Harry and the Sheep

The Orange County I see every day is very white, very nice, possibly politically conservative (depending on your definition of political and conservative), and not very interested in wearing masks.

It is almost endearing how few f’s are given about masks, like the stately gentleman in Titanic who refused a life vest but ordered another brandy. I saw an old Asian woman being pushed in a wheelchair down my street. She turned and smiled at me, and I had to multi-task with a smile back while trying to process whether this was the oldest breathing creature I’d ever seen. There must have been some tortoise I spotted on a remote vacation that can contend.

This lady had one foot in the afterlife and still wasn’t wearing a mask. I guess when you lived through the Boxer Rebellion and fought off the Spanish flu in your 30s, this pandemic isn’t so scary. No substitute for experience.

I went to the beach in Newport (O.C.) and Santa Monica (L.A.) on consecutive days, and it was like two different civilizations. No one wore masks on the sand, but in L.A. everyone wore masks everywhere else.

Are we missing something down the 405? Is there a nasty cold or something going around?

My wife and child picnic at a park off Back Bay, while I work out with sprints up an adjacent hill. There are full-on pickup basketball games running in the park now. It’s a beautiful diversity of skin colors, especially for this area — white, black, brown, yellow — but they huff on each other without masks and clearly don’t belong to the same household unless Orange County is more progressive than the numbers show.

Meanwhile on the hill, I suffocate in my thick cloth mask under the sun while zigzagging to keep six feet away. No one else cares to deviate from moving in a straight line, let alone wear a mask — including the elderly folks whom I picture protecting when I pull on mine.

A social distancing reminder was placed at the top of the hill. Check out the sweet bumper sticker response:


Tying patriotism to mask or no mask is an interesting endeavor. The salient event in my lifetime was September 11, when about 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks. We recently passed 200,000 Covid-19 deaths.

If 9-11 happened 66 times in six months, if every three days we woke up to another 9-11… how many nukes would our commander-in-chief have tried to fire by now? He would be launching them on a swivel if Congress let him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but the logic is sound. There was a threat on American soil, and Americans rallied, enlisted, came together, changed rules and fought two wars. There is a threat on American soil, and you don’t even have to be a Marine to be on the front lines. You can just put on a mask and go on with your day, not exactly a hearty Londoner ducking for cover from Nazi air raids in 1940.

The inconvenience is such a tiny cost compared to military service. And it kind of makes me feel those sacrifices are in vain when we won’t look out for each other at home.

Oops, that took kind of a bombastic turn. I’m actually not militant about masks. When I take the baby for quick walks, I only recently started masking up (but have always graciously yielded off the narrow sidewalk to allow for social distancing).

My general approach is to match the comfort level of those around me. If they’re wearing masks and I don’t have mine, I am mortified and can’t concentrate on anything else. If they’re not… well, you don’t care, I don’t care bro. My immune system is almost certainly superior based on my genetics, diet and exercise.

The O.C. bubble doesn’t appear to be any worse off for cavalier interpretations of personal freedoms. Our liberal La La Land neighbors have five times as many Covid-19 deaths with three times the population.

My mother’s native Taiwan is an island nation of 23 million. The Covid-19 death count is seven. Seven. As in under 10, so I have to actually spell out the number according to AP style. The amount is painfully hilarious relative to the norm, reminiscent of when Chris Farley got pulled over in Black Sheep.

Since April, Taiwan has traced only one Covid-19 case to local transmission. The rest were imported. Again, I don’t even know how to comprehend the number “one” when we’re trying to handle outbreaks every day from parties in the U.S.A.

Now, we have 300 million more people here. We’re too big and too free to compare, although Taiwan is a democracy with a female president. But I was struck by the difference in philosophy when listening to my cousin’s experience temporarily moving her family of four from Philly to Taipei to escape cabin fever.

Back in the day, that blue U.S.A. passport was like showing up at the club with a throng of models. Welcome. Now it means a 14-day quarantine monitored by Big Brother.

All meals were delivered to their door at the hotel. When my cousin’s husband didn’t answer a check-in text, he got a call within 15 minutes. My mom’s friend was scolded for going out on the balcony during her quarantine. Either the GPS over there is next level, or Big Brother has some big binoculars.

Once quarantine is over though, you can pretty much party like it’s 2019. Everything is open and packed. A lot of people don’t wear masks anymore, but a lot still do.

With a single-payer health care system that would give Bernie the boner of his life, Taiwan used a massive database of personal information and essentially wartime technology tactics to manage outbreak risks and containment. Even humoring an idea like this in the U.S. of A. would flood every Capitol building with guns.

I’m not saying we should or even can take the Taiwan approach, but it’s provocative to imagine how an aggressive early response by our government — and citizens who buy in — might have looked. We don’t like being told what to do in America, which is a big reason for leading the world (arguably) in innovation and culture. We don’t want to be sheep.

But the sheep in Taiwan just had a 10,000-person indoor concert, while we’re about to have the most depressing Halloween eating candy at home with our diabetes. Concert entry at Taipei Arena required masks, temperature checks and contact-tracing QR codes. Freedom has a price on both sides.

Back in January, I bought baller tickets to Harry Styles at the Forum for my wife’s birthday. This almost certainly would set up steamy intercourse if I managed her pregame rosé intake strategically.

The concert was supposed to be this month, and I remember thinking multiple times earlier this year that of course things will be fine by then.

The new date is Aug. 27, 2021. Of course things will be fine by then.


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