter approached me as I began to lower my bags of canned food into the shelter’s donation bins – bins which were open, and at the entrance to the shelter, just as they had always been pre-pandemic. The volunteer apologetically said that the shelter would not take a donation of cans, “…because of COVID.”
You *do* realize that you can’t get COVID from a can of cat food…don’t you?”
I immediately regretted my outburst response, apologized to the volunteer,  adding that I realized he was not personally responsible for such an idiotic, non-science-based overly-cautious policy. 
So, to reiterate: You (store clerk/business employee) are not going to get COVID from my reusable bag unless each component of the following scenario ensues:
* I, infected with COVID, am standing in your checkout line at your store.
* I feel a cough coming on, lift up my face mask, put my bag to my face, and hack and sputter into said bag.
* While bagging my groceries with the bag I brought and just coughed into, you – for reasons fathomable only by a highly perceptive mental health professional – grab that bag, lift your own mask, stick your finger into the glob of moist ejecta I coughed onto the bag, stick that finger in your nostril and inhale deeply and then, just to make sure, lick that same finger before proclaiming, “Just as I thought! Definitely NOT lime Jell-O.”
Neither are you, nor I, *not* are going to catch COVID because you, the checker, obsessively sprayed and wiped your checkstand’s conveyor belt between each customer.  Our mask-wearing, social distance-maintaining, hand-washing; our getting vaccinated and staying home when we’re ill – these are the actions that matter. However, store policies re obsessive cleaning are…well…policies. And when a policy is established, for reasons sound or otherwise, it tends to remain in place. ‘Cause, you know: Science. 
So, Albertsons, answer me this: Do your fellow grocery stores, your competitors – do all those other stores and their employees have a special dispensation or super powers which allow them protection from those icky reusable bags which are out to contaminate your store’s employees?
Albertsons, hear this: It is safe for your baggers to use customer’s reusable bags. Update your policy. Either that or tell your “baggers” to get off their asses and move away if they’re not going to bag my groceries. I don’t need a chaperone or a witness while I do so. You could at least have them pretend to count the store’s supply of paper bags, or dust shelves or whatever, while I am doing what is supposed to be their job.
* * *
Department Of Sometimes I Amaze Even Moiself
Did I really just write over twenty paragraphs about the pesky  dilemma of grocery store bagging?
* * *
Punz For The Day
Pundemic Pandemic Edition
I will tell you a Coronavirus joke now,
but you will have to wait two weeks to see if you got it.
Why are four out of five fishermen *not* worried about COVD-19?
Because they never catch anything.
What’s the difference between Covid-19 and Romeo and Juliet?
One’s the coronavirus, the other is a Verona crisis
What will we call the kids who celebrate their thirteenth birthday
thirteen years after the start of the pandemic lockdown?
Chuck Norris has been exposed to the COVID-19.
The virus is now in quarantine for a month.
Best pickup line, as overheard in a nursing home:
Single elderly man says to single elderly woman,
“If COVID doesn’t take you out, can I?”
* * *
May you never use “because of the COVID thing” as an excuse;
May this post not be your (only) reason for avoiding lime Jell-O;
May you remember to bring your reusable bags;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Lifted as in no longer mandatory in indoor public spaces and schools. Federal requirements still include masks on public transit.
 Had between apparent friends, in public spaces. And yes, I was keeping proper physical distancing. I wasn’t exactly eavesdropping; they were talking loudly and my mask did not cover my ears. Or, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
 As in, post-pandemic…as in, assuming what we had and did before was somehow “normal.”
 My longtime favorite store. Which does not (yet) have a self-checkout option.
 Moiself used to volunteer at that same shelter.
 “They’ll take monetary donations,” he sheepishly responded. The “they,” I assume, meant the shelter staff.
 Now, wiping the belt after the previous customer’s raw beef dripped blood all over it and I’m going to put down my fresh produce on that very belt – YES! Thank you!
 The law of inertia, or whatever.
 As in, slightly frustrating, but not approaching the level of invading-another-sovereign-country frustrating.