David Leibowitz

I spent a chunk of Wednesday at the dermatologist’s office, sitting in the waiting room. 

Twenty minutes cooling my heels typically isn’t fun, but this time there was entertainment, pandemic style: a guy in his 50s who bristled at the receptionist offering him a disposable face mask.

“We’re requiring masks for everyone’s safety,” she explained. 

“Yeah, I’m sure this’ll fix everything,” said Mr. Tucked-In Tommy Bahama Shirt. “You know these are dangerous, right?”

He took a few steps toward the door, to leave in protest, then apparently changed his mind. Our hero settled for sighing and eye-rolling his way to a chair beneath the lobby flat screen, where, mask on, he commenced barking into his iPhone.

“If I sound muffled, it’s because they’ve got me wearing this stupid %$@^ing mask,” he told the poor soul on the other end of the phone.

It seems covering one’s face in public has become the latest flashpoint in our ongoing COVID-19 wars. 

Costco discovered this a couple weeks ago, immediately after announcing a new policy requiring members and guests to wear a face covering when entering its warehouses.

 This 21st century pandemic update of the old “no shirt, no shoes, no service” sign sent some Costco members into a frothing rage, complete with #BoycottCostco trending on social media and a wave of canceled memberships. 

Soon after came the predictable backlash: Costco received a wave of support for not buckling to the threats and for keeping its mask requirement in place. 

Expect many more such arguments to occur over the next few weeks, as our economy lurches back into motion, businesses begin reopening and hordes on both sides of this argument turn a simple act—wearing a cheap mask or piece of cloth over your nose and mouth—into a referendum on patriotism, freedom, manhood, civility, intelligence, common courtesy and anything else they can dream up and turn into a meme.

You know what wearing a mask really means? It means you’re wearing a mask. And pretty much nothing else. 

You know what not wearing a mask means? It means you’re not wearing a mask. And pretty much nothing else.

Anymore, as we split ourselves into warring tribes, we seek to invest with massive meaning all sorts of small acts that we hold out as proof we belong to this or that club.

 Mask wearers hold themselves out to be more evolved than those who refuse to wear a mask. Members of Team Breathe Free or Die think of themselves as outlaw badasses, freedom fighters willing to sacrifice buying raw almonds and toilet paper in bulk at Costco in service to their cause.

The truth? It’s just a mask, people. Get over yourselves. 

Medical science in large part has come down on the side of wearing a mask while in public and in close proximity to others as a way of slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

For me, that’s reason enough to cover my face if I’m going to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the post office, Costco or any potentially crowded spot. 

By contrast, I haven’t been wearing a mask when I’m walking the dog, going on a hike or playing golf while keeping a reasonable distance from my playing partners.

In either case, it’s a decision predicated mostly on common sense and a little bit on comfort—and not at all on “what’s the message I’m sending?”

As for the masked avenger in my dermatologist’s office, he may still be sitting there grousing about being forced to wear a mask.

To me, it should’ve been the least of his worries. After all, as everyone knows, only idiots tuck in Hawaiian shirts.