There are two women leaning against a railing overlooking the medieval armor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on a Sunday afternoon. Both have shoulder-length, proudly gray hair, are resplendent in wooden jewelry and draped in clashing layers of flowing tapestry ranging from clay to marigold to topaz, some with vaguely ethnic-inspired patterning.
The two women are in conversation, six feet apart down to the inch and laughing. They’re having a good time. The tableau is a sort of variation on a theme, an aesthetic we might call Santa Fe Art Mom and they are exactly the sort of person you’d expect, as they are, to be wearing two face masks, each.
These two women were numbers four and five out of six people I counted sporting two face masks, one directly top of the other, on a recent cold and drizzly afternoon trip to the Met. The double face mask is a queer, late-stage coronavirus grotesquerie. Just as America’s trifling, paper-pushing dictators sensed skepticism metastasizing in the peasant flock, they needed to make things a little more frightening. Turns out, the one mask you’ve been wearing for an entire year was never good enough.
In February, the Centers for Disease Control updated coronavirus recommendations to include double masking. Dr Fauci and President Joe Biden enthusiastically got on board. California’s embattled governor, Gavin Newsom, also suggested just last week two masks ought to be worn in public.
‘We are encouraging people basically to double down on mask wearing, particularly in light of all what I would argue is bad information coming from at least four states in this country,’ Newsom said, referring to free states such as Florida and Texas which have yet to see adverse consequences from eliminating mask mandates.
I’ve noticed something while counting double-maskers around New York City: there’s a protocol. The inner layer is a standard blue surgical mask while the outer sheath is reserved for fashion or political expression. Blue mask first, followed by a chic, understated black ninja mask, a sequin Aztec pattern, or a simple printed proclamation such as ‘VOTE!’, ‘Black Lives Matter’, or ‘I Can’t Breathe’ (yes, neither can we).
But this layering effect also has the intention of announcing the person is, in fact, wearing two masks, in case you were wondering. The white trim of the surgical mask starkly contrasts in color, shape and texture with the superimposed fashion mask.
There’s a sense of pride to it, as though the double-masker would like to be congratulated on their up-to-the-minute adherence to the rules. Is anyone going to thank me for my service, they wonder. In reality, the double masker simply makes everyone else uncomfortable — and not out of shame. Double-maskers are stridently obtuse about the actual message they broadcast — one that marches into the room and boldly declares: get away from me! I watch too much news and I am unwell. Take me in your dwarven arms, Fauci, I’m yours.
These are people who wish to inform you they aspire to join a far more totalitarian society and they’ll go that extra mile, or layer of cloth, to be first in line. The beaches were nice in Cuba, they’ll report back from holiday, but the government could really learn a thing or two from the Chinese.
It’s nice to realize some things will still shock me. Seeing a double-masker does it every time. I struggle to grasp how we’re the same species walking the same earth, bleeding the same blood and, no matter how many masks they put on, I regret to inform, still breathing the same air.
We don’t get much excitement around these parts, the pampered Park Slope liberal says from the organic food co-op check-out lane. And that’s another reason for their accelerationist attitude toward the plague. A global pandemic, shutting down the entire world? That’s exciting. Something is happening and it sure beats baby yoga classes and weekends at Dia: Beacon.
When the news says there’s a problem, the languishing liberal is ready to do their part to make the world a better, safer place, as they’ve always promised they would. But it doesn’t count if no one sees it. Rather than staying home to stop the spread, a trip to the Met becomes essential travel if the opportunity presents to point out what everyone else is doing wrong. And if next week, the state recommends 37 masks and wearing a clove of garlic around your neck, that’s exactly what these people will do.
They are nurse by proxy, expert by osmosis, a balefire for what is accurate and moral. And that’s all that matters. The double-masker, trudging headlong against the swell of society’s silent rejection of perpetual mandates, remains aloof to their own repugnance. Blinded by the stinking cloud of their own goodness, they’ll never see all the cocked eyebrows, low-pointed fingers and snickering directed at the circus freak on the train wearing two masks. And that’s the real tragedy.