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Editor's note: Times Free Press columnist Mark Kennedy is writing a semi-regular column, Homebound, about his family's experience with social distancing. It runs today in place of his regular Family Life column.

I'm big on baby steps.

My default factory setting is cautious, leaning toward chicken.

I'm not one of those people for whom easing out of the corona-pause (my word for this awkward time we're in) means being all brave and showing up on the steps of a state capitol waving a protest sign or carrying a gun.

Folks who do this must think the Bill of Rights is a to-do list. First Amendment, check. Second Amendment, check.

I've read some people think that wearing a mask in public is a sign of weakness. I saw a Facebook meme the other day with a "quote" beside a picture of Charles Darwin that urged: "If you don't want to quarantine, it's okay."

Wearing a mask is actually nice for people like me with unfortunate teeth. If these masks catch on, cosmetic dentists and orthodontists may go out of business.

On the other hand, I think that mask design needs to be modified. In a perfect world, masks would have a zipper across the mouth that opens into a slit the size of a cookie. As it is now, if you are wearing a baseball cap, glasses and a face mask you basically have to disrobe to pop a Tic Tac.

Really, with a face mask, bad breath is no longer even a big problem, unless maybe it backs up in your nostrils. There are lots of plumbing and ventilation issues associated with face masks that we are just beginning to work out.

One of my "baby steps" last week was going to a supermarket for the first time in six weeks. I decided to get up extra early on Sunday morning so I would arrive at the Publix in North Chattanooga just as it opened. (For the record, I was wearing a face mask so tight it made my ears stick out and carrying a Clorox wipe around like a hanky.)

The problem with this early-bird strategy is that others had the same idea, and so a whole flock of people showed up to Publix at the exact same minute. Because we are creatures of habit, everyone immediately waddled over to the produce department, which ruins the whole point of social distancing.

Here's a hint: If you are part of a first wave at a grocery store, run to the meat department and buy as much hamburger as they will let you have. Otherwise you may wind up with perfect turnips but no protein. Plus, if the stock market tanks again, frozen beef may be the new gold.

Most supermarkets now have arrows on the floor that make the aisles one-way streets. This works in principle, but there are bottlenecks. More than once I had that weird, trapped feeling like when you get caught in the middle of the fat family rafting on the lazy river at Dollywood, and people you don't know are touching your knees.

In a really bold move, I got a haircut on Wednesday. It was the first day back in operation for my salon, and I was one of the first customers through the door. The place was as clean as an operating room, and they took my temperature at the door. It was 96.6 degrees, which means that people who've said I'm "cold" through the years were onto something.

For a smart aleck like me, wearing a surgical mask during a haircut can be dangerous. At any point, the stylist can pull one of those rubber bands in the back like a bow string and pop you in the back of the head.

I asked my stylist, Debbie, to spend extra time on trimming the wild hairs on my eyebrows and ears. That's something they don't tell you about getting old: You start sprouting hairs in weird places, like weeds in a sidewalk.

On the bright side, if ears, eyes and eyebrows are your best features, you may never want to go barefaced again.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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