A few days ago, a woman maintaining social distancing behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store asked a deeply personal question.
Given the number of heads it turned, it was more a hollered demand for information than a simple query.
“Excuse me, sir! Do you have the COVID virus?”
I wasn’t offended. Judging from the looks I get, my natural state leads to any number of erroneous conclusions about me. Most of the time they’re just silent looks.
Is he sick? Where did he get those scars? He probably just got out of bed. Does he need help getting to the car? Does he know his clothes are partly burned?
This time I knew why she was asking. I had been rubbing my face. I sneezed and coughed. Worse, the eyes peering over the top of my mask probably looked like they belonged on a werewolf.
“It’s not COVID,” I replied. “Allergy season.”
The woman wasn’t sure she believed me. She pulled her children behind her and tried to back her overloaded cart out of the aisle.
A checker, let’s call her Pam, whom I’ve been trading insults with for years, chimed in. “Don’t worry, ma’am. The police are on their way.”
When the woman was gone, I dumped nearly a hundred dollars' worth of decongestant, inhalers, eye drops, nasal spray and throat lozenges on the conveyor belt.
“Bad this year,” Pam said. “Bill [the name we’ll give her husband] has almost scratched his face off.”
“Well, tell him the offer is still open.”
I’ve suffered from seasonal allergies my entire life, living in places where I couldn’t open my eyes for a month. Bill didn’t get hit with pollen allergies until he moved to Utah.
Last year, I offered to help him with his seasonal allergies, with a foolproof remedy of my own creation. So severe were our allergies that we both agreed to undergo the new treatment.
The plan was simple: We would pack our sinuses with black powder, and then hold cigarette lighters to our nostrils.
“OK, on the count of three …”
Our wives — who don’t have allergies — were not understanding at all.
Anyone who suffers terribly from seasonal allergies knows that now is especially bad when it comes to public understanding. Every little sneeze or cough and people act as if they’ve encountered a rabid dog. Can’t really blame them, given the current pandemic.
Fortunately, there are enough fellow allergy sufferers this year that I’m no longer questioned by store employees. People sneeze behind their mask, and we just look at one another and roll our eyes. But there are still those who aren’t taking any chances.
“Get away from him,” one mother told her children when I coughed in public the other day. “He’s sick.”
When I tried to explain that it was just allergies and not COVID-19, she didn’t care. She wasn’t worried about the virus. So I asked why the negative reaction?
“I’ve read your column,” she said. “That’s why.”
OK. Can’t argue with that.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.