What is the thing with masks?
I spent the weekend in my hometown, a place filthy with maskless tourists, observed, primarily, through the passenger window of my mother’s car, as we drove around gawking at the hordes of popped collars and fanny packs crowding the sidewalks and breweries in downtown Asheville. We tried to come up with excuses using ranging from “they look to be very young” to “I’m guessing they are very Republican.” But neither category comprised all the barefaced, just as neither category described me, a forty-four year old woman, riding in a car with her mother during the height of a season in which most sane people are virtually living in a fall-out shelter, rationing cans of beans.
During a pandemic, “going back home” is the kind of thing you do when you’re feeling chancy. I was not. I am not. I played my cards pretty close to the chest on the front end. I took precautions. I worried I was going to give my mother COVID. She worried she was going to give me COVID.We’ll probably worry about this for the next 2-4 weeks. As if we weren’t already.
Such is the calculus for the time we’re living. The risks we take. The risks we won’t. The vast, foggy gray zone separating the two. It’s pretty crowded for a no-man’s land, full of hypocrites and penitents, nihilists, optimists and the slightly intoxicated, “maybe just this once.” I’d wager we’ve all spent some time there over the last few months, even though we won’t, or maybe can’t, admit it publicly, for fear of the recrimination, which largely doesn’t stop us from doing it, but does maybe does keep us from being totally honest about it if we do. COVID has refashioned us all as high schoolers, stuck at home, doing homework with our families, trying to figure out whether we should sneak out later and walk down to the park to drink wine coolers and smoke cigarettes with or just straight up go to that party at Amanda’s house, and once there, should we have a beer? A cigarette? A joint? Should we go skinny dipping with that kid Sean from the soccer team? And if so, should we take a ride with him, even though we’re not on birth control and he’s had a couple beers and we might not get home before our parents noticed we were gone? I mean, nobody wants to get pregnant, and your parents will freak about the drinking, but Sean has these super long eyelashes and this way of looking at you like he can see your soul and he smells like delicious trouble and laundry detergent.
This is not to downplay the risk of the actual high schoolers and just past high schoolers hard partying right into the pandemic, if I’m reading the reports right. They’re a bunch of the people I saw over the weekend flouting guidelines in cute summer dresses, blithely Beer Ponging their way into the zombie apocalypse because they’re invincible and enabled by a bunch of olds who believe in FREEDOM and therefore won’t, like, enforce social distancing or shut down the damn bars already. I worry about the kids, because no one wants Ash or Emma to get COVID between here and grad school, but also because no one wants Ash of Emma to give COVID to anyone else. On this second point, I am particularly wary. I live in a college town, which has, so far been a polite bubble of relative safety and compliance. If the college opens—as currently planned– in a couple of months, I don’t know how long it can stay that way. (In the meantime, just to be on the safe side, where can I find a glitter HAZMAT suit in a women’s size 14? PLEASE ADVISE.)
Is that selfish? Sure. Just like it’s maybe selfish for me to want to round up the legions of maskless and let them quarantine together, so they don’t have to endanger us, and we don’t have to put up with their bullshit. Let them Pleasure Island their way into the indefinite future and the rest of us can keep doing what we’ve essentially been doing since March, waiting for any indication that it might one day be safe again to enter a non-essential business or sit outside at a café table with a friend or have a fleeting chance of experiencing something like joy that doesn’t risk a body count .
I suppose I should be more angry that everything we’ve done so far feels like it was done for nothing, but just about the only thing about losing your mind by going full Cassandra back in March is that you aren’t surprised when the brazenly optimistic best case scenario doesn’t play out the way people hoped.
Still, I’d personally rather not be hard locked down indefinitely—a condition that is going to look a lot more harrowing once we round toward winter and the weather outside turns frightful. And it seems to me that maybe some of that could be avoided if people would just do the simply things like, you know, wear masks and try to maintain a modicum of distance. And if the shame, guilt, fear of hurting someone else, and crippling fear of embarrassment doesn’t work(a perfect quartet for an already guilt-wracked, pathological apologizer such as myself) doesn’t work on them, maybe the re-emergent shutdowns will. After all, that’s really what they’re afraid of, isn’t it? Being locked down? So maybe the beatings will continue until morale improves. Maybe we stay locked up and lonely until 2022.
Or maybe you stop sulking and wear your fucking mask like a goddamn grown-up.
Picture today is from just up the mountain from Dad’s house, where I walked over the weekend, and a masked hippie popped out of a fern grove to ask if I had a light for his joint. (True).
As of this writing, 5,871,180 people have recovered from COVID-19.