Muzzling the Help

Dearest Rachel –

Well, it’s almost time. I’ve gotten word from the installers, and they’ll be out to begin work in either two or three weeks from now. With that in mind, I need to pack everything up from the kitchen and the laundry room. That means enlisting Jan’s help, and getting together as many boxes as I possibly can, in order to store everything elsewhere while the construction is in progress. It probably also means Daniel and I will be eating out a lot more often (not that we don’t do that on an outlier-level frequency already), but that’s a separate subject entirely… or not. I’ll think about it.

While the folks have been having various medical supplies delivered to the house on a regular basis – a month’s supply of Glucerna at a time, as well as fresh syringes and other paraphernalia with which Dad can receive nourishment at the four regular intervals each day – and therefore, have been stockpiling boxes for me for some time, you can never have enough boxes, it seems, and so they advised me to look elsewhere for additional containers. One place to find boxes that they recommended in particular was Trader Joe’s.

I wasn’t entirely sure why them, necessarily. I’d think any grocery store would be similarly dealing in cardboard boxes, as goods come in for sale. However, it appears that the fact that they do a disproportionately large business in wine compared to most groceries (why that would be, I couldn’t begin to say), and as a result, they keep a supply of boxes (with inner dividers specifically for this purpose) in the front of their store for shoppers to place up to twelve bottles in and carry their purchases home in relative safety and security.

Granted, I have very little use for those dividers – although, on further reflection, they could be useful for the bottles of soda syrup – but more boxes are always better than less… at least, until I run out of things to put into them.

Anyway, Trader Joe’s. You might remember I said something recently about traveling in red and blue circles. As I ventured towards this place, it occurred to me this is probably one of the bluer circles I might encounter in my ordinary life. In fact, I actually had a twinge of worry that I might be caught flat-footed; since returning from the cruise a little more than a week ago, I hadn’t unpacked my signature mask from my luggage. Previously, I’d kept it dangling from my windshield wiper controller, to slap onto my face when going anywhere, since it was a requirement of public life. No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service – no entry, in fact. If anywhere was likely to still be like this, I’d expect it here.

But somewhat to my surprise, it wasn’t the case. I mean, I knew deep down that, with the ordinance having been repealed while I was gone, I wouldn’t be tossed out on my ear, but I expected to be greeted by covered faces and judging eyes. I found it odd that less than half the customers were masked – and, being in the minority, those that were didn’t seem to have any look of haughty superiority. That, or I’m bad at reading emotion in one’s eyes; I’d certainly be willing to admit to that.

The staff, by contrast, was mostly masked; but in a curious twist, the most helpful ones (at least, those willing to fill me in on what they do with most boxes and where the wine boxes were, as well as where I could find certain items – somehow, they could tell I wasn’t a regular customer, and didn’t know my way around; I have no idea how they figured that out) were the ones who weren’t wearing a mask. I’m not about to venture any guesses regarding correlation, but I just want it said that this was the case. The ones with open faces seemed to be the ones with open hearts.

Anyway, you learn something new every day: when I asked about boxes, they admitted that most of the boxes the groceries would come in were flattened and placed into a baler. Presumably, that’s a common practice among most large grocery stores, which is why the folks steered me toward Trader Joe’s: their trade in wine and maintenance of a cache of empty wine boxes makes them a more likely source for what I was looking for than any other place I might otherwise check out. I left there with eight boxes, and about twenty-five bucks worth of groceries. You probably wouldn’t be proud of what I spent on the stuff I bought, but it’s been an inflation-marred year, honey – nothing is as cheap as you remember anymore, so that’s probably not the store’s fault, regardless of its higher-end reputation.

I didn’t much mention this when I was on vacation, honey, but I suppose it bears noting at this point. One disconcerting aspect of the trip was the fact that on board the Odyssey of the Seas, the staff and crew were all masked all the time, while the passengers were barefaced to a man (aside from the bus travel and, occasionally, in the shops. Oh, and the ships’ terminal, since it, like the airport, has its own set of rules, regardless of the whole ‘free state of Florida’ dynamic). While it’s nice to be released from the restriction of having to cover up all the time, there was this palpable distinction between guest and staff that I was uncomfortable with. They had to cover up before us, while we were under no such obligation. This struck me as almost a distinction in class – where ‘the help’ has to cover themselves in the presence of their ‘masters’ – that I was no more comfortable with than the bowing and scraping that seemed a part of the Thai culture back in the day. And while I guess there’s something to be said for being treated like a king when you’re on vacation (the company is called Royal Caribbean for a reason), it just doesn’t sit well to one raised on egalitarian principles.

Maybe on my next trip, things will be better, freer. Daniel certainly seems to think so, and I hope he’s right. But I don’t know.

Regardless, keep an eye out for us, honey, and wish us luck. We’re going to need it.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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