Masks Are Just The Latest Front In The Right's Forever War On The Service Industry
Whether it's the Happy Holidays crap or people going into Starbucks and telling baristas their name is Trump so they have to write "Trump" on the cup, or dressing up as Rambos and having open-carry gatherings in places that have asked them not to do that — it seems as though the Right's go-to move is torturing service industry workers.
Saturday, the Washington Post published an op-ed from Lori Wagoner, a sales clerk in a North Carolina general store, about her troubles getting people to wear masks. She put up signs — very polite signs — asking people to wear a mask in the store if they cared about those working in it. As a 63-year-old asthmatic, Wagoner would be particularly at-risk if she were to contract COVID-19.
Those signs didn't work. The signs appealing to patriotism didn't work. All she got were a bunch of "maskholes" screaming about their rights and handing out fugazi "ADA exception cards" and grown-ass men screaming in her face. Guess that's that Southern charm we all hear so much about.
One particular anecdote in Wagoner's story killed me:
A few weeks back, we put an orange traffic cone on the sidewalk out front to draw people's attention before they come into the store. We taped up another sign. "No mask, no entry." Is that clear enough? That seems pretty clear, right? But this big, burly guy walked past the cone and past all the signs, and he pushed the door open. I said, "Sir, can I help you?" I pointed to the signs. I pointed to my mask. He was probably in his late 30s, and I'd never seen him before. He rolled his eyes and ignored me, so I knew where it was going. I came out from behind the register to try to block his path into the store. I said: "Do you have a mask you can put on?" He shook his head like he couldn't be bothered, and he said he just wanted to buy a drink. I said, "Okay, that means I will get your drink while you wait outside and I will bring it to the door." But he's still moving into the store, and I'm trying to stay in front of his path and keep him from going down the aisle. He said, "Come on, lady. I just want water. I have an ADA exemption." I said: "I'm tired of this. Just leave the store now."
He kept moving toward me, yelling, "ADA exemption, ADA exemption," and now my body was starting to shake. It was fear and so much anger. Why is this my problem to deal with? This maskhole? This covidiot whose stupidity is putting me at risk? This isn't what I signed up for. I'm trying to be the enforcer. I'm trying to corral this guy to the door, but he's not backing down, and he's getting more aggressive. He's screaming about his rights. He's yelling at me to call the police. We're six inches apart. He yells out: "Social distancing! Move out of my way." He's screaming all kinds of profanity, and I'm screaming it back. My co-worker was yelling for him to get out, and another customer started yelling, and finally he stomped around for a while and then turned back outside.
We locked the front door and my co-worker and I went back into the storage room. We sat there and sobbed.
Can you imagine doing that to another person? Over anything? Thinking that a mask, of all things, was worth doing that to another person? This woman now has to keep the door to the store locked while she's working, just so she doesn't have to deal with any more guys like this.
It wouldn't have killed him to wear a mask for a few seconds or to wait outside while she brought him his water. But he had to make his little stand. He had to let her know he was in charge, that he was a big man, and that no one was going to make him be considerate of the health or welfare of others. He probably left that store feeling empowered, feeling incredible about himself, and feeling a little lighter after taking his anger out on someone.
We can probably assume he's never worked in the service industry. This is at least partly why I think everyone should be legally required to do at least one year of work in retail or food service at some point, so they can learn how to treat people who are working and, perhaps, develop a sense of empathy.
One thing about working retail, which I did for a very long time, is that while you get a lot of great customers, there are a lot of people who see you not as someone who is just doing their job, but as a captive audience. You can't leave, you have to be nice to them, and they see you as basically being paid to stand there and talk to them. Sometimes they're just lonely. Sometimes they're creepy dudes who like the idea of a woman who can't leave. There are also those people who just love the power surge of someone waiting on them hand and foot, ordering them around like Lady Astor and then not buying anything. And there are people who have let the phrase "the customer is always right" go to right their head.
Perhaps this is why Republicans have long chosen retail stores and coffee shops to make their "stands." Because the employees are people who can't leave, people who they feel they're better than. The world isn't making them feel special enough for being Christian? Go scream at a retail clerk whose job it is to say "Happy Holidays," on account of how they do not possess the psychic power to determine what religion customers are. Mad people want you to wear masks? Go to a store where mask-wearing is required and scream at a woman who makes $10 an hour. Get your anger out on someone who can't leave and whose job it is to be pleasant to you.
If these people were told by those they considered their equals that they had to wear a mask, or if they were told they had to remove their shoes while in their home, most of them would probably either say "OK, then I won't come in" or adhere to the rules. They certainly wouldn't just barge in, or get in their face and screams about ADA exemptions that they definitely do not have, on account of how they don't exist.
I'd just like to note that the people who are doing this are the very same people who don't think people in the service industry deserve to make a living wage, who don't think they deserve healthcare. The kind of healthcare they might need if one of the anti-maskers were to actually give them COVID-19.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse