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.