I Just Shopped at Lowe’s Wearing an N95 Mask

It reminded me of a panic attack. A claustrophobic, closed-in feeling.

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By Jeff Cann

It reminded me of a panic attack. A claustrophobic, closed-in feeling. Restricted breathing and obscured vision — except it lasted for forty minutes. I just shopped at Lowe’s wearing an N95 mask. Bear with me, lots to explain:

Lowe’s — The other day, a blogger mentioned watching a TV show on ABC. Oh, interesting, I thought, they have the American Broadcasting Corporation in Australia too. Later that day, it occurred to me… I’m so American. I go through life assuming the entire world follows the same conventions as I do. I’m trying to do better. For those of you not living in North America:

Lowe’s is a home improvement retailer. A giant box store selling tools, building supplies, small appliances, landscaping and garden supplies, etc. I go there almost every weekend with my son, Eli. He’s fourteen, his hobby is scouring YouTube looking for videos of people destroying stuff. Almost every week, he’ll announce that he needs to go to Lowe’s for some obscure item to help him make a bomb or a weapon. We’ve shopped for stump remover and septic cleaner (bombs), PVC pipe and a propane grill lighter (cannon), last week we bought a power tool called an angle grinder. This allowed him to cut a spear-head out of an old circular saw blade that he later baked in the oven for three hours to harden the metal.

I’m sure many people reading this think I’m an irresponsible and indulgent father. What good could come from a teenager fooling around with this crap. I disagree, he’s learning about chemistry and physics and mechanical engineering. He’s learning to solve physical puzzles when things don’t work out exactly right. He’s learning to research and follow instructions.

A couple of months ago, one of our car headlights burned out. In the summertime, replacing a headlight is a time consuming and frustrating endeavor that includes manipulating levers and fasteners without looking. In the winter, it’s equally difficult except my hands crack and bleed from the frigid temperature. As I complained that our headlights only burn out in the winter, and I didn’t think my hands could stand that abuse, Eli volunteered to do it. He watched a video on YouTube and quickly replaced the light. All of his bomb and weapon building have provided him with solid experience to begin working on cars.

Given the frivolous reasons we frequent Lowe’s, I thought it would be deemed an unessential business and shutter for March and April. Then my garbage disposal stopped working. Right, I know that half of America lives without a garbage disposal, and I thought I could too, but this is what I learned: Bits of food make it through the slots in the sink strainer. Without a garbage disposal, those bits wash right down the drain. But when filtered into a nonworking garbage disposal, they accumulate, create a barrier, and the sink backs up. Every couple of days, I need to stick my hand into the drain and dredge up minuscule chunks of food and coffee grounds.

Garbage disposals are essential.

Sitting in the Lowe’s parking lot, Susan and I each put on our personal N95 mask. If you live in America, you’ve heard the director of the Center for Disease Control admonish citizens for trying to buy N95 masks. We need to keep them for the medical personnel, he says. Because I knew this pandemic was coming in January, I ordered masks for my family. This was before news of shortages or concerns that our national supply would run out. So now I have a package of masks, and it makes no sense not to wear them. Susan and I risked aggression and shaming by wearing our N95 masks into the store.

I don’t know how doctors and nurses do it. I could hardly concentrate on buying the right garbage disposal, let alone performs surgery. Breathing is a chore. After exhaling carbon dioxide into my mask, I seemingly breathed it right back in. With every breath, I imagined, I got less and less oxygen. Frequently, I stopped what I was doing and took some deep breaths to hopefully exchange some of the air molecules that lingered in my mask. I couldn’t spend my workday like that, I think I would freak out.

Besides feeling like I was on the edge of suffocation, I spent the whole shopping trip wondering what people thought about me. About half the people wore masks, but because we were in a home repair store, most of the masks were the type people wear when sanding lead-painted walls. Each time I passed someone without a mask, in my head I could hear their thoughts: Look at this idiot.

Since we were already shopping for an essential item, Susan and I took the opportunity to visit the garden center and select some plants for our garden. Our new neighbors practically live in their backyard — playing on their swing set, eating lunch, or gardening. This is new for us. With our former neighbor, a seventy-something single woman, that space was our private domain. We need some large bushes to build a screen. I don’t want anyone watching me while I sit on my back-porch reading. This seems like essential shopping as well.

Back home now, facing a couple of hours installing a new garbage disposal when I’d rather be out running, I’m wondering if Eli could watch a YouTube video and do the chore for me.

The story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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