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Planet Janet: The pandemic--nothing to sneeze at

  • Updated
Janet Combs

To separate me from “the public”—which, of course, is you—my office now has a Plexiglas shield that sits in a sturdy stand on the front edge of my desk and extends about 4 feet long by 4 feet high. This adds that convenience-store-cashier je ne sais quoi to my work setting; I’m afraid it’s more permanent than I’d like to think. So are the masks, gloves, and sanitizer I keep in my desk drawer.

When someone walks in, I don my mask and shout a friendly, muffled “hello.” I don’t do the elbow bump because it feels like the kind of flat, spiritless pandemic handshake I’d never come up with. If I’m going to have a greeting that minimizes contact, it’s going to incorporate “jazz hands” and a little Broadway, with a turn, a dip, and some rhythmic hand-clapping. I’m still working on it; looks like I’ve got some time.

Admittedly, we are all a little tired of this pandemic. We look at the headlines that vary only slightly from day to day, and sigh: I suppose weariness is the most prevalent side-effect of living with the threat of COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can stand to watch another “We’re in this together” commercial or any of its variations, including the “Everyday heroes” message, the “We’re here for you” story, or the particularly saccharine “We will get through this” promise. What other option do we have?

Here’s a realistic commercial I wouldn’t mind viewing. A sweating couple, each person wearing a facemask and gloves, takes turns pushing an empty shopping cart up and down the aisles of a grocery store, staying six feet apart from everyone they encounter and dutifully following the one-way signs on the floor, until they finally arrive at the paper goods aisle. The shelves are completely barren. They have this conversation:

“Not again!”

“I know! What is wrong with people?”

And that’s the end of the commercial. There is no neat summing-up or moral take-away, just the fade out on two exhausted-looking people hunting for a box of tissues. The commercial would conclude with the manufacturer’s logo, let’s say “Scott’s,” and the simple message “Sorry.” Then the word “Sorry” would swipe out and this would swipe in: “We have no control over the dumb things people do.”

I, for one, would be enormously refreshed by this message, and appreciate Scott’s unvarnished representation of the truth. I would even go so far as to say I would pledge to be loyal to the Scott’s brand, provided it becomes available again before 2025.

Last week, I was actually out of tissues at my home, and my only choice was a lone box of “oversized” tissues, flung to the back edge of a top shelf at the third grocery store I hit on my way home from work.

Fortunately, my freakishly long monkey-arms come in handy for a lot of things other than transforming every blouse I purchase into a three-quarter-sleeved throwback to the 1960s. I stood on tip-toes and reached the tissues. The box proudly proclaimed that these tissues are 75% larger. Curious, I thought—was there a sudden demonstrated need for the expansion of the tissue? After all, here my face remains, pretty much the same scale it was before the pandemic.

When I got home, I learned I could diaper my nose with these tissues—they cover my entire face. They are the Jay Leno of tissues. My husband finds them wastefully large, so he rips every single one in half when he takes it out of the box, leaving me a jagged half-tissue I have to position just so over my frequent and unanticipated sneezes. The Planet Janet Study of Facial Tissues has determined that half of an oversized tissue does not equal one regular-sized tissue. This disclaimer ought to be on the box.

Sorry, though. I think I got the last one.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at

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