Imagine for a moment that I have designed the greatest mask in the world. My invention, let’s call it the Detroit One, protects the owner so well that it’s the equivalent of being surrounded by 2 tons of fiberglass and steel. It has a battery powered air purifier and a set of airbags that immediately inflate to come between you and the rest of the world in the event of a catastrophic failure of social distancing. But that’s not all. Lest you think such a mask would be unworkably heavy, over 100 years of testing have shown that far from being a burden, the Detroit One will actually carry you to your destination in comfort and luxury. All it requires is that once a week you fill it up with gasoline, which is now selling for under 2 dollars a gallon.
Today I road my bike through my hometown, the working-class suburb of Roselle, NJ, a community of just over 20,000 people squarely inside the hot zone of the New York Metropolitan Area. Roselle, like some of the more posh towns directly to the west, has neighborhoods with row after row of neat little post-World-War-II Cape Codes and Split Levels, a vision of New Deal middle-class equality. It’s also a bit more densely populated, or at least it seems that way. Due to the relative scarcity of garages, the streets always seemed packed with cars, so packed that I’m often happy that I’m riding a bike. I suppose that in the post-2008 world, a mortgage in a “good” suburb is more difficult to get than a car loan. Thus the rather impressive number of expensive late model SUVs and luxury sedans that make the streets so difficult to navigate.
In any event, while nostalgically riding past my old junior high school, I noticed what seemed to be a rather large “house party” put on by some kind of motorcycle club. Not only where the sidewalks clogged with Japanese made “sport bikes,” the front lawns of several adjacent houses were filled the dozens of people, none of whom were wearing masks, and all of whom were clearly violating six feet (my height and Trump’s penis size) rule for social distancing. Even worse, the party seemed to be breaking up. Large families were walking in the middle of the street. People were milling about on the sidewalk. Many of the party guests were clearly in a good mood and slightly inebriated. One man even called out to me “bro do you want a beer?”For a moment I thought about simply turning around and going back in the opposite direction but eventually I saw a clear path and dashed through the crowd to the opposite side.
When I turned around I was astonished. Some of the same people who had been drinking, eating and celebrating together without masks were putting on masks just before they got into their cars. One young woman tied a mask around her toddler’s neck before donning her own. A man in his twenties strapped on a red bandana before putting on his motorcycle helmet and firing up his Yamaha. Another woman, who seemed to be in her 30s, was arguing with her son, who appeared to be in middle school. Perhaps he will eventually go to the same junior high school I did, the one right down the street. A rush of nostalgia overtook me when I realized that decades ago, in the crisis of legitimacy that overtook the American ruling class in the 1970s, we were talking about “killer bees” the same way the media in 2020 is talking about “murder hornets.” In any event, the young boy, quite understandably, didn’t want to wear a mask on the way home. “Why do I have to wear a fucking mask in the car,” he said, and yes he dropped the F Bomb. Personally I was on his side, but his mother was having none of it. She grabbed her son, tied a mask around the back of his neck, and shoved him into the back of their car
“I”m not going to tell you again,” I heard her say. “Put your mask on or the cops are going to give me a ticket.”