Codger might never take off his mask if it weren’t for his iPhone, which insists he tap out his password if it can’t see his naked face. It’s easier for Codger to slip the mask down and be recognized by Apple than try to remember all those numbers and letters.
After all, it took Codger a while to become used to a mask, the fogged glasses, the lost breaths, the sore ears, the need to speak louder. But as he began enjoying shaving less often and mumbling insults that no one could hear or even lip read, the mask became a welcome companion.
But now we are on the verge of the Great Unmasking, which some pundits see as a physical and psychological liberation; Americans will be free of fear, they say, prepared to resume their pre-COVID lives.
Codger hopes they are right, but he worries about this summer season as a tricky transitional period when wearing a mask might no longer just represent keeping the microbes at bay, but as a symbol of various social, political and cultural statements. Codger has never been against making statements, but he isn’t sure where he stands on all the different issues, or even if there is clear land to stand on.
What would choosing to wear or not wear a mask mean? He can’t remember if wearing a mask signifies that you are a Democrat or a Republican; if you believe the virus was created in a Chinese lab or a gourmet cheese shop in the Hamptons; if the unpleasantness at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was an insurrection — the Fort Sumter of the New American Civil War — or a rock concert that got out of hand.
And now that Shelter Island is approaching herd immunity, according to Chief Jim Read, all this will have local impact. It’s going to become harder to be sure where and when to wear a mask. Codger would think the IGA, the library and the post offices are still masks-on for awhile.
The Recycling Center seems to be becoming a no-masks land these days, especially among the pickers who lurk around the plastic and glass bins, poised to scoop up recyclables they can redeem outside the IGA. Where does Codger stand on masks at the dump or on pickers? They seem to be cool, but is the town losing money because of them. Does it care? Should he?
This is what mulling about masks leads to.
For example, the golfers on the almost greens of the Shelter Island Country Club don’t wear masks, which seems fine for those who carry their clubs. They need to breathe freely. But do the cart people? What about the guy who parks along Shore Road and plays a few holes? If he’s not a paying customer, should he be allowed to breathe free?
Forget about making rules for the Gardiner’s Bay Country Club members, they’re used to making their own. Maybe you can’t get affordable housing on the Island, but they want to build some for their employees. Eventually, thinks Codger, there will be condos overlooking the very greens, so club members can play, have dinner, get drunk, sleep it off, wake up and play another round.
Obviously, there will have to be new rules about wearing masks. For example, anyone even considering voting for Lee Zeldin, for anything, will be asked to wear a special mask at all times that will bear the word “Shame.” Also, people who call other people “maskholes.”
Just as one can win prizes ranging from a free drink to a college scholarship for getting vaccinated, there should be incentives for mask wearing among the unvaccinated, perhaps discounts at Maria’s and Marie’s or, if the higher rates are approved, free ferry tickets.
People who refuse to be vaccinated present a problem, especially those who claim individual rights; Codger thinks it’s not a right to endanger other people, whether it’s driving drunk or sending your kids to school without their inoculations. How do we deal with that? Should the un-vaxxed have to wear masks? Does Codger have a right to know if you’ve been vaccinated or not, especially if you’re sitting next to him on the Jitney or in the Dory?
Codger hopes the Great Unmasking will be slow and careful, offering slack both to those who quickly strip off their veils and those who unmask slowly, reluctant to leave the protection of the maskerade. Codger wonders if he will miss any part of it.
After all, Codger’s hero growing up was the Lone Ranger, who believed in fairness and social justice and always rode off before they handed out the trophies. His reward was hearing the phrase that still thrills Codger — “Who was that masked man?”