My wife has been coughing for three days now. She doesn’t have a fever or feel sick, but the cough alone is enough to worry. She consulted our doctor via the Doctolib application and the doctor gave her the same speech she gave me: assume that anything that resembles covid-19 is covid. Get yourself a mask, and try to keep it from spreading. Open the windows to air out as much as possible. Don’t go outside. Isolate.

The blue of the sky was taunting us. A breeze blew cool air around the streets while the sun blanched the stone Parisian facades. On my run I made it up to the overlook above the Parc de Belleville. You can see the entire city from up there, usually blanketed by a slightly blurry layer of thick air. Today I could make out the details of each building no matter how far away it was. The blue dome over the world was electric and alive. It’s getting harder to stay indoors.

The coughing situation means that we’re going to need to follow the doctor’s instructions and start using masks. I dug through the tool box in the workshop and found a couple of masks that we had used when doing work on the apartment. The box containing them was dusty, tiny relics of sanded walls. But the masks themselves were clean. It’s a start. We’re going to need something a bit more comfortable though if we’re going to be wearing them all the time.

The New York Times created a step-by-step guide to fabricating your own mask, and that’s where I began. I found an old t-shirt that would be both comfortable and effective. I didn’t want something black and scary, but white was a no-go too. I settled on an off-white shirt with little colored specks. It was one of the softest T-shirts that I had, and it is now on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus.

The sewing box contained a lot of elements that would help me build masks. I found elastic, strengtheners (I don’t know any technical terms) and wire for the part that goes over the nose. I don’t know how to use the sewing machine so I used the kids nap to attack my first mask by hand.

The thing about sewing is that it is counter intuitive. For you to get anything that looks relatively nice you have to work from the inside out. Everything has to be inversed. I followed the instructions but with the elastic I had to make a few changes. Once I got the pins in place I started sewing across the top. I doubled back. It felt solid. I flipped it to see what it would look like rightside out. It was all wrong.

Taking stitches out is more frustrating that putting stitches in. I had to start and restart a few different times. The thimble is too small for my fingers. The needle found its way through my fingertips a few time. There may be some specks of blood on the mask.

When I flipped the mask the elastics that I had spent so much time measuring were on the inside. No choice but to cut them and stitch them together again on the outside. All in all it took an hour and a half to make one mask. At least when my wife put it on her face it did what it was supposed to do. The extra touches that I used also mean that it is much more solid than a regular cloth mask would be.

Nothing is solid enough to keep a 10 month old from ripping it off your face though. And nothing begs to be removed more than a face cover. It’s not his fault. Blame peek-a-boo. Will he get used to her and soon is wearing masks almost all the time? Wondering where our mouths and noses went each time he looks up at us from the floor?

My wife is going to show me how the sewing machine works so that I can pump out a few more. I regret getting rid of so many clothes a few months ago when I did a wardrobe cleanse in our preparations for the move. There would have been a lot more colorful candidates for cutting masks.

Then again, at the time there was no way to have conceived of the moment when I had to make our own masks. If I had been hoarding cloth for the apocalypse people would’ve thought that I was crazy. In any case I would’ve just had a stock of masks.

But here we are.

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