Just Graffiti

By this point, I figure anyone left reading my posts is either of like mind regarding COVID, etc. or a diehard fan who takes these in stride as personal thoughts unrelated to my work. Anybody else has likely been chased away.

That sense of changing audience has affected my purpose in writing, away from trying to reason with COVID deniers, to encouraging compatriots to be more vocal and proactive.

But at its heart, everything I post about COVID, about civil rights, predatory capitalism, blind faith, or whatever, is just as much my own struggle to cope.

And frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m sick of trying.

So nothing about this post is an attempt at reason. I’m sick of writing. Sick of being any sort of public figure. Sick of hearing my own “messages.” These words are just graffiti.

Yesterday I accompanied my spouse out into the world of people to do some shopping. She needed the company, and at least some break from driving everywhere herself all week long, to one appointment or another.

On the way out, I had taken on a newish frame of mind, a friendly feeling that mask-less people in this Red state aren’t *all* antagonistic. And that while my mask is a statement, I can still wave at these people the way Nebraskans do when they see each other at gas stations. I had a new hope for Tolerance not as passivity, but as giving people’s motives the benefit of the doubt.

First stop, Shopko Optical in Lincoln. Lincoln with its mask mandate. Shopko Optical with a sign in the window saying masks are required and 6-feet social distance recommended.

Three employees inside. One with her mask at her chin; one with his below his nose; one with no mask anywhere in sight.

I spoke up from the tolerance-doesn’t-mean-silence attitude. (It’s tough to speak up. Tougher to do so calmly.) “I don’t mean to be impolite, but what’s with the masks?”

“Oh! Sorry. No problem. When nobody else is in the store, we sort of relax, and we just forgot to put them back.”

I think she was the manager. Her mask went up. The guy pulled his mask over his nose. The other woman stared at me blandly, then asked to go on break. When she came back, it was mask-less. At her desk, she held a mask one-handed over her face for a couple of minutes, then dropped it.

The rest of the trip was pretty much the same. Step into a store, mental defenses up, no one masked in sight, then notice a few with masks, glance at each other with a sense of embattled camaraderie. Grit my teeth behind the mask-less bitch coughing in the check-out line.

So much for a fucking sense of equanimity.

One of my wife’s step-brothers died of COVID this week. My age. Had been having moments of forgetfulness from what turned out to be mini strokes from blood clots migrating from his lungs. Then the clots killed him. Unvaccinated. Someone she shared her teenage years with in the same house.

A 10-year-old boy nearby, dead of brain lesions. Unvaccinated. Some don’t want to admit it’s COVID related, but he’d just gotten over COVID.

What was I saying? Oh, right. Trying for equanimity.

Earlier last week, I had an annual physical. The MD asked how my head is doing. The usual annual conversation with him:

Me: “I’m a thinker living with bouts of migraine/seizure. An extrovert living in isolation. An educated Liberal in a Red state of uneducated Trump worshippers. A guy with a college science background among people with a chip on their shoulder toward ‘eggheads.’ This COVID denial is a perpetual frustration. When will it end?”

Him: “It’s never going away.”

Me: “I don’t mean COVID.”

Him: “I know. And then they come to me wanting me to fix them.”

Silence.

Him: “So, are you still writing? Still publishing?”

He asks that as a gauge of my migraine/seizure trouble. Can I still function.

Yes, I still function.

But I’m emotionally worn out even trying to care whether my unvaccinated neighbors die. Every day, I wake up wondering about Trump, “Is that son-of-a-bitch dead yet?”

Every time I hear another news story of an unvaccinated person with COVID, them begging other people to reconsider, I feel grimly thankful that they got it, hoping that their treatment ruins them financially, that their physical suffering is severe enough to shake their COVID-denying family and friends. My only reason for hoping they live is that they’ll spread the message instead of it dying with them.

There’s my equanimity. The thought that with enough suffering and death, the surviving deniers will come around. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of lightening the ship enough for us to turn from *complete* environmental catastrophe, because COVID and climate change are equally environmental.

And with that last, post-comma phrase, I slipped back into message mode. I’ll stop myself right there. My purpose is graffiti. Just spray paint defacing the side of a building to say, “I was here. And I fucking protest.”

It Goes Over the Nose

Image by Marcos Cola from Pixabay

Jennifer & I did our monthly grocery run to Lincoln today. Swung through Seward on the way back to drop off a FedEx envelope, buy a pack of water filter cores, & pick up a few things at Walmart we couldn’t get elsewhere.

At Walmart, a couple of employees, guys in their late teens or early 20’s, were staffing the self-checkout area with their masks below their noses, one nearly on his chin.

Walmart’s corporate policy is employees must wear masks.

“You know that’s supposed to go over your nose, right?” I said, glowering above my “Because Science” mask. “Otherwise you might as well not wear it at all.”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding, grinning a shit-eating “This old guy’s a sheeple” grin. Neither moved his mask. As I left, they were chatting & laughing in self-congratulatory anti-science chummery.

I stopped by a checker, mature woman, to tell her what had happened. She called her crew chief. I told the crew chief, another mature woman, and she said, uncomfortably, “I’ll take care of it.”

Jen & I headed out to the car. No crew chief talking to nobody. Young guys still chuckling with their masks below their noses.

I’ll admit, any polite, non-confrontational, “let’s be tolerant,” Liberal would have driven away, helpless, chanting the mantra “Don’t let them live rent-free in your head.” That’s certainly my inclination. Confrontation is miserable. Even writing this post is uncomfortable. But helplessness feels worse. And nowadays it’s irresponsible.

So I went back in, to the Service Desk, asked for the manager. A polite, professional young guy named Jermaine came over, wearing a mask.

“Hi, Jermaine,” I said through my mask, coolly & politely. “Walmart has a corporate policy about employees masking, right?” He nodded, eyes professionally engaged with mine. I told him what I told you just now. Then said, “Look, I get it. They don’t believe in masking, and that’s fine. But they should follow corporate policy.”

“Absolutely, I’ll go take care of it,” he said, & headed over.

The point is, I could have driven away, silently seething, while those ignorant ass-hats grinned. Instead, the shoe was on the other foot. I drove away grinning, with them facing their own helplessness. Because while knowledge survives even in silence, ignorant slogans die without a vocal feedback loop. And corporate put the kibosh on theirs, at least during working hours.

For over a year now, I’ve been making this point: “If you cannot reason with them, shame them and walk away. Don’t carry the misery away with you, leaving them to feel superior. Hold on to your confidence and hand them the misery.”

To put it more succinctly, don’t let them live in your head rent-free, choose to live in theirs rent free instead.

Our loved ones deserve our courage.

You can’t make new old friends

I’m sitting here tonight, sick to my stomach with fear and anger, hoping against hope that my oldest friend, one of my two best friends, a man I’ve known since high school, doesn’t have COVID. That his wife doesn’t have COVID. That if they do, they survive.

They’ve taken every possible precaution, for themselves and their community. But not everyone you meet does. And the careless don’t care. That’s what careless means.

I live in the American “Heartland,” among “good old boys” who “would give you the shirt off his back.” But they won’t mask. So much for the term “heartland.” So much for a claim to generosity.

As a writer and a public figure, I labor over every social media post I make. Is the wording clear, is it strong, is it free from excess emotion, have I given it every chance to be effective? I’ve labored over this one just as much. So it’s from heart and head alike. Here’s the message.

I shouldn’t have to live in fear just because the “heartland” scoffs at science. That your scoffing is ignorance is self-evident in the science grades you scored in school.

I shouldn’t have to live in anger just because anti-maskers have a chip on their shoulders about officials “telling them what to do.” Grow up.

Over the past year, I’ve been reasoning with the liberal community that tolerance cannot be unending. That some lines have to be drawn. That ignorance should be shamed. Shame is the only thing with any chance of changing stubbornness.

Tonight, in this post, I’m intentionally facing down that ignorance with a shame backed by fury. The type of cold, reasoned fury that comes from the heart but is measured by the mind.

Let me be clear. This post isn’t about anti-vaxxing conspiracy. Though anti-vaxxing is foolishness, it isn’t the intentional, careless selfishness of anti-maskers.

Anti-masking is unforgivable. It hurts you not at all to wear a goddam mask. It doesn’t tread on your freedoms. But in your heart, you already know that. You just don’t have the backbone to face it. You have neither the love nor courage to do what’s right.

I’ve gone back and forth with myself whether to include this paragraph right here, because as a public statement, it weakens my case, letting some dismiss this post as overly emotional. So I’ve deleted “Fuck you” a couple of times. But how else am I to express the sick frustration of worry about my oldest friend?

Deep breath. Calm.

If you don’t mask, your ignorant selfishness is on public display. Your “personal freedom” is a lie, because you cluster with others of your kind, repeating whatever they say like a tribe of magpies, lacking the personal courage to stand out from that crowd.

Stop being a coward. Facing me isn’t bravery with the mob at your back. You want to show your courage and freedom? Take a stand against them.

I am.