By Natalie De Paz
Hey, SCITizens. 🙂 You know me as one of the friendly faces that greets you when you arrive at the theater. You know me as the editor of this blog. I am the head house manager at SCIT, and I’ve been working there for about a year and a half. You may not know that my dayjob is working at a grocery store. I wrote this bittersweet micro-essay, “Poker Face,” about my experience working at that grocery store, and one of the little things that has brought me a lot of joy in the madness. Shout-out to Heather DiCicco, who is a dear friend I met through taking classes at SCIT.
I dedicate this piece to my coworkers at the grocery store.
During the pandemic, I work at a grocery store. People don’t mind waiting in line outside as much when the weather is nice. On one such sunny day, a mother brings her baby in with her, and they come to my register. The baby locks eyes with me. I smile, and realize the baby can’t see it because I am wearing a mask (and matching scrunchie). The baby probably hasn’t seen anyone but their parents smile for months now, maybe a quarter of their life thus far.
I imagine life after the pandemic. I imagine the baby crying at strangers’ bald faces, the way they do in those viral videos of fathers who shave off their burly beards.
I share with my coworkers, often, in the fact that we are not only forced to behave as though things are mostly normal, but we uphold a sense of normalcy for our customers, for our community.
On my Saturday, which is actually Thursday, my friend Heather brings me an old Casio around 3 pm. She doesn’t wear a mask. I do. I want to hug her, but instead wave my arms around on the sidewalk at her and squint my eyes really hard to show her I am smiling. She compliments my shirt, a colorful Goodwill treasure whose print resembles a Monet pond scene.
Before she arrives with the piano, though, I text her to ask if it is for keepsies, because I am a child who wants to believe she can truly have something.
The keyboard belonged to Heather’s former neighbor. It sat in their hall for a year after the neighbor moved out, and now Heather is giving it to me. I carry the piano, and the stand for it, into my elevator and over to my apartment. I wipe it down with Clorox wipes, which I am doubtful is necessary, but have to do to quiet the headlines echoing in my brain. The keyboard has a crack in its back that endears it to me instantly, as well as fun, outdated preset songs and tones.
Within the next hour, Heather’s kind face is on my computer screen. She teaches me, graceful as Julie Andrews, cool as a cucumber, patient as a saint: C, G, A, D. She says, “F spells ‘face.’” My neurons fire on all cylinders. I almost cry from the sheer joy of barely making music, because I am a child who wants to believe she can truly be anything.
Within the next hour, I send her a video of me singing along to a simple chord progression of a Lady Gaga song.
I heard someone on a podcast say, some people plan their lives, and others walk the path turn by turn.
I manage one foot in front of the other most days, but if I had a pillar of salt for each time I looked back, everyone I ever loved would be chained to Hades’ pinky nail.
Within the next 48 hours— on my Monday, which is actually Saturday— I am back at work at a grocery store during the pandemic, wearing a uniform shirt I bedazzled myself, what some would call a normal day. Of course, I am an adult who knows nothing is truly for keepsies.
I keep looking for smiles behind the masks, for kind eyes and good body language. I will cry when the masks come off, the kind of cry where you can’t quite catch your breath until you take a deep sigh.