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Entry 5: Tie Dyeing, and Why Complying is so Trying

My living room and kitchen (which, some would argue, are exemplary New York City illustrations of tiny living) overlook the back of a few buildings, some of which are ground floor apartments with cute little gardens. I like the ones with the dining room sets, or fun umbrellas, and the dude on the far end who takes a few moments out of every day to lay on his hammock, swallowing up the bursts of sunlight one gets in an enclave of high rises, is my absolute favorite. My least favorite, however, are the people nearest to my window, who have at minimum two hundred square feet – that’s a little less than half the size of my apartment! – that they’ve crowded with children’s toys, leaves, garbage and storage. They consistently offend my aesthetic sensibilities with their mess, and though I would forgive them for being busy parents, unable to consistently clean up after two young children, the backyard is rarely inhabited by said children. If I had a kid, I tell myself as I look frustratedly at the dirt-covered tricycles and food-stained children’s picnic table, I’d help them keep a nice, tidy entertainment space. Maybe we could make cleaning fun together, or maybe they’d enjoy organizing things by color or size, as some kids are apt to do.

Last Saturday, that very family threw a Halloween party in their garden. There had to be around ten kids of varying ages, all the way from toddler to teenager, each with two parents, some with grandparents. Not a single mask on a single face in the crowd – not a socially distanced patron to be found. And I unearthed an even more palpable reason to think that these people were jerks.

After about twenty minutes of seeing parents getting progressively drunker, kids screaming their heads off and grandparents taking photographs, I was seriously considering popping an extra blood pressure pill. I felt physically ill – my heart was thrashing around in my chest, my throat was tight with irritation, I felt my head flush with hot anger and fear. There’s still a pandemic, right? Like, covid is still a thing? Of course, these aren’t the first people I’ve seen grouped together without masks on. I see people sitting outdoors at restaurants, no masks, no distance – people in the park, no masks, no distance – my friends hang out with each other, no masks, no distance – maybe there’s something I’m missing. Maybe all this isn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe I’m just being a worry wart, a pathetic Chicken Little swayed by federal and media panic, when my young, semi-healthy, hydroxychloriquined ass is at basically no risk. And then I looked down again. And I saw children. Little children, with their grandparents. A little girl in a princess dress. Laughing. Having fun. Feigning normalcy. What if that grandparent were dead next week? From the fault of the parents, or another partygoer, or even of the kid themselves, being totally unaware they were carrying an illness that could hurt the ones they love? Would that little girl blame herself for the rest of her life if her grandmother died of covid? If her father ended up in the hospital, on a ventilator? Or worse, if she, by some rare circumstance, got sick herself?

Sorry, I know, I know, this is supposed to be about tie dye – I’ll get there, just give me a minute.

I opened my kitchen window, got down on my knees so they couldn’t see my face were they to look up, and I screamed in a pathetic, sorrowful plead, “Please, put your masks on. You’re endangering your children.”

No response.

Ten minutes later, before I left to go to my boyfriend’s, I tried one more time. “Please, I know you can hear me. Put on your masks. You’re putting people in danger.”

On my way out, I looked out the window – the mom who lives there apparently saw me, and looked up at me with her hands self-righteously on her hips. But the little five-(ish)-year-old in the princess dress had her mask on, as did her little brother, who was dressed like someone from Star Wars, or something. A small victory, I guess.

And because I can’t run around the streets screaming at people to wear their masks without getting into some fist fights I definitely couldn’t win, I decided to take two of my skills, acid washing and tie dying, and put them to use in my new mission to remind people that we’re still in a pandemic. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like it’s hard to forget.

I’ve been tie dying stuff and acid washing stuff since the day I discovered it was possible, and despite the protestations of my mother, who preferred her bathrooms sans stains, I dabbled a bit with it in high school. It wasn’t until I got my own apartment, where stains, spills and disarray of all kinds abound, that I felt comfortable enough to start experimenting with dying all kinds of things. And I’ve dyed and acid washed everything, from a blanket I knit, to jeans I bought, t-shirts by the dozens, jackets, socks, comforters, anything I could. I don’t know how to sew, and I don’t know how to draw – I can’t paint, and I can’t design – so I try to be creative in the various little ways that I can, expressing myself, experimenting, and testing different products and procedures. I’ve long loved tie dying, and now, I have the opportunity to do it not only to fill the many hours of my day, but to send a message I feel like needs to be heard. Not in a rude way, I think, and not in a confrontational way. But in a way that makes people think about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. And using my online shopping savvy, I had a little saying printed on both the front and the back of these shirts.

“Be considerate, show respect. Love your neighbor, wear your mask.”

I don’t really wear a mask to keep myself safe, honestly. I wear one, but not necessarily entirely for me. I think I’m healthy enough that, were I to get Covid, I have the financial, physical and mental resources to overcome it, and proceed to live the rest of my life as if I got really sick one time for about two weeks – which has happened before, and will happen again. But when I see people who are older, more at risk, younger, unhealthier, any of the criterion for further issues, I think – would I want some other twenty-six year-old acting like everything is fine, taking their mask off around my seventy-two year-old father, getting him gravely ill? Would I want anyone, any single one person to kill my parents, my one living grandparent, my cousins, my immunocompromised friends, my friends with diabetes, my friends with heart disease? A slight decrease in personal freedom, socialization ability, or the slight hinderance of wearing a mask is, to me, worth the lives of anyone who means anything to anyone else on earth. And even if someone doesn’t fit into that category, I would never want to take away a potential life filled with meaningful relationships, wonderful experiences, good food or good wine, great outfits and great sunsets.

“Do you care about anyone other than yourself?”

So I took up tie dying more in quarantine. Big whoop. What did that teach me about the world? What did it teach me about myself?

It taught me that there are simple, thought-provoking ways to remind people that life is more important than selfishness. It taught me that when I get mad, I get even, and I get creative. And it taught me that if I don’t say something, if I don’t speak up for something I find to be of the utmost importance, I’m going to need a hell of a lot more blood pressure medication. Hopefully, it’s more than just me who feels like this, and whoever gets a shirt will find themselves with a calmer heartbeat, a greater sense of purpose, and (some would argue of equal importance) a very fashionable addition to their closet.

If anyone wants one of these, just let me know. Since the process of buying all the tools necessary has become a bit expensive, I’ll probably end up charging money for them if I make another batch (I've made seven so far, some already promised to close friends and family). But I’d love for them to be worn, be seen, and be thought about.

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