James Lileks
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Oh, no: I got in an argument about masks.

Oh, no, you quietly think: “I kinda liked this guy. Thought well of him. Silly fellow, sure, but he’s not one of ... one of those, is he?”

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No, I’m not. There. Feel better?

You think: “No, because you didn’t say whether you’re on the side that thinks masks are meaningless theater designed to bring about a compliant, sheeplike population that gives up its constitutional right to exhale unimpeded, or the side that believes all possible social approbation should be brought down on people who don’t wear a mask in the car. What if you gave it to the radio announcer?”

That’s right, I didn’t specify which of those options applied, because those are polarizing descriptions of the mask debate, which is growing louder as more Minnesota cities debate mandatory masks. But if you wonder what side I’m on, I believe the words “mask” and “debate” should’ve been socially distanced long ago. It’s like having an “umbrella debate” when it’s been hailing daily for four months.

I hardly think the masks are a bulletproof solution, unless they’re made of Kevlar. But I’ve been wearing one since this whole thing began, and let me tell you, do I have a weird looking beard now. I have calluses around the back of my ears. So what was the argument about?

Why I don’t have a permanent personal mask.

My explanation: I don’t want to participate in mask culture.

Granted, I made that up on the spot, because the real reason was that I bought a lot of disposable masks when this began because I assumed people would be having fistfights over them at the store, like combination Tickle Me Elmo/Black Friday riots, except with the added fear of mortality. I see a $9 mask at the store, and I revert to sensible, budget-minded parent: We have masks at home.

I also don’t want to have to choose a mask that says something about me. Black mask? No, because I’m not dangerously hip. Red mask? No, I don’t work at Target. Camo-patterned mask? Yeah, that’s me, Mr. Special Ops, can shoot a guy from 32 miles away. Spider-Man mask? Yep, I’m 12, just prematurely gray.

My wife bought a bunch of masks, but the only one I like has an interesting 1940s floral pattern you’d see on a film-noir nightgown. I can see wearing that pattern under one circumstance: I am Bogart, she is Bacall and I put on her robe by mistake. These are highly specific conditions unlikely to occur.

The paper disposable mask, on the other hand, sends a different message: This will end. Surely not with the next mask I take out of the box. Doubtful with the next 10. But there will come a day when there’s one left, and I’ll think: No need to reorder because that time has passed.

Of course, I will have already reordered, because I saw a great deal on some with a nice shade of blue. Matches my eyes and my favorite ties but that is completely irrelevant. Mostly. Kinda.

OK, just a bit, but it’s still disposable. That’s the point. This isn’t permanent, and I’m not buying a $9 mask. It’s a matter of principle.

And I’m just cheap.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks