May 18, 2020

Lilac Tinted Bandana

For my far-away friends:

I’m on the phone with Emma. I say something like, “I was in The Moscow Building Supply and everyone was looking me. I know that I always say that but this time it was true. People’s eyes were locking onto my eyes… like the amount of contact has been magnified.” To which she responds, “I was in line at the pharmacy with my mask on, and there was another lady with her mask on, and she made eye contact with me. I could tell she was smiling. It’s real. It’s depth as well as frequency.”

There is a certain romance to the facemask, in my opinion. It gives more importance to the subtleties, the nuances of interaction. What we can communicate with a flash of the iris or a slight shift of the cheek is now more intimate.

Tom Robbins wrote a book entitled Skinny Legs and All, which Rachel has been insisting I read for months. I like Robbins, I do. He is an important author in the way that he depicts women as having real sexual feeling – groundbreaking! – but also makes it very apparent that he considers that to be the most important personality trait of any female character. That is not to say that his male characters are less horny, just more complex.

A recent study from 2019 explored these hedonic questions: those of intimacy and ambiguousness, not of Tom Robbins’ cheap sunglasses. After partially obscuring the faces of subjects, Javid Sadr and Lauren Krowicki had participants rank the appeal of each one. What they found was that fifty percent less face produced forty percent more attractiveness; that reduced visual input increased perceived beauty.

Along with a personified Can O’ Beans, Silver Spoon, Dirty Sock, Conch Shell, and Painted Stick in Skinny Legs and All, there is the Shoe King of Long Island, also known as Joshua “Spike” Cohen. Robbins informs us on page 129 that this character “was twelve years old before he ever saw a human toe other than his mama’s or his own.” Apparently, Spike’s mother’s family fled Russia on foot with only their thin leather street shoes. By the time they reached Germany, every Cohen family toe had to be amputated as a result of severe frostbite. Spike’s sparing experiences with feet in their complete form thus stemmed an obsession for those lower appendages of women, and then for their shoes as well.

I’m in Mary’s yard and I’m wearing sneakers. A big white truck honks from the street on the school hill and I wave. “Who was that?” she asks, turning around in her lawn chair. I tell her that I have no idea, that recognition in general is often a problem for me. I cannot tell anyone’s age and, whether from poor eyesight or anxiety, rarely recognize a face out of context. “I don’t know a single Aquarius who doesn’t experience face blindness,” she tells me.

Tom Robbins is a Cancer. A website tells me that his color is “white with silver sparkles,” that he senses the world in unusual ways, and that if you had to describe him in one word that word would be “intimate.” While all of this is undeniable, the website fails to mention that he can rarely be surpassed in imagination. I will not attempt to do so now, but I will say that I understand Spike’s situation a little more clearly than I may have before this pandemic. I rarely consider the facemask itself, instead I ruminate on what it’s protecting. I wonder how we will value the lips, the jaw lines, the grimaces, the crooked teeth, the freckles, the enthusiasms, the multi-colored beard hairs, the dimples, the wrinkles, the expressions, the blemishes after this journey.

Gary is a man, older than me, who lives below the Palouse Yoga Studio. He is wearing pink-framed reading glasses and is hard of hearing. Seeing me, he adjusts his lilac tinted bandana and yells “MASK-IT OR CASKET!” I can tell that he is smiling.