Unmasked

superheroes 0620

Most superheroes have escaped my radar, although my mother may still have in her possession an “essay” I wrote around age 6 that declares my affinity for the campy TV show Batman “because they fight all the time.”

But most superhero TV shows went unwatched by me. I didn’t buy their comic books; and other than the first couple three of however many Christopher Reeve Superman movies there are, I haven’t partaken of the silver screen versions.

I do like Zorro, although I’m not sure he rates as a “superhero,” maybe just more a “champion of the people.” He wasn’t imbued with any special powers, just athletic prowess and an outsize distaste for abuse of power. Same with the Lone Ranger, whom I watched when I was so young I don’t remember him well.

Whether super hero or superlative champion, many of these seemingly ordinary folks disguise their alter egos with a mask. Superman takes the opposite approach, hiding his baby blues behind glasses as Clark Kent, but most of them take time to disguise their face before setting out to battle injustice.

Now, most of them hide their eyes, leaving their mouths open for the extra air required when battling villains, but right now we have all been presented with the option to be a hero and save our fellow humans, simply by donning a mask. Only there’s nothing simple about it.

At Pat’s we use latex gloves all the time, and I have often wondered, as I’m wearing them for short sweaty periods of time, about people like health professionals who wear them most of the day. Frankly, I have no idea how they do it. These days, I’m wondering how they manage with masks, especially those who wear glasses.

I have given up my reading glasses at work, because you can’t read anything when glasses are all fogged. I see — literally — that they work better if I have a mask with a wire to close it around the nose, but those masks are harder to come by, and since that wire rides right across an ancient break in my nose, they’re eventually extremely uncomfortable.

Not that I have found comfort in any day-long mask, other than the lukewarm comfort that I am trying to do my part to keep those around me, and maybe myself, safer. This comfort is only lukewarm because as every day goes by, I get a larger, more despairing sense that Gunnison as a city has decided that masks aren’t worth the hassle.

Saturday I went to my woodshop just to connect and see what might work for my schedule. Despite an e-mailed assurance to all members that masks would be required, none of the four or five men working shoulder to shoulder on the underside of a car were masked — no masks were even in sight.

From there I went to the health food store, which I apparently mistake for a progressive sort of place. The two clerks, again shoulder to shoulder, had their masks tucked under their chins while talking to each other, and when coming in and going out I held the door for fellow patrons, not a single one of which had a mask.

I backtracked to Miller Furniture, where I got the distinct sense I might have been the only “customer” (you probably have to buy something to really be a customer) of the day, but the clerk, who is required by county public health order to be wearing a mask, didn’t have one at hand and made no attempt to procure one.

Yesterday Lynn and I went to Walmart, where all employees but very few customers were wearing masks, and then to Domino’s, where not a single employee appeared to even have a mask around their neck.

Friends went to Montrose, which is politically much more conservative than Gunnison — a fact that ought to be completely irrelevant in a discussion of health and public safety measures but which sadly is playing a large role in all this — and reported that employees in the stores they visited were wearing masks, but most customers were not. Except the liquor store, where everyone was wearing a mask.

So the one safe spot in a two-county radius is a liquor store in Montrose. I’m not even sure I can count Pat’s Screen Printing among the safe spaces. While I can’t be certain, the visual looked bad when I came back from lunch Friday and two employees both immediately pulled masks back into place, as though they had used my absence as a mask holiday.

As I understand the current thinking on masks, this is more about the spewer than the spewee, and the masks most of us are wearing, made of regular ol’ cloth, aren’t keeping airborne droplets out as much as they’re stopping our own from spreading so far, particularly when we cough, sneeze, sing or shout. The superhero theory, then, is that we are protecting others without thought to ourselves. Or less thought to ourselves.

I have to admit, I am not always the paragon of virtue you assume. Outside the downtown area, I walk to and from work with my buff around my neck, because most days I make that entire walk without seeing anyone up close and personal. Of course that doesn’t mean I might not walk through a cloud of germified particles left behind or wafted in, and there are those times where I do encounter someone, like the masked surveyor of the other day, too late to pull mine up.

I am also virtuelessly thinking more of my health than others, which is a large part of my distress over my maskless fellow citizens when we come into close quarters or they lean over food they’re preparing for me.

They obviously don’t care if they contract covid-19, or assume they’re impervious, or that it’s either not real or just not a big deal. But I do care, I don’t assume I’m impervious, and I think it’s both real and a big deal. Anything that kills 100,000 people in this country in a matter of months is going to grab my attention. I don’t like getting a cold, let alone the flu, and I don’t need an illness that could debilitate me — or worse — for a month or more.

If I were a superhero, or even a human hero, I would be leaping in front of these scofflaws and lecturing them, probably handing them a mask, and they would feel chastened and learn their lesson immediately. “Thanks, Super Person!” they would say, as they put on their mask.

But that doesn’t work in real life. A letter writer to the paper tried doing just that as he was supporting a local restaurant where 20 maskless people congregated in close quarters on a deck, the restaurant owner among them. As this man is wont to do, he got out of his car and scolded them all — and was derided for it. The only cheering occurred as he left.

People don’t like to be told what to do, and if it were just in their own best interests I’d feel sorry for their stupidity, but this time it’s in my own best interest, and I feel sorry for me about their stupidity. Which is hardly a superhero attitude, but it’s the one I have.

Pay attention to the part where you can see their breath in the cold air. Any good Gunnison resident should really understand why we ought to wear masks, but I guess we don’t.

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