Unmasking the Virus: A Retail Diary of the Plague Years (Volume 8)

July 12, 2020

Libraries and bookstores are breeding grounds for conspiracy theories. I blame it on the soft chairs and reading material. They attract the type of people who have too much time and not enough friends.

I used to run the political-science/true-crime section in the store, and there was a regular parade of eccentrics who came by to peruse espionage literature and educate me on what was really happening in this country. There were the male Baby Boomers who knew for certain JFK was murdered by the Illuminati; the female Baby Boomers who knew for certain Marilyn Monroe was murdered by JFK; and the Gen Xers who believed everyone on the planet could be murdered by anyone in the government at any time.

I assume the Millennials are getting all their paranoid fantasies from Twitter.

If you ever meet a conspiracy theorist, follow the same rules you would if confronted by a baboon in the wild: stay quiet, don’t look them in the eye, and slowly back away.

Normally, they’re on the fringes of society, and you can spot them fairly easily if you know what to look for. There’s a certain manic glint in the eye, a twitchy demeanor. Camouflage cargo pants are a good indicator. Or a custom t-shirt that says something about the FBI.

In other words, they tend to stand out.

However, since the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult to spot the conspiracy theorists. This new breed dresses like everyone else. They come from no particular race or socio-economic background. They could be your neighbor, your friend, your postal worker, your bank teller. They’re definitely your grandmother.

Here are some of the conspiracy theories my coworkers and I have heard so far from customers: China made the coronavirus, Russia made the coronavirus, Trump made the caronavirus, the Clintons made the coronavirus, Big Pharma made the coronavirus. The coronavirus is part of a plot by Bill Gates to release a vaccine that will sterilize a majority of the human population. George Soros created the coronavirus to crash the world economy and instigate global Marxism. Black Lives Matter created the coronavirus to start a race war and instigate global Marxism. The Koch brothers have a vaccine for the coronavirus, but they’re only giving it to their billionaire friends. Hollywood created the coronavirus because… That was it for that one. Just because.

Last week my coworker spoke to a woman on the phone who asked about our mask policy. She told the caller all customers were required to wear masks at all times in the store and practice social distancing. The caller was not happy with the answer. She screamed “This is a scamdemic!” and then hung up.

A man came to the register the other day with a red bandana wrapped around his face like he was going to rob a stagecoach. He pointed at my hospital mask. “You shouldn’t wear those,” he said. He waited for me to ask why, and when I didn’t, he continued. “The wire in the nose is a 5G antenna. Look it up.” I did look it up on my 5G phone, and he was right: it is a crazy conspiracy theory that people believe.

My favorite was an old woman with a home permanent who was buying an armful of knitting books. She set her purchases on the counter and announced, with a proud Southern drawl and a wave of her hand, “Don’t worry. This will all be over soon.”

I didn’t know if she was talking about coronavirus or the world, so I just said, “Really?”

She nodded. “It’s an Indian summer, honey. Don’t you know? Everything’s crazier during an Indian summer. But it’ll calm down when the heat breaks. You’ll see.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

It was better than any of the other theories I’d heard.

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