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Our day-to-day masquerade

During my college years, I discovered musical theater. Don’t ask me why I know the lyrics to so many songs that almost nobody else has heard of. I mean, why would anyone admit to knowing all the rapid-fire words to “Trouble” (“Ya got trouble, right here in River City”) from The Music Man?

In the ’80s, along came Phantom of the Opera, the most popular musical of all time.

At the beginning of the second act, the all-cast chorus sings a lavish production number, “Masquerade,” in which everyone on stage is wearing a mask. A lot like grocery shopping today.

“Masquerade! Paper faces on parade! …

Hide your face, so the world will never find you!

Masquerade!

Look around – There’s another mask behind you!”

Listening to it last week, I realized that they were singing of a world where pretense is hiding behind masks … truly a masquerade. Not us. We are hiding behind masks because we all want to survive this pandemic and get back to the lives we remember.

The masks Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote about in Phantom were just top-half of the face – over the eyes. That pretty well does hide your identity. Ironically, our bottom-half masks, covering our mouth and nose, do the same. I’ll be darned if I can recognize my masked friends and acquaintances. I can recognize them if they speak to me, and if I can make out their muffled voices. If I can identify the car they get out of, that helps. But wave to me from across the street or the supermarket? Fuggedaboudit. It reminds me of the expression from the Lone Ranger: “Who was that masked man?”

I never really understood why the Lone Ranger was masked. Maybe it was so Tonto would recognize him when he crawled out of the Six-Gun Saloon? Come to think of it, the vigilante, Zorro, was also masked in black, matching his head-to-toe outfit, including a splendiferous cape … which I also never understood. C’mon, a cape? He never flew anywhere like Batman or Superman, not even over Tijuana or San Diego.

I remember vividly during the first weeks of the virus last winter, wondering how I would ever remember to wear a mask every time I left the house. And then I stopped leaving the house. Dear Richard became the Go-fer.

We started getting masks from everywhere: Humana sent me one; a thoughtful neighbor made me some and extended her kindness to include music patterns for my grandchildren; another friend dropped off a few that she and her church friends were producing in what sounded like a full-blown cottage industry. I still wear their masks to coordinate with my clothes – bright butterflies, beige birds, pink flowers.

Now that I’m out and about a bit more, I have no trouble finding masks. When I donned my raincoat last week, the right pocket contained a dollar bill and a mask. The left pocket produced a handful of Kleenex and … a mask. My winter coat? Two masks. My light spring jacket? Another mask. And the bottom of my purse is a small mask emporium. Even when I forget to take one, I just reach in a pocket or purse, and voila! When all else fails, I can select from the mask warehouse in the car.

Day-to-day, I’ve stopped wearing makeup, finally figuring out that I’m the only one who sees it, on the inside of the mask, when I take it off. The few times I have indulged myself in both appearing and feeling human, I have worn makeup out to dinner. Wearing a mask between the car and the restaurant table is just enough time to remove half my blusher and most of my lipstick. I bought mesh bags to wash masks in the machine, but I do find myself wearing those little disposable light blue ones more and more.

I look forward to the mask-less days in the future, whenever that might come. I want to smile at all the faces on parade whether it’s in the post office or the bank. I want to laugh with my friends, seeing their warmth and humor in more than just the crinkling of their eyes. I just hope it happens before I am immobile and drooling – and someone else has to loop the mask over my ears. Please, God.

I am comforted by the fact that when we can finally drop the masquerade, I will probably still remember lyrics from musicals — maybe even from the Phantom. He’s likely the only one who will keep his mask on.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their hedonistic Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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