Leftovers: Pinch me! I’m maskless

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Everyone has a pandemic story and not all of them are negative. 

Is yours the tale of job loss and then (re)discovery of a passion or calling? Maybe it’s about moments of quality time with your children, partner, pod, or self. Were you able to catch up on reading? Television shows? A home project? Or, perhaps, like mine, it was the lovely story of a socially distanced time-out that helped prioritize relationships, and the humbling realization isn’t as bad as I imagined it.

Today, the “Pinch me! I’m maskless” phase is slowly passing but reminders of its origin are everywhere. Banks, grocery stores, restaurants, and other public places that were the first to shut down seem to be the last hold-outs. Aside from this group and folks who wear masks as an individual choice, most of us are moving on. 

But it isn’t just masklessness and stories propelling us forward. What also came from the pandemic was an astonishing list of life-changing habits or hacks that we’ve embraced since the whole thing unfolded. Most revolve around our own consumer awareness and not surprisingly, saving money.

“We took up the hotel green-towel policy,” said my friend Mark Evans, 33, from Westbrook. “If you showered after doing nothing all day, was your towel dirty enough to be washed after one use? You know how hotels will ask guests to reuse towels to save water? Why not do that at home? My partner will throw all his towels in the hamper after every shower, shave, or brushing his teeth. COVID made me want to perfect the art of laziness, and less laundry seemed like a great start.”

“I created a new grocery list rule,” said Nina Marcum, 51, of Portland. “I’m the mom of four teenagers and always had at least one kid tag along to help carry the bags. But when grocery shopping became a dangerous thing to do no one else came with me. I was amazed to see we saved a decent amount of money from the kids not tossing this and that in the cart. And, I wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible, so I didn’t get distracted from the list.” 

“We used to make huge Whole Foods salad-bar meals at least once a week,” said another grocery-focused saver I know. “It was a good way to try things neither of us cooked at home but I’m thinking we won’t go back when they reintroduce it. I always reached for the least healthy stuff and felt great about myself because, well, it was Whole Foods. Plus, they weigh stuff by the pound. There’s a price value difference between a pound of egg potato salad and a pound of Tandoori chicken.”

“I froze my gym membership over a year ago,” said Tammy Jameson-Taylor, 27, of South Portland. “There just wasn’t any choice at the time and I went so crazy the first few months. My working out was definitely an addiction, but it also helped with my mental health, as well as physically. Then, I became obsessed with a few online instructors and now, I’m not sure I want to give them up completely for the gym. I’m going to buy individual (gym) classes instead of unlimited monthly and see how it goes. I might not save much money, but I’ll save time in the car for sure. Plus, I liked exercising at home.”

“Before COVID, I wouldn’t have ever reached out to strangers for help,” shared Anita Halburtin, 78, of Portland. “My son used to do things like driving me to doctor visits and taking care of the yard, but he got sick in June of last year and that was that. My daughter-in-law advertised on the internet and all sorts of people volunteered to help for free. I never would have met such friends, and young people, too.”

These takeaways aren’t new ways of thinking, or of doing everyday things in radically different ways. Instead, they’re about resilience, coping skills, and adaptation. The pandemic has changed us in ways it will take years to study and grasp, but one thing is for sure: Everyone has a change or hack to recognize, their own acknowledgment of a real shift. 

Whatever your “Pinch me! I’m maskless” accomplishment is, no matter how it came about, it’s worth passing on. Send me what you learned or did differently during the pandemic, and please include your name and contact info.

I think we’re on to something.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected].