COVID Confessions: To mask or not to mask

I saw a young couple holding hands and strolling down the sidewalk on 10th Street with some groceries the other day. The guy was wearing a blue surgical facemask; the girl wasn’t wearing a mask of any kind.

She was smiling. I assumed he was too, but I couldn’t tell.

I know people who would call that girl wildly irresponsible, a public health risk and a bad example.

I know people who would have her companion raked over the coals too, who would make fun of him and tease him for being cowardly or looking ridiculous.

Personally, I didn’t have a problem with either of them, although I thought it was much too hot to be outside and smile about it. There weren’t any other people on the sidewalk and the girl didn’t appear to be coughing violently, so I figured she could get away with going maskless. On the other hand, if wearing that blue surgical mask made the guy feel safer or more comfortable, that’s his prerogative.

On Friday, it won’t matter from a legal standpoint. The governor has decided masks are optional, and whatever peoples’ opinions on that are, as of Friday no one can do anything but strongly encourage that girl to cover her smile while she’s walking down the sidewalk.

The first time I wore a mask for any other occasion than Halloween was mid-March, when the local authorities told me I had to.

It wasn’t a mask, technically. Masks were still hard to come by at that point, so I made do with a handkerchief.

It was a little after 9 p.m. and I realized I was running perilously short on beer.

I wondered if a six-pack was an essential purchase. It felt pretty essential to me. Technically, it was a grocery, I thought, so it oughta count.

I stuck my handkerchief in my pocket and strolled to the gas station across the street from my apartment.

I faced another difficult decision at that juncture. The gas station by my apartment has a sort of seedy feel to it, the kind of place people wear guarded looks and try to look tough because they’re vaguely afraid of being mugged.

The kind of place, I thought, a guy wearing a yellow bandana around his face might be mistaken for an outlaw and get himself shot at. I looked at myself in the reflection of the gas station windows.

I looked like I was about to rob a train.

I tied the bandana around my neck, and re-tied it when I couldn’t get it over my chin. I left it there, hung on my chin, as I walked up to the door. I caught the clerk’s eye and awkwardly tried to indicate through hand gestures that I was perfectly willing to cover my face and, despite appearances to the contrary, it wasn’t a holdup.

“ Put your covering on,” she said casually.

She must have agreed that Miller Lite was essential, because she sold it to me.

I walked back across the street to my apartment and I paused for a moment while I was crossing 10th, looking left and right. There weren’t any headlights in either direction; all I could hear was the wind.

Strange times, I thought, tucking my bandana back in my pocket.

I’ve since acquired a real facemask and I generally wear it instead of a bandana, although I do miss looking like Billy the Kid.

A week ago I went to Whataburger and didn’t have my new facemask on. I didn’t realize my faux pas till a woman walked up to take my order.

I looked into her eyes over her facemask. Was that fear in her eyes? Was every breath I took inspiring sheer terror? Should I just consign myself to eating a burger with mustard on it and cut the conversation short to spare the poor girl from having to languor in my exhale? I felt terribly rude.

“Okay, that’ll be $5.52,” she said.

Maybe it wasn’t fear at all. You can’t tell much about someone’s opinions when they’re wearing a mask.

I went for fast food again the other day, the day I saw that couple walking down 10th. The guy’s mask reminded me I should try to avoid terrorizing the teller.

I put it on. It was hot and they couldn’t hear me well through the intercom. I didn’t like it.

I asked the teller if he got mad when someone came through without a mask. He shrugged.

“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said.

Maybe that’s the case for some people, maybe even most people. Other people are afraid, and I think it’d be terribly rude to go about frightening them when all I have to do is string a cheap surgical mask across my mug.

Even if it’s hot and it smells funny and I hate it.

We don’t have to wear masks anymore, but I probably will when I can.

It’s polite.

Editor’s Note: The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyday life across the Rio Grande Valley. To document that change, The Monitor is publishing personal accounts from journalists and everyday citizens. These are the stories of ordinary life in an extraordinary time. If you have a story to share, email us at