Over Easy: Faceoff over masking continues

For the Valley News
Published: 3/19/2022 3:18:31 PM
Modified: 3/19/2022 3:17:41 PM

The robins are back, mask mandates are gone and COVID-19 has been dialed back to COVID-18, or maybe something much lower.

Forgive me if I’m not feeling too rosy about this, except for the birds. Our feeder has been hop-hop-hopping this week; our freeloading feathered friends are welcome, welcome indeed. We are especially cheered by one pair, whom we call Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal, even though their marital status is unclear. For all we know they could be living in sin.

It’s a simpler world just outside our living room window, where a small woodpecker taps at suet like a madman, a squirrel stuffs his face with sunflower seeds, and the fearless chickadees don’t take crap from anyone. It’s not exactly the peaceable kingdom, since house cats lurk on the borders. But among the birds there’s only a rare fluttering kerfuffle.

Elsewhere, the geopolitical outlook is rotten. The suffering of the innocents in Ukraine has turned my stomach about mankind and war, and made me wonder why I didn’t see it so clearly in other places, in other times, in other skin tones. I’m embarrassed, in retrospect, and need to dwell on this.

Our American COVID conflict is a different sort of business. For reasons that are bigger than you and me, it grew into a cold war between the vaxxers and the anti-vaxxers, the masked crusaders and the droplet deniers.

I am a mask enthusiast. The New Hampshire COVID dashboard shows why. Just about 90% of the COVID deaths in the Granite State have been among those aged 60 and up. As a card-carrying AARP member, that’s my tribe.

The mask regimen has been inconvenient, but not all bad. I haven’t had a cold — common or otherwise — since I donned mine, no fever, flu, sniffles, snuffles, croup, cough or wheezing. I have suffered neither pharyngitis nor catarrh. I have been so healthy it’s sickening.

My mask game has been pretty good. I started with cloth ones, some of them jauntier than me, like one with hot peppers. I stepped up to a mask with added filter material, then graduated to double-masking with a polyester mask with highly adjustable ear loops, worn over a surgical mask. The surgical ones are American-made (!), and easier on the ears — Chinese factories hadn’t anticipated my big head. During the omicron surge I scored KN95 masks from a reputable source — or as reputable as I could find — recommended by Wirecutter reviews from the New York Times.

I’ve adjusted to the anonymity the masks afford. I know people haven’t recognized me, and I’ve doubled or tripled my degree of social cluelessness. Just recently I almost didn’t recognize a 6-foot-7 former co-worker while food shopping. It’s not like he blends in with the frozen shrimp.

We’ve tried to shop during off-hours and avoid stores where mask scofflaws are common. I think I’ve gotten the stink eye from a couple of anti-maskers, but maybe they were sour people who always look like that. Too bad for them. I had prepared a snappy comment if anyone said anything: “I’m just wearing it for my infectious tuberculosis ... cough, cough.”

A few weeks ago I was mightily vexed by three mask-scorning men who smirked their way through the grocery store. They had the look of naughty school boys. Their Carhartt work clothes were so clean and nifty-new it seemed they hadn’t done a lick of actual work in them — which took my judginess to a whole nother level.

But over time I’ve grown weary of the COVID conflict over vaccines and masks. The online warriors have battled to a standoff. We are dug in to our positions.

I sensed that the mandates were going to go. The governors who track the political winds saw that the public was fatigued. They’d rather be reelected than right, and I understand that.

We are “done” with COVID, but even now a thousand Americans a day are dying from it. Some victory.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of podcasts that described how inner negative voices work against us, denying us contentment, happiness, peace of mind. If this is true on the personal level, why not in a bigger sense? What about the people who skirmish online daily, fill their heads with agitating news on cable TV and the radio? They can’t get enough of the other side’s folly.

Someone posted online that a shopper had made sheep noises to insult mask-wearers in an Upper Valley supermarket. I wondered how long and obsessively a person had been stewing over these matters to be so ugly, so disdainful, so rude.

Pretty long, I’d bet.

And how long have I been stewing about the mask mockers?

Just about the same, I suppose.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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