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"[None of us should be] above extending an ounce of accommodation for a villain not wearing an identifying mask and not one of us can see."

B. C. (Before Covid-19), masks were for Mardi Gras, Halloween, burglars and Old West Train Robbers, and the occasional Lone Ranger. We intended them to obscure identity, though cowboys assigned to the hind end of trail drives might deign to slip a neckerchief up over their faces to fight trail dust. Okay, dentists wore them, and doctors when they were tucking into a case, but most of us never seriously thought about owning or wearing a mask. Now, that part of our world's turned inside out, and the responsible among us have grown to gladly don that mask when venturing out into public.

Those first few times, I felt self-conscious.
Say whatever you might about mindfulness, but self consciousness seems the opposite of it. If mindfulness imparts awareness, self-consciousness imparts distraction, disrupting normal sensory intake and interpretation. I felt so focused upon my facewear (there's a new A. C. word!) and how stupid I imagined myself looking, that I could barely focus upon shopping, the activity I'd chosen to go out into public and risk my life for that day. Few wore masks then, early on in the contagion, and I felt every bit the easily identified minority, inescapably, glaringly sticking out in the crowd. Now, around two months in, my mask no longer suggests any sort of an anomaly, but represents the majority position. Being a sudden, surprised majority, I feel license to goad my superiority over those lesser beings different from me. Those not wearing masks now seem just as nefarious as any Scarlet Pimpernel.

I catch myself harshly judging those choosing to eschew this latest fashion statement. I seriously want to chew each one a new one, as they say, and I one day just might. The cowboy-lookin' guy blocking the beer aisle had not forgotten his broad-brimmed hat or his burgeoning beer belly when blocking my shortcut to the milk case, but he had forgotten what I've grown to consider the one essential fashion accessory, his face mask. I thought that he might even look cute if he affected that Texas Trail Drive look with a big bandanna pulled over what otherwise seemed an unremarkable face. I felt fairly certain that he was not The Lone Ranger and that I had fallen into some semblance of mortal danger crossing paths with him. He seemed more threatening than a hijacked train filled with Jesse Jameses. I turned sideways and excused myself as I passed without brushing up against him.

The Tales Of The New Wild West feature the courageous adventures of MaskedMen studiously avoiding the unmasked ones. Nobody carries six guns anymore, though in some stores, I would not be surprised if some exasperated law man—by which I mean, a man actually obeying the law— didn't plug some galoot who'd chosen to publicly flout it in the frozen food aisle. I feel moved to violent means as I watch one after another libertine line up at the liquor store while the proprietor cowers behind a mask, gloves, and a six-foot high plexiglass panel. I wait my turn at the drive-up window, mask secured around my collar, keeping my distance if not my composure. It's burglary in the first degree in reverse, where the MaskedMen play the good guys and the bald and bare-faced play the villains, visiting possible viral calamity upon innocent citizens.

Some insist, and I've actually heard this, that the masks seem too suffocating, that one can hardly breathe when wearing one. I wager that this inconvenience has nothing on the panic induced by even the minor lung infection risked when refusing to wear one. Others impatiently explain that they're young and have always been inordinately healthy. Hey, buddy, me, too. I understand that none of the people succumbing to this contagion so far had any previous experience catching it, their track records squeaky clean. Nor did anyone's vitae demonstrate any prior experience in dying, this virus relying exclusively upon conscripted amateur practitioners in the fine and final art of expiring.

Tug it on and cinch it tight. Just wear it when you venture out, all right? Your previous right to walk around displaying your beautiful face to the world should not preclude anyone's right to life. Your liberty ain't worth the blood it was secured with if it relies upon anyone needlessly dying for you to demonstrate it. I do not understand why each store doesn't direct that person in the security uniform at the front door to send the unmasked home to finish their wardrobe before allowing them entry. I understand that this was once the wild west, but we're more domesticated now and not above extending an ounce of accommodation for a villain which wears no identifying mask and not one of us can see.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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