“Borrowed” from Alex Brandon, AP Photo.

The other day, on my way to pay a bill, I poked my head in at my barber’s shop to say howdy. My barber isn’t really just my barber: he’s Kevin, a classmate since junior high and a friend since not long after that. In fact, I owe Kevin a lot, because when I was in my 30s and skeletal, couldn’t find anything to eat that sat well and had been through an endless series of doctors and a tests without any diagnosis whatsoever, he sent me to see his mother, who fixed me.

I like Kevin very much, but I recognize he doesn’t always make a great first impression. He’s brash and abrupt, without a politically correct bone in his body. But he treats everyone that way, and he honestly doesn’t care what your race, ethnicity, gender, gender preference or religion is. Sooner or later he will say something that offends you, and he’ll probably even mean it, but he will always like or dislike you on the basis of your personality.

A little-known point about him — and he probably wouldn’t care to have this made public — is that he is forever taking in “strays,” people who have been kicked to the curb and need a place to stay. He is endlessly opening his home to people in need, and no matter how many times these people bite the hand that is literally feeding them, he keeps extending his.

This year he also finished his third year as president of Cattlemen’s Days Association, successfully pulling off one of the few rodeos on offer anywhere in the country. In the middle of this he keeps track of his parents, both of them now over 80 and with a variety of health issues. When I finally got around to calling to check on them a couple weeks ago for the first time since March, each of them separately grumbled to me about how Kevin was making them stay at their home (separated by four miles from Kevin’s) while he ran their errands and brought them groceries.

So I’m still not sure how much stock to put in our conversation the other day when I stuck my masked head in his open door and the unmasked Kevin assured me there’s nothing to this virus thing.

After he said he sure wished it was possible to know the real science of all this, I thought I’d try a different tack and said all one needs is math, to look at the morbidity tables to see how many unexpected deaths over average there have been worldwide this year. He assured me — because Kevin says everything with assurance — that he’d been looking at those same tables, and there are fewer deaths in 2020 than in either 2017 or 2018.

That was a good point at which to extract myself from the conversation, because I do like Kevin even though our politics frequently diverge, but I’ve been pondering it since. Not the conversation so much, but wondering if Kevin was jerking my chain, either for fun or — here I overthink it — to see how quickly his own statements make it back to him, based on the number of people to whom I say, “Kevin thinks the virus isn’t real.”

His dad, relatively housebound in a house with way too many stairs, spends most of his day in front of Fox News. I’m under the impression that Kevin doesn’t believe a lot of their quackery, but he also thinks people who watch CNN and MSNBC are being fed a steady stream of misinformation.

I know he hasn’t put much stock in public health measures (although he was quite complimentary of our public health director, with whom he had to work to get the rodeo to happen), and when I go to get my hair cut and leave his door open, he pulls up his bandana because he knows it makes me feel better.

But now the paradigm has shifted. Or I should say “is shifting” because it’s a process. Dominoes are falling in quick succession in Washington, D.C., and perhaps in the coming week or two in the halls at Fox: Laura Ingraham was among the coterie at the Rose Garden that may end up getting marked as a “superspreader” event, the one where the new Supreme Court nominee was introduced to an entire garden, and then enclosed spaces, full of people who had been given tests and told since they were negative they could dispense with mask-wearing. That didn’t work out so well for about eight people and counting.

Masks, incredibly, are still “optional” in the West Wing, but apparently panic is beginning to infiltrate the highest level of our government. I gather the Secret Service has been there for quite some time, angry at the president and how little he appears to care for their health and well-being. Most of these agents — people who are willing to lay their lives down for the people they are protecting — are not given covid tests as a general part of the process despite having to be in attendance at rallies and Rose Gardens. If you want to believe the Washington Post.

A college president has tested positive. Members of congress. Members of the press who were part of a pool jammed into very close proximity behind the Rose Garden guests. Staff and former staff. And we don’t even know for sure that this was the event that got the president and his aide. There have been, it turns out, a lot of events, including a fund-raiser featuring many elderly donors after it became clear Hope Hicks had tested positive.

If nothing else, the president has likely had to endure the indignity of hearing himself, repeatedly, called “elderly” and “obese” by multiple media outlets. But I have to imagine that by the time one gets taken to Walter Reed Hospital “out of an abundance of caution,” this virus might be feeling a lot more real than it was even a few days ago.

This particular positive test has members of the media recounting for us other world leaders who have had covid-19. A CBS report on Friday noted that Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom, is said to still struggle with lingering effects of his bout, which landed him in intensive care.

Which is why it would be so much easier to just put a mask on in the first place, although I guess if you’re going to regard this all as some big joke you’d have no interest in playing along.

And even if it is the president of the United States, and it is a mild case (I don’t know about you, but “hospital” doesn’t suggest nearly as mild as they’d like me to think), and it were just the one case, maybe it could still be written off as a joke. But given the amount of concern, and the numbers already quickly ticking up among those within the president’s wide circle, one wonders at what point we might stop regarding this all as a hoax.

I have to get my hair cut sometime soon, and while I’d really rather discuss the weather, or rodeo, or parents/kids/significant others, I confess to wondering if the president’s illness makes this any more real to Kevin.

2 thoughts on “Unmasked

  1. even if it’s “not bad”, he’s gonna be able to go to the hospital (and claim it’s for the sake of those around him who were concerned, or he figured it would get him the pity vote by his supporters… who are camping outside and having vigils everywhere). He gets it for free with a team of doctors at his beck and call, why not take advantage of it? Heaven knows he’s using the government as his own piggy bank to enjoy til the tax audits and creditors come knocking.

    I can’t stand the man, can barely listen to more than 10 seconds of his smug superiority at a time. But I want him to get well, because I want him to be alive and awake to see the election results. I want him beat at the polls, not taken out due to a virus. I have fingers and toes crossed that he’ll lose by so many millions it’s uncontestable in every state, no “too close to call”. Even then, he’s cry “unfair!”, I’m sure, but it would send a message, that’s for sure.


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