"Move along and keep your head down. Don't touch any of the masks, just take the mask she gives you and if she's in a good mood she'll let you buy two maybe three. Remember to say thanks then get out quick before she changes her mind".
Conversation heard outside the entrance to Lorraine Parish's store in Vineyard Haven.
Early in March when the pandemic first began to dominate the news and the wearing of masks seemed inevitable, I took notice. And being in the clothing design and manufacturing business, mask making was an obvious thing for me to do.
I had yards and yards of unused fabrics in nooks and crannies all over the place. The one ingredient I did not have and could not order even back then, was elastic. But I found a way around that — I made my own out my very soft, expensive rayon/spandex jersey.
So my mission if I chose to accept it — sew as many masks as humanly possible with the goal of covering as many faces that were willing shell out $10 for them. Hell, if I could make three layered biased cut silk organza gowns, this was going to be a cinch! In actuality, it became quite grueling as time went on.
At first I thought this little venture was a neighborly, community minded gesture by me. I was trading beautiful hand made masks for pet food for pet owners out there whom I assumed as time went on would have trouble buying food for their beloved domestic critters. Wrong.
What I found was virtually no need for pet food but a dire need for masks. Within weeks of amassing bags and bags of dog and cat food, I found moi, and my poodles needed help ourselves. So I sucked up my pride and took the cash. And BTY, I immediately announced this new deal to the now steady line of customers at my door. Surprisingly no one even cared where their $10 went, what they cared about was getting masks for themselves, their friends and family.
Well finally after 40 years of slugging away, always hoping I'd hit it big with some fabulous product I had created and all the world desperately wanted it, I had found it. Truthfully it had found me, it laid itself right at my door step. Like many entrepreneurs, finding that illusive "pet rock" (for those old enough to remember that zillion dollar product) had always been lurking in the back of my small scale capitalistic mind. God certainly works in mysterious ways.
Within weeks, not only Vineyard residents, but my regular summer customers now in their winter homes were calling for my masks. They had heard this news from a story in this very paper and were unable at that moment to get masks where they lived. The word spread and I began shipping masks all over the place. I even shipped a hand full to a customer in New Zealand. They most certainly had plenty of masks down there but not Lorraine Parish masks to be sure!
As I was sewing one day I realized I had begun to get quite possessive of my now precious commodity. One well know therapist on the Island kept coming to my store's door almost everyday until I said to her half joking, "I'm cutting you off for a while, no more masks for you." I really did say this and something seemed very familiar about it, what was it?
One lady called and said "My masks need to be 100% cotton". To which I replied "You don't really need 100% cotton, it's the weave that's important. I have what I have and some may or may not be all cotton, it's up to you if you want one or not". Hum, more familiarity.
My new in demand mask product obviously was going to my head. Who or what did I remind me of — OMG I am the "Soup Nazi" of masks! For anyone out there who has never heard of the famous Seinfeld episode "The Soup Nazi " you must watch it. I did a refresher watch yesterday before I wrote this and yes, I was becoming the chief in the episode but way way nicer of course, at least I think. LP mask customers out there, I am nicer than him, right?
Anyway, as mask have become more available and my fledgling business has subsided, I have become much more casual these days towards the selling of my masks. They now have become just what they are — swaths of fabric to cover your face in order to protect anyone within ear shot of your cooties.
Warning: I still can be somewhat controlling when it comes to my little darlings, so if you come to buy one or two be extra grateful and polite, or you might hear a bellowing voice behind the beautiful mask say --
"No mask for you today, NEXT!"