Column: Social distancing is making us antisocial

The Shutdown has made those of us who are normally more than happy to help each other out a little bit antisocial.

El Chief, a Navy retiree who spends his days pushing the lawnmower and pinpointing all that is wrong with the world, went to the store last week, segun él to pick up a bag of fertilizer he needs to keep the grass from dying. Or maybe it was to buy light bulbs. Or maybe he went to buy some random fierro. Quién sabe. He has a small hardware store in the garage.

The truth is he really just had to get out, because too much CNN makes him snippy. So he put on his mask — the kind he routinely uses for yardwork — picked up his trial-size bottle of Purell and headed out, resolving not to talk to anyone.

But as soon as he was in the store, he was approached by a fellow shopper.

Oiga,” the shopper said. El Chief heard, but he kept walking, pretending he didn’t hear. The shopper kept trying to get his attention, but El Chief se hizo el pato and sailed on down the aisle.

Fortunately, an employee popped up a few feet ahead.

“Can I help you?” a store employee asked.

No hablo inglés,” the shopper responded. “Necesito ayuda, pero no entiendo inglés.”

El Chief was caught in the middle of the aisle.

“¿Con que le ayudo?” the guy said. He was a Spanish speaker. El Chief breathed a protected sigh of relief.

Busco un mazo,” the shopper said, “pero no necesito todo el mazo. No mas necesito el mango.”


Un mazo,” the shopper said, moving his arm as if wielding an invisible hammer.

“¿Un martillo?” the store clerk asked.

“No,” the shopper repeated, once again hammering the air. This time, he used both hands. Wanting to be understood, he lowered his mask.

El Chief, whose own collection of tools includes a mazo, understood El Sinmascara was in search of the mallet, but that he only needed the wooden handle. The store clerk didn’t understand.

Un mazo, the guy said, was not available because the store doesn’t sell the stuff to make tamales. Sinmascaras said he didn’t need masa. He didn’t even really need a mazo; just the mango.

El Chief moved on before the conversation progressed to the produce section.

“They worked it out,” he said. “But it took a little more doing than usual, and that’s too bad. Pero a como están las cosas, it didn’t include me.”

I get it. A como están las cosas, ni te quedan ganas.

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