My Face Mask Just Isn't Keeping Up With The Joneses

By now, you have read thousands of words exploring how people’s lives were impacted by COVID-19 in 2020. Some of them are inspirational, with folks learning that simplifying their lives made things more rewarding. Others argued that the closeness and isolation made them realize they were living with monsters (big and small), while still others say the quarantine drew them closer to their families.

But there are other, less cosmic issues that we should not depart 2020 without memorializing. Like those goddamned face masks. Now, before you send my photo to the DC authorities with a note saying “This guy was probably one of them since he hates masks,” let me be entirely clear. I have worn my mask in public every day since the pandemic began, and believe without reserve that it's not only the right thing to do, it is essential to slow down the spread of the virus.

But I still hate them.

My wife, who is the patron saint of the family when it comes to anything medical, got the kids those cool N95 masks because, well, they are our kids. I got the cheap pale-blue-and-white kind that you see in the gutter on nearly any street.  The kind with the crappy string loops that after about 30 seconds feel like they're slowly severing your ears.  If you wear them with glasses, it is like living in some Ansel Adams portrait of fog-shrouded London.  And in my part of the world (the U.S. South), sweat starts to emerge around your lips and chin in short order.



Perhaps the worst part of masks is that you can’t see the expression on the other person, so you don’t know if their comment is a joke, a threat or a reason to call 911.

Somewhere along the way, face masks became works of art. Now I know it started innocently enough, with well-meaning grandmas and Etsy orphans making colorful masks because for a while they were sold out, or price-gouged beyond all reason. But before long, the free market rose up -- and suddenly face masks of every imaginable design and color were for sale.

Since 2020 -- as I’ll bet you haven’t yet forgotten -- was an election year, you could billboard your political preferences across your mug (if in fact your candidate endorsed wearing them in the first place). If you went to the grocery store not wearing a mask because it was “your constitutional right not to,” we know who your candidate was -- and he is making the idiotic, seditious exit we all expected.

Lots of businesses and nonprofits seized the moment, selling masks with their logos so your face could be a moving advertisement. And nothing makes you feel more morally superior than wearing your local opera company mask in a sea of sports teams and national flags.

But soon it all began to feel like some sort of competition, with Turnbull & Asser, Tory Burch and Ralph Lauren all issuing “designer” masks so you can look better than, say, me. Now, I have not tried a designer mask, but have to assume part of the attraction is they have ear straps that don’t hurt like hell before you even get through the fresh fruit and vegetable section.

Perhaps that’s why folks around me who wear fascinating mask designs look kind of smug (or are in cardiac arrest, but hard to tell without seeing more than eyebrows). It’s the moral equivalent of pulling some expensive designer roller bag up to the ticket counter, making certain everyone knows you're just too cool for school.

So there you have it. Until we get the vaccine (and a new administration that actually cares the nation is sinking under the weight of the pandemic) those of us in the cheap, little pale-blue masks sold by the box will continue to feel inadequate.

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