The MaskScold

Last November, I was on my Saturday walk with my hiking buddies in the Berkshires, and since all of us are right-of-center politically, we were, of course, disappointed with how the election went. We were discussing our concerns when one of my friends suggested that once Biden is in, the coronavirus threat will magically disappear.

I disagreed. My feeling was that those in power with an authoritarian bent have seen the utility of keeping the populace fearful and divided against each other. Mask-wearing, I predicted, is going to become even more politically charged and divisive. One friend said that was certainly possible, pointing out how on November 6, Governor Charlie Baker just issued an open-ended order that everyone has to wear a mask even if they are outdoors, his twisted logic captured perfectly by Howie Carr.

I was completely unaware of that decree. My friend told me that not only that, the governor has imposed a 10 p.m. stay-at-home curfew and other draconian restrictions.

And I thought, ‘Well, that didn’t take long. It never does.’

After my walk, I stopped to get some gasoline, and I noticed that the engine of the car at the next pump over was running. A guy was pumping gas, and his girlfriend was behind the wheel diddling with her smartphone, both oblivious.

I said to the guy, “Excuse me, you’re shouldn’t pump gas while your car is running. It’s dangerous.” He quickly rapped on the window and told his girlfriend to shut the car off, which she did. Okay. I went to the pump to start gassing up. I didn’t judge the guy — I’m often absent-minded myself. Didn’t give him funny looks, didn’t shake my head — just took care of my own business.

As I started pumping, however, the guy called out to me: “You know, you should be wearing a mask. YOUR not wearing a mask is making ME very unCOMFORTABLE!” So I turned around and responded to him, and from his deer-in-the-headlights posture, I know that I must have channeled my best Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive when I looked him straight in the eye and told him: “I don’t care.”

But I’m thinking what chutzpah that I’m being lectured to by a guy who could have blown up the gas station by doing something they tell you shouldn’t do when you’re 15 years old and in your first day of driver’s ed — don’t leave the car running when you gas up — a message that is literally in front of your face each and every time you put fuel in your car, on the gas pump and by the gas cap of your car. And this guy is so discomfited by his own idiocy (if I hadn’t been judgmental before, idiocy was now clearly in play) that he feels the need to get into with me, a stranger who possibly saved his life, about masks.

Keep in mind, I’m at least 30 feet away from him with my back turned, and the only harm I could have done to him was if I was infected with the coronavirus and the germs in SEAL Team COVID-19 set out on a mission that took them out of my mouth, over the roof my car, through the gap between our cars then under his, then up his leg, torso, and neck to breach the protective barrier of his mask and infect him with a disease with a survival rate of 99.99 percent for people under the age of 50. And all on account of my suggesting that he turn off his engine so as not to possibly cause the gas station to explode, because the survival rate for people in gas station explosions is — and I’m following the science here — 0 percent. That’s right, zero. None. Nada. After you’re in a gas station explosion, when they find you — if they find you — they find you looking like a ‘smore. And not a human-sized ‘smore either — but more like something the size of a couple of Graham crackers, a marshmallow, and half a Hershey bar. Then, a couple of weeks later, someone finds some of your teeth in a bush two miles away and they identify you from dental records and your family sits shiva for your molars.

The guy finished pumping his gas and got into the passenger seat of the car. His girlfriend started the engine, and as they were about to drive away, this guy opened up the window, and (wait for it…wait for it) pulled down his mask and seethed: “Governor Baker has issued orders that everyone has to wear masks when they’re in public!”

What choice did I have? I went full 4th Grader on him.

“And YOU pulled down YOUR mask to tell me that????? What kind of person are you? I feel your germs jumping at me! I feel your germs all over me! They’re all over meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!”

After that, he engaged with me no more. As he drove away, I felt a little rueful, uncomfortable that I’ve become that guy, the guy who does stuff like going all 4th Grader in order to make a forceful point to an idiot. Sign of times.

But I know that if a police officer happened to be in the parking lot, the MaskScold would have gone over to the cop and told him that someone over there by the gas pumps wasn’t wearing a mask and that the cop might have come over and asked me what the problem was, and wouldn’t have taken kindly to my asking him, ‘Aren’t there any meth dealers that you could be arresting?’

Thus I realized — I’m a member of The Resistance now. Well, that didn’t take long. It never does.




Normal, but more so.

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Albert Stern

Albert Stern

Normal, but more so.

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