Viral Signs

Mask of Sign.

The Line:

Even though Mark Philipson left the house 20 minutes early he was the third person in line. He wouldn’t be getting a prize for being the first shopper in the door during Whole Foods Market’s special hours thing.

The guy at the head of the line coughed, causing a ripple effect that made the second guy step back. Mark moved until his back touched the base of a column. Not a problem, the social distance between the shoppers was still maintained.

The second guy in line turned to Mark: “I see you’re wearing a mask.”

As Mark drew a breath to answer, the word mask triggered a deep thought process spanning decades: He was fourteen years old and working a summer job in the memorial inscription department at a monument company, applying cut stencils to granite grave markers and marble crypt fronts then sandblasting the lettering and designs.

One morning the boss handed out headsets, goggles, and face masks to the inscription department. OSHA regulations. Mark was okay with it. He’d rather be in a shop than outside on the setting crew.

On the exhale, electrical impulses ricocheted across time: he was 47, working on the jet engine inner air seals resurfacing line for the aviation division of a large corporation.

During a break, the team leader called Mark into his office. The general manager was in there too. Corporate headquarters had approved the request to build a facility dedicated to removal of the material used to mask the oil intake ports on the inner air seals. Mark worked on that line, prepping parts for the detonation gun. It was also his job to clean the parts for the grinders. The chemical to be used in the process was carcinogenic and explosive. Mark would be wearing a full hazmat suit.

The memory blast faded when Mark said, “Hell, I’d drill two holes in a bucket with a keyhole saw and wear it on my head if I had to.”

He was no stranger to protective gear.

The Switch:

The second guy just finished chuckling when the first guy reared his head back and let out a massive sneeze, misting the window.

The second guy shook his head. In a loud voice he said, “Jesus … what an animal.”

Mark kept his mouth shut. Florida was a concealed carry and stand your ground state. You didn’t know what was in a pocket or a purse and you didn’t know who was itching to pull a trigger.

“It’s okay, man … he can’t hear a word I’m saying,” the second guy said.

Mark still didn’t get it. His mind was still on Def Con III as he stared at drops of mucous sliding down the glass.

“He’s deaf … I saw him signing on the phone earlier.”

“Oh.”

“Listen, I’m going to move behind you. I’ve got to get away from this guy. My wife has cancer and I came to get some stuff. I’d leave if I didn’t have to get …” The guy checked his phone then continued, “Brahmi, Ashwagandha, and Sanjeevani. I ordered the herbs online for pickup at this location. ”

“I understand.”

Now Mark was the second guy. He pressed the metal band at the bridge of the nose, pushing the mask tighter against his face.

As he stood there waiting, Mark wondered. He’d been doing a lot of wondering since the start of this thing. Wondering if dryness in the back of his mouth would become a burning sore throat or a single cough would turn into hard hacking that didn’t let up. Would it begin deep in the lungs and reverberate through his skull?

He’d read the data, trying to pay attention to verifiable sources and avoid questionable socialized media. Reports from China indicated older men—especially those with underlying health issues and smokers—had the highest death rate.

At 66, Mark was definitely older. He didn’t smoke or drink. That was in his favor.

Being a baby boomer, he’d carried Hep C in his blood for a long time. He didn’t find out about it until he was applying for insurance and his blood came back positive.

He ended up at the gastroenterologist’s office. His blood count came back with a viral load of 5,000,000 parts per milliliter.

The doctor said at this rate he’d probably need a new liver in 20 years. He had two options: do nothing and see what happens or begin a treatment plan.

Mark went with Door #2.

For six months, Mark administered injections of Interferon once a week and took one tablet of Rebetol every day.

Mark had a good run. By the end of the course his viral load had gone from 5,000,000 parts per milliliter to undetectable.

The incident was used as the call to action in Bull-hearted.

Thinking about his bout with Hep gave Mark a shot of self confidence. It was still early in the pandemic. The country hadn’t reached any grim milestones yet. Federal and local governments hadn’t issued any mandates about masks. If this guy wanted to go without a face covering and spread bacteria over everything he got near it was his right as an American.

The Sign:

Mark saw activity in the store. Employees flooded the aisles, stocking shelves and setting up displays.

It looks like they’ll be opening up soon, Mark told himself.

This was confirmed when a team member came up to the window. She held up five fingers.

The guy in front pulled out his phone and raised it. A FaceTime window came up. An older man appeared on screen. They started signing.

Mark wondered what they were talking about even though he was sure it was probably food related.

In his head, Mark played out the scene on the sidewalk.

The guy in the phone used his hands to ask, “What do you call tea with ice in it?”

The guy on the other side signed, “Iced tea.”

Phone guy: ”What do you call coffee with ice in it?”

First guy: “Iced coffee.”

Phone guy: “What do you call ink with ice in it?”

First guy: “Iced ink.”

The guy in the phone pointed, nodded, and covered his nose.

Mark saw the bit on network television while watching Billy the Kid versus Dracula on Svengoolie.

The doors opened. Mark pulled his license out of his top pocket and showed it to the team member on the inside.