The sign on the door of the hospital gift shop boldly dictates who will be admitted: “No Shoes, No Service,” it says.
“But I’m wearing shoes.” The man’s voice screeches obstinately, the soles of his cutaway tennis shoes flap, and his bare feet slap hard on the linoleum floor as he fumbles the get-well card he’s holding and it goes flying.
I, an underpaid clerk, sigh in disgust. I haven’t encountered a customer like this in some time. His hair is slicked back, his shirt is untucked, his face is partly hidden behind a blue surgical mask.
I’ve gotten so used to watching for people who attempt to sneak into the gift shop unmasked—clearly ignoring another sign on the gift shop door, requiring everyone entering to wear a mask—that this man’s rule-breaking behavior is a novelty, albeit one from the not-so-distant past.
Reaching back to my memories of less than two years ago, I long for the days when the only signage on the door announced “OPEN” and “No Shoes, No Service.” I sigh heavily under the N-95 mask that I now wear throughout my shift, removing it only for my lunch break, which I take outdoors—a brief chance to breathe fresh air, unless some jerk coworker is outside smoking cigarettes.
I’m vaccinated, but my children are still too young to get their shots; no vaccine has been approved yet for kids their age. So they spend their days with my mother—a location I feel is safer than the crowded daycare they once frequented. Better books and puzzles with Grammy than daily COVID scares from staff or other kids.
Then I laugh. “At least this guy is wearing a mask,” I mutter under my breath, fogging my glasses as I exhale. How refreshing that he is trying to break the old rule! So I call out brightly to the offender, “Just get up here with your card, sir, and then go!”
The innovative cutaway-shoe customer sheepishly pads his way to my register and throws a dollar on the counter, saying over his shoulder in a voice muffled by his mask, “Have a nice day.”
Exeter, New Hampshire