Now that we’ve been living with masks for more than a year now, I’ve some mask-related thoughts for you this week.
As a boy, unlike the aversion I’ve developed over the past 12 months for them, I loved masks. Of course, those I remember were far different than the ones we’ve been wearing since mid-March of 2020.
The masks from my growing-up years in the late 1950s and early ‘60s were worn by those I admired so very much, like The Lone Ranger. To refresh your memory as to his back story, he was the lone surviving Texas Ranger after an ambush killed five of his fellow law enforcers. Badly injured, the Ranger, John Reid, was nursed back to health by a Native American who stumbled upon the gory ambush aftermath. Reid fashioned a black mask and, together with Tonto, began riding throughout the West fighting for righteousness and capturing all sorts of evildoers while searching for those cutthroats who’d killed his compatriots.
Episodes tended to end the same way with someone asking as the fighters of evil rode away, “Who was that masked man?” While I was too young to have this thought it as a child, one that springs to mind now is, “Wow, that guy really needed a publicist!”
My boyhood included frequent trips to Pangle’s on Latham Avenue. Once inside, I’d head straight to the comic-book spinner rack to see how many panels in the latest comic of my favorite superhero I could read before one of the Pangle’s workers would ask if I was going to produce the dime it would take to buy the comic. Actually, I favored saving the dime I may very well have had in my pocket for a trip farther south on Cole Street to CJ Zerante’s Carryout on the corner of Cole and Allentown, where producing that pocketed dime would get me TWO packs of Topps baseball cards. Additionally, there would be that rectangular slab of bubblegum which generally took about a half hour of jaw work to break in.
As for that favorite comic-book superhero, well, that was another masked crime fighter, Batman, who I favored over Superman because his abilities seemed more impressive, given the fact that he couldn’t fly, didn’t have superhuman strength nor X-ray vision or any of the other manifold superpowers possessed by the Man of Steel. It always seemed to me Batman did more with less, using only what he could produce from his utility belt, than that other dude.
While Batman’s sobriquet was The Caped Crusader, I was more drawn to what I thought was just about the coolest mask ever, one that morphed into a cowl with those cool-looking ears reaching skyward.
And, if you’re putting together a list of other cool masks and/or cowls of yesteryear, well, you’ve just got to make room for Spiderman, Iron Man, Zorro and Darth Vader as well as one enduring star on Broadway, Erik, and if you just went “Huh?” well, he’d be more commonly known as Phantom of the Opera.
As for the pandemic-induced masks of the past year, there is something that makes me most sad that has nothing to do with the inconvenience and appearance of wearing them. It’s the fact that I see so many of them become litter, discarded in parking lots at places such as Walmart, Meijer and Chief.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past year is, as an old fella with some hearing issues that I’m too vain to address by using hearing aids, it becomes ever harder to understand people when they’re speaking from behind a mask. Also, for me, there are visual distractions when someone’s mask is so arresting that I lose focus as to what I’m being told.
That happened recently when, while working at one of my Mid-American Cleaning Contractors accounts, I had some questions for one of our cleaning supervisors who happened to be wearing a mask that showed the ear-to-ear toothy and evil grin of Batman nemesis The Joker. After I walked away, to be honest, I couldn’t really recall any of the answers to the questions I asked her!
I’ll leave you with a mask story, compliments of my younger daughter Katie, which gave me a sizable laugh in the hopes it may give you one too. A few months ago, Katie and hubby Hans were compelled to attend a funeral (not the funny part), and masks were in place pretty much for all those in attendance, both in church and at the wake that followed.
At the wake, one of the daughters of the deceased was working the room and thanking people for their attendance and their proffered condolences. At one point, she approached someone and introduced herself, while at the same time apologizing for not remembering his name although she told him he did look familiar. The man slipped his mask down to his chin and said, “Well, you should remember me. I was married to you for 21 years.” That sent both into paroxysms of laughter, perhaps their first belly laugh they’d shared since they put their feet under the same table.
So, during what we all hope is the home stretch of our mask-wearing days as we look forward to the time when all of us can communicate with one another in barefaced fashion, let’s keep searching for another dose of that best medicine ever, laughter.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.