Little victories in the mask/no-mask wars
Here he comes, straight at me, along an indoor corridor.
He’s a man half my age. He isn’t wearing a face mask. I am.
Yes, we will have passed one another in less than a second. Yes, he looks healthy. Yes, I could just let it go.
But shouldn’t I send him a message just the same? Broadcast to him that I disapprove. Yet do it silently, not putting myself at risk of a tongue-lashing or a right hook.
My method is the parabola.
I do not yell at oncoming mask-avoiders, especially if they are half my age. I do not lecture them. I do not smirk, or grimace, or make any sort of hand signal.
I simply arc to my right, diverting from my previous path by a couple of feet, eyes straight ahead. I pass the offender. Then I arc back to my left and go on my merry (and healthful) way.
A nice, crisp, effective parabola.
The Parabola Method has served me well across these nearly two years of weirdness and danger. Not once have I raised anyone’s hackles. Not once has the mask-avoider made a comment.
Most important, I have avoided a possible brush with the dreadful virus for one more moment.
I fall back in love with The Parabola Method every time I read a news story about a confrontation involving a mask.
A clerk reminds a maskless patron of the indoor rules at her store. She gets a screaming lecture, and maybe a direct assault, for her trouble.
A flight attendant insists that a passenger mask up. More than 3,000 times since the pandemic arrived, according to the Transportation Security Administration, that passenger has responded with once-unthinkable physical threats — or pushes or punches.
Even in families, including a few I know, a request to mask up during an indoor get-together can lead to harsh words, even a rupture of relations.
The Parabola Method would not prevent many — and maybe not any — of these eruptions. It works best between passing strangers. But it’s especially effective for older, masked people.
We 65-plus inhabitants of the planet are at greater risk from the virus simply because of our age. Add to that the possibility/likelihood that we have compromised immune systems, and it’s imperative that we avoid casual brushes with contagion.
Of course, all of us have learned at our advanced ages that preaching about anything doesn’t always work.
Getting on a high horse can leave younger relatives, co-workers, fellow passengers on a bus, annoyed and defiant — about any subject, not just COVID. Preaching and moralizing can actually reduce the chances of a maskless person doing the right thing.
The glory of The Parabola Method is that it protects an older person, and also sends a hard-to-miss message.
No words are exchanged, and none are necessary. As the parabolizer navigates sharply to his right, the oncoming person can’t help but notice.
And what is the result? About half the time, shame crosses that passing face.
It’s worth the trouble — in the same way that flicking one’s headlights at an oncoming speeding car is worth the trouble.
Shame him. Bring him up short. Make the next guy safer.
One friend has adopted a more direct approach to his own safety. He has ordered a T-shirt that reads: I AM OLD. THE VIRUS WORRIES ME. PLEASE WEAR A MASK.
He points at the message whenever a maskless person approaches. He tells me he gets plenty of eye-rolls in return — but also requests for the website where he ordered the shirt.
Then there’s the friend, well over 70, who is known as Mr. One Word. When it comes time to pay at a restaurant, he will say to the server: “Check.” When someone hits a home run at a baseball game he’s attending, he will blurt: “Gone.”
And when someone approaches him with an uncovered face, he will call out: “Mask.”
This friend is fatalistic about the risks he runs. If someone wants to retaliate, well, he says, he has lived a nice life. “I’m right and they’re wrong,” he says, hugely expanding his usual word count.
And yet, The Parabola Method can pay immediate benefits.
The other day, masked as always, I parabolized a 20-something guy coming toward me on a downtown sidewalk. He never broke stride.
A few steps further on, I turned around to grab a peek.
Yes! He was fishing a mask out of his pocket!
Little victories for oldsters are actually big ones. Anything to keep us going for as long as possible.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.