Nov 3, 2020 | Writing

Masked Man in an Unmasked Town


red bear plush toy on yellow surface

Masked Man in an Unmasked Town


At 82 I might as well have a sign on my back that says “Dead Man (if I get Covid) Walking.” I’m healthy and I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, usually many more but always at least 10k a day for the last two years; my wife gave me a Fitbit and I’m […]

At 82 I might as well have a sign on my back that says “Dead Man (if I get Covid) Walking.” I’m healthy and I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, usually many more but always at least 10k a day for the last two years; my wife gave me a Fitbit and I’m religious about it. It gets me up off my butt (I’m a writer and a sculptor—the sculpture is also kind of sedentary, as I do it in one place, usually without a lot of moving around) and I’ve become slimmer in those two years.

There’s no guarantee for how long I’ll be around but I look at people like Lawrence Ferlinghetti who pumped out another book at 100, a solo painting show at 101, and runs a lively bookstore in San Francisco as he approaches 102, and think, well, I’ll shoot for 100. My wife and I would like to get through all this crazy stuff and back to some normalcy, but that’s a long way off. Why? Because people don’t get it yet. They get covid. I see that in the godawful statistics, but they don’t get why.

covid mask

In our rural county we had eight cases; I kept an eye on the Kansas covid map and checked various counties, and ours always came out “no deaths, eight cases.” Then they decided to open Kansas back up and neighboring Johnson County, a big part of Kansas City, started coming out to various attractions, one of which is a winery next to our south pasture. No masks, no worries, blithe visitors. The upshot and downside of that attitude is the Kansas covid map now reads 564 cases and two deaths for our rural Miami County. The math: roughly seventy times what we had before they opened it up from the “stay home” advisory. And the vast majority still wear no masks..

Down the road where they fix tractors, and sell implements and feed, the guys who run the place are smart, hard-working men with great engineering skills; they can get most anything up and running again, from a weedeater to a hay baler. But they don’t wear masks and I’m guessing they don’t wash their hands every ten minutes. They don’t have time, and they’re not doing much social distancing either.

When I go there I wear a mask, and two or three men leaning into the bed of a pickup talking, stop talking and look at me. Then they resume talking. They see the mask and know what it’s for unless they just dropped from Mars, but it doesn’t seem to apply to them. I wonder what goes through their minds as they talk, faces perhaps a foot apart. The breeze is from the south, and two of them are downwind from one who could be a carrier. Do that math. Twenty people in a day or so depending on how windy these boys are.

One day, I was waiting to leave a riding mower with a belt problem at the shop. I wore no mask as I was going to leave it and phone in. A man suddenly appeared in my face and said, “What’s the good word?” I was immediately pissed off that someone would do that—on a good day with no covid, he was “in my space.” I knew him, a neighbor, and I said “I’m trying to keep a distance between me and anyone else, if you don’t mind.” He registered surprise, then disbelief, strode off.  My thought on the matter was, what the hell is the matter with some people? No doubt his was, too—but then he’s not one to read and soak up the CDC health guidelines or split the atom.

So I waited fourteen days to see if I’d been infected. Had I been, and lived through it, I may have marched over to his place and canewhipped his ass. I’m still pissed. Hail fellow well met is fine at ten feet with masks. And that’s that. I look at it as life and death, so stay back, folks. Really.

My wife insists on doing the grocery shopping, her thought being that if I continued to do some of it weekly we’d double our chances of getting the virus. She practices great hygiene and follows guidelines. She now meets with children and grandchildren on Zoom. She’s a people person and this social distancing does not come naturally to her. She’s smart, though.

It hasn’t changed my lifestyle a hell of a lot; you may have gathered that by now. I’m a natural born social distancer. Writing and sculpting are my pastimes, my job. My dogs ask no stupid rhetorical questions though I talk to them more than I do most anyone else. When there were horses on the place (all gone now of old age) they were fine companions and we rode wordlessly through the pastures and in the dry creekbeds.

Dubbed crowd noise for TV football is weird. Thank God for Netflix. The “news” is (I’ll finish this sentence if I feel like it later). I check the weather and the covid stats online. And I watch public TV when they’re not fund-raising, which ain’t a lot these days.

I had to go to the gallery that sells my sculpture for a Q&A video session. The videographer wore a mask and so did the gallery owner. These are city people and they know a few things about the disease. They are also trying hard to make a living. The gallery is The Hilliard Gallery in Kansas City, look ‘em up. The video will be available by the time you read this, and you’ll see me, unmasked. What a treat, huh. That was the title of my last show opening in August, “Unmasked.” I did not attend. I was surprised my voice worked for the interview.

I may take to wearing a pistol; it’s legal in Kansas. And when someone gets too close, fire a warning shot in the air. (That’s not legal, I don’t imagine.) It would sure as hell reinforce the guidelines. Can’t do that inside at a gas station, though. If I go to the trouble of using a wipe on the pump handle and the door, and I’m wearing a mask, do not, I repeat, DO NOT stand close behind me while I pay for the gas.

I’m serious as a covid case, people. There’s no vaccine for it, and no pill for viscerally stupid, so until there is, step away from me. And keep away. Don’t like the message? Flatten the curve then. Start paying attention. It’s a panfuckingdemic.

Have a nice day. I’ll be the one walking. Do not approach.

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