No, I did not wear a mask when I stepped into the Goodman Theatre lobby Monday evening. Yes, I had read the explicit instructions in their email earlier that day.
“Remember that face coverings are required for all patrons attending the performance, regardless of vaccination status. We will provide a mask if someone in your party is in need.”
Why? The usual selfishness that greases our slide through life. I got my vaccination in April. So I’m OK. Besides, you never know how strict such instructions are. An actual, bar-you-at-the-door requirement, like the Lyric Opera’s iron rule that if you arrive 10 seconds past curtain you have to stand there like an idiot, watching a monitor? Or mere cover-your-butt legalese winked at by those in the know?
I grasped it was the former when a polite young man intercepted me three steps through the door, offering a basket of paper masks. I apologized, fumbling for the familiar lump in my pocket. I had brought my own, just in case.
Why not? I shovel the sidewalk in front of my house, use my turn signal, all the usual concessions to being part of a community. I can do a mask, too. Though I am human, and don’t like being inconvenienced. Sitting in the theater beforehand, it occurred to me that once the play started, I could slip my mask down in the darkness and nobody would be the wiser.
“All patrons must wear a mask before, during and after the performance,” a voice announced. Twice.
Darn, I thought.
I didn’t fear that if I slipped the mask under my nose, someone would hit me with a handheld spotlight, the way Blue Man Group shamed patrons slipping into the theater after the show began while a voice boomed “Late! LATE! LAAAAAAATE!!!”)
But I can take instruction. The theater is full of conventions. You must have a ticket and — this one I learned the hard way at Chicago Shakespeare — the date on the ticket must correspond with that day’s date. Joining the action onstage is generally frowned upon, as is turning to your neighbor and loudly commenting upon the performance (unless you are sitting behind me at the aforementioned Lyric. Then, heck, you can whip out a concertina and start playing “Lady of Spain” and it’s OK, apparently).
At the Goodman, as soon as “School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play” began, I completely forgot I was wearing a mask, lost in the laugh-out-loud funny doings at the Aburi Girls’ Secondary School.
As to why masks are such a huge honking deal in the old Confederacy, remember, these are the same people who felt the need to break away from the United States if staying meant they couldn’t keep slaves. They have odd notions of freedom. There is something in psychology called “compensation” where deficiency in one area prompts overemphasis in another. So if you, say, surrender all critical thought, sheeplike, to a jabbering fraud, you might turn around assert your independence by refusing to wear a strip of cotton over your face. Even if it means your kids could die.
They’re used to this. Sandy Hook didn’t prompt passage of even one common-sense gun ordinance to discourage such carnage. So don’t expect jammed ICUs and schools swept by COVID-19 to inspire many diehard anti-maskers to consider changing their minds. Following orders? That’s Communism!
Not to be mean. If there is an upside to this, it is a creeping sympathy. Supposedly we are so divided against one another. But seeing the ignorant, self-immolating pushback against masks, any scorn I once had has melted into genuine pity. Those stories of deathbed conversations. “I had no idea I could get sick; why didn’t somebody tell me?!”
Some people are just so stupid. And selfish. I would be ashamed to stand up in a public meeting and claim my liberty is being infringed because I have to mow my lawn. Others, obviously, not so much. I don’t hate them. I can’t. Not when this punishment, almost Biblical in scale, is bearing down, marching from home to home.
“Here neighbor,” I say, “smear this lamb’s blood over your doorway and the Angel of Death will pass your household by.”
“No, not me. Do you know how hard it is to get lamb’s blood off stucco?”
“Ah, well, OK. Suit yourself.”