My Face Itches (and Other Realities of Essential Working)

I work in the wine department at a grocery store. Technically, that makes me an essential worker in this Scheiße-show of a pandemic. I don’t feel especially essential, more like mildly required. Either way, working at a grocery store right now is like working in a petri dish of human behavior.

Before we can start work, we have to go through a wellness check, which consists of a bunch of questions about whether we have any Covid-19 symptoms, and a temperature check. I have some real mixed feelings about this.

If I have to go through a wellness check before I can start work, I’d like to see customers go through wellness checks before they can come into the store and shop. But that would be an invasion of privacy. You see my conundrum. But perhaps customer wellness checks would cut down on the number of customers who still think going to the grocery store is an outing for the entire family, or a place to meet friends and shop in tandem.

Don’t get me wrong, we have some absolutely wonderful customers, who are super patient and polite, thanking all of us for coming to work, stocking the shelves, and making sure people have food (and wine) to buy. I love those customers. But then there are the other people.

Other people are on my last good nerve.

We haven’t had toilet paper in the store for weeks. Last week, we got a decent amount in. It’s not a brand I’d ever heard of before, but hey, it’s toilet paper. Yay, right? Nope. Customer walks up to me in the wine department (because that’s where we keep the “good” toilet paper), nasty sighs, and asks, “Do you have any *other* kind?” Bless your heart. Absolutely. Today, we are featuring two kinds of toilet paper – the take it kind, or the leave it kind. Have a nice day! 

Yesterday, there was a guy in the wine department who was on a conference call . . . on speaker phone. He starts asking me questions about Moscato. He rolls his eyes and says to me, “It sucks to work from home right now.” Most of the time, I’m pretty good at “smile and ignore it” customer service. But I have my limits. Before I could stop the words from coming out of my mouth, I responded, “It sucks to work at work right now, too.”

So what’s it like in the wine department? I can sum it up in a two words.

Where’s this?

Take three steps back, Skippy. And use your words.

We haven’t offered wine tastings in weeks, so my job has been reduced to answering questions from increasingly frenzied, and downright rude, Instacart shoppers as to where “this” is. Our regular Instacart shopping crew is wonderful. But the folks that have downloaded the app and become instant instacart? Not wonderful. These people shop like they’re on an episode of Supermarket Sweep.

What kind of wine are people buying during this pandemic? Well, no one wants to talk about Bordeaux or Burgundy. They just want to know where the Barefoot Sweet Red Blend is. Oh, and wine in a box. Because “it stays fresh longer.” And that’s OK. You do you.

Me? I’ve been drinking a lot of gin martinis (three olives, please). Because there’s a small, completely irrational part of me that believes covid-19 and gin don’t play well together.

We have hand washing stations all over the store. And so, I wash my hands. Obsessively. Like Howie Mandel obsessively. I use hand sanitizer every time I pass the little dispenser thingys. Well, I did until we got a new store hand sanitizer (because regular Purell is a unicorn right now), which I’m pretty sure we’re sourcing from a distillery. Because it smells exactly like Grappa. And I HATE Grappa. The smell makes me nauseous. So, I sourced my own hand sanitizer from Etsy. It’s “bring your own hand sanitizer to work” days.

And my face itches. Like all the freaking time. My face never itches until I come into work, and then it’s all-itch-all-the-time. So I go wash my hands, use some hand sanitizer, and scratch my face. And then I put away some wine. And then my face itches again. What I really need is a supply of sterile face-scratching sticks.

I’ve seen just about every DIY mask you can imagine. I’d say about 75% of customers are wearing masks now, and on one level, I really appreciate it. Until I think about how many of them are wearing them wrong. Masks are hot and uncomfortable, so often times, when customers stop to ask a question, they mask down. At least people have been entertaining in their mask creativity. The bank robber look is very popular — who knew people owned so many bandanas?!? Some folks have disposable medical masks (where they’re getting them, I have no idea). Some have fun reusable fabric masks. I’ve seen coffee filters, paper towels and staples, and even maxi pads repurposed as masks.

And the glove situation. I’ve seen customers wearing just about every kind of glove — latex, rubber kitchen, golf, ski, and gardening. But my favorite are the latex wearers. More than a couple of times, I’ve seen a woman go into the bathroom, come out of the stall, and just walk right out. Like wearing latex gloves somehow gives you a pass on washing your hands. And changing your gloves.

{sarcasm font] Please, go touch all the produce.

Hang in there. Stay safe and stay sane.



  1. In a world of instant gratification and where narcissism has become the socially accepted norm, the last thing many people can tolerate is…{gasp}…inconvenience. Of any kind. Kristen, thank you for your service, and putting up with the BS. You are an unsung hero. Please stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I never knew that my face itched as much as it did until we began living in a time when you would either be shunned or arrested for scratching….EVEN if you wash AND use hand sanitizer afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

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