How it was and how it could be

Mary Thomas Watts - Contributing columnist

This is an account of two conversations about face masks, which Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has mandated, as a measure to quell community spread of COVID-19.

One conversation happened. The other is how it might have gone.

Here’s the set-up. I had run the rest of my errands without incident, as far as masks and distancing were concerned. Between curbside service and mask compliance everywhere I’d been, I was nearly home free. And then came my last stop.

I’ve patronized this local business for many complaint-free years, which is why I called the owner instead of the health department after being attended by a barefaced employee. (Don’t look for clues by which you can identify the business, because I’m not dropping any.)

Here are the pertinent excerpts, distilled from our chat:

ME: This is a friendly call. I’m a satisfied customer, and you’re not going to lose my business, but I am concerned that your employee was not wearing a face mask this morning when I went into the office to pay my bill. I asked her if customers were being good to wear masks, and she said, “Well, we’re a little more lenient in here.” To which I said, “I’m wearing my mask to protect you, and other customers should do the same.” I did not mention her non-compliance.

OWNER: You could have paid at your car. We do that, bring the receipt out to you.

ME: She would have been closer to me standing at my car window than she was behind the counter inside. What I’m asking is that you have your employees wear masks when they are working with customers.

OWNER: Some of our people work outdoors, so that’s not practical.

ME: I’m asking you to protect customers like me by having your employees comply with the statewide mask order when we interact with them, particularly indoors.

OWNER: Some of our people have medical excuses that exempt them from wearing masks.

ME: (Something … I forget now what, to dodge that rabbit hole)

OWNER: I could ask them to wear a mask when people come inside.

ME: That would be great. It’s what Gov. DeWine has ordered, and it sends a message that you care about the safety and health of your customers.

And that’s sort of where we left it. In a perfect (to me) world, however, the conversation would have gone like this:

ME: (see beginning of actual call, above)

OWNER: I appreciate your business and your call, and I understand your concern. We want to keep our customers and employees safe and healthy, and I can promise that the next time you come in, the person who takes care of you will have on a mask.

ME: Thank you so much. This gives me peace of mind, and I’m sure that many of your other customers will feel the same way.

When I got off the phone, I told my husband, who had started putting lunch together, “Well, I guess that went OK. I’m glad I did it, even though I’m not real sure he got it.”

“And he’s probably thinking you don’t get why he isn’t requiring masks,” my husband said.

Still, we had had a civil, forthright conversation about something important to both of us and to the larger community. There was no name-calling, no impugning motives, no drama, no shaming, no threats.

I take him at his word that the next time I make my regular purchase (told you, no clues), I’ll be greeted by an employee wearing a mask.

In any case, I’m sticking with Angeles Arrien’s sage apothegm, “Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don’t be attached to the results,” because there is no business-as-usual when a global pandemic has come to town.

Mary Thomas Watts lives and writes in Wilmington.

Mary Thomas Watts

Contributing columnist