‘Mouthbreather’ has always been a potent insult. Times have changed, and now it has added dimensions.
I thought about this as my husband and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. We both work at home - long hours - and we almost never leave our apartment. Since we had a long weekend, we decided to have a little picnic at the park and then take the long way home, along the beach.
That was a mistake.
There is a well-publicized fine in our city. Anyone caught in public areas without a mask is cited for $150. The neighborhood list has been lit up about it, because of course the people who refuse to wear their masks are also the exact sort of people who throw fits when they are caught breaking the law.
Despite this, and despite the fact that it was a Friday afternoon, there were maskless people all over the place.
It’s hard to avoid these people, because you can’t always see them coming. A lot of the sidewalks in our area are curvy because we’re on a hill. Walk along and suddenly *boom* there is a bare-naked face a foot away from you. Sidewalks are narrow and there isn’t always anywhere to go to dodge these encounters.
There are definitely two schools of thought about this, here in Corona Cove, still leading our state and the nation in total cases of COVID-19.
One school of thought says, I’m taking a personal risk and so are you. If you don’t like it, stay home.
The other school of thought says, The law is the law, we must all cooperate so this can end quickly and we can go back to normal.
I base my position on personal experience - I had COVID-19, felt like I would die, still have issues five months later, and several people in my social sphere have either had it, been in the hospital with it, lost a close family member to it, or died. I understand that the coronavirus has been consistently underestimated, time and time again. There’s no margin for me in walking down the street flashing people my mouth-hole.
We were in San Francisco one day when two cheerful gentlemen walked down the street in our direction, wearing nothing more between them than one backpack and two pairs of shoes. Honestly I’d rather see that than people’s mouth and nose parts anymore.
Here on the West Coast, we generally shrug and let people go about their business. If a young mother wishes to tow her kids down the sidewalk in a little wagon while wearing only a bikini, good for her. If an older gentleman wishes to ride his bike while playing disco out of a large speaker, sure, fine, have fun. In normal times, freedom here is colorful and you can dance to it.
The school of thought that says it’s fine to go around breaking the law and refusing to wear a mask deserves some more examination. What makes these mouthbreathers tick, anyway?
There’s this thing called the Tragedy of the Commons that I feel is disrespected and poorly understood. Worse than that, any allusion to it seems to drive some people up a tree. The very concept that certain behaviors should be voluntarily curtailed out of courtesy and altruism, so that we can all get along in dignity, makes them apoplectic.
Let’s say I like tapping my pen. I do, actually. I love tapping pens. At the same time, I realize that most people find this distracting and annoying. How many people are going to support me in my desire to tap my pen all the time, at home or at work, in a restaurant or during a movie, because it’s my right to be free and do whatever I want every single second?
Some, probably! There are plenty of people in this world who are either oppositional-defiant, antisocial, borderline, or psychopathic. Even if they collectively represent only 1% of the global population, we need them to be covered, too, because the virus doesn’t care what character disorder someone may or may not have.
(Say it’s 6% for conduct disorders, up to 4% for antisocial, 1% for borderline, 1% for psychopathy, and some overlap. If only 10% of the population are even near the vicinity of some of these traits, that’s over 32 million Americans).
Alas. Reports are that more like two out of three Americans go out at least occasionally with no mask on.
How can we explain ordinary, average people going out and recklessly endangering other people on a routine basis, without a care in the world?
I dunno about you, but I have read and seen a LOT of fictional representations of the post-apocalyptic world. I think we probably brought this on ourselves with our obsession with dystopian TV shows, books, and movies. All that endless variety of burnt-out husks filled with wandering mercenaries. I never got over Orange Backpack Guy, if you Walking Dead fans recall who I mean... We have this collective fantasy where All the Annoying People die, or most of them, and we have license to finish off the rest so that we can be masters of all we survey.
The apocalypse wasn’t supposed to have so many other people crowding up the end of the world and buying all the toilet paper. What gives?
This is all astonishing to me. We didn’t reckon with the science deniers and the mask refusers and the protesters and the mass coughing and spitting. It’s nauseating.
Hey, mask refuser. You think you’re cool but the rest of us see you and think: Gross, dumb, selfish, annoying, eww. You don’t understand germ theory? Do you eat boogers too?
This is what I thought as I passed literally dozens of bare-faced young people in their twenties, usually in groups. It’s what I thought when I realized how many dozens of people were out crowded together, not distancing at all, on the new sidewalk restaurant pop-ups that I didn’t even know were there.
I wish that people would think more about the commons. I also wish we would think more about the categorical imperative. I suppose I’ll have more time to do both, now that once again I’ve been terrified back into my apartment by my mouthbreathing neighbors.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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