Essential Humanism: Profiles of Courage in a Pandemic Part II: Tris Mamone

Tell us about your job. What are some of the ways it’s changed during the pandemic?

I recently started working part-time a few days a week at a grocery store. My main duties include: disinfecting the bathrooms, emptying all the trash cans, disinfecting the doors, mopping the bathroom floors, disinfecting the fridge door handles, and occasionally stocking shelves.

Was your decision to take this job in any way related to the pandemic?

I have autism spectrum disorder, which makes working retail jobs very difficult for me. Between dealing with customers (both good and bad) and the rush of trying to get a million things done at once, it’s not conducive to my situation. Yet doing freelance writing full-time wasn’t paying the bills, so I got in touch with the department of rehabilitative services in my county to help me find a suitable job for extra income. After applying for a few jobs, the grocery store hired me. It’s actually a good job for my autism; not a lot of public interaction, and a structured set of daily tasks.

So, that’s a long way of saying no, my decision to take this job didn’t have anything to do with the pandemic. It was because I needed supplemental income.

How do you feel about being an “essential” part of the workforce?

To be honest, I feel odd about being called an “essential worker.” I’m not an EMT or a doctor in the ICU trying to save dying people. I just clean the store.

You say you feel odd, but do you at least recognize that people need grocery stores and that we may have taken for granted the people working there?

Yes, I do. I know that what I do is important because people not only need grocery stores, they need clean ones. I guess I find the phrase “essential worker” itself odd. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading into it too much.

Are you required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while at work? Is it provided to you?

I think they provide masks, but I’m not sure so I just wear homemade facial masks. They do provide us plenty of gloves, though.

What’s something your employer is doing well during the pandemic? 

Making sure we keep things clean.

What’s something you would change to make your work environment better or safer during the pandemic?

The stock room is kind of crowded, so sometimes we can’t really stay six feet apart from each other. But we do try not to get physically close.

What kind of positive change do you hope comes out of the pandemic—for you, for society at large?

Wow, good question! To be honest, I really don’t know what’s going to happen when/if we finally flatten the curve. There’s a lot of debate about whether we’ll ever “return to normal,” but I honestly don’t know either way. If/when this is all over, I hope the newfound respect for “essential workers” goes beyond just words of gratitude. By that I mean better pay, better healthcare, and other financial incentives.

Does a religious faith inform your values? 

No, I’m an atheist.

Do people you interact with on the job express religious beliefs to you or in other ways express their values?

I don’t really talk about personal stuff with co-workers.

What do you miss the most about your pre-pandemic life?

The thing I miss the most is going to my local coffee shop, ordering a latte, and talking to all the baristas there.