Come on now. ‘Fess up. You don’t get all up in someone’s (maskless) face when you’re running errands around the island, do you?
Nah. Mostly we talk a good game about how we ought be reminding folks to wear their masks and stay six feet away. We get huffy among ourselves at the disregard and we lust for the adrenaline surge that comes when we see a maskless group of 11 (and, yes, we did count) sharing sweat at the Southernmost Point buoy and doing selfies. But get out of the car, march with righteous determination (stopping exactly six feet away) and remind them to mask up? Uh. No.
I once believed a courteous “I’d really appreciate your wearing and mask and not getting quite so close” would do the trick. Tried it a handful of times. No one swore at me; one did a political rant (surprisingly low key and polite considering the conspiracies upon which he was opining). The rest got that silent, blank, who-me stare in their eyes, leaving me two choices: Deck ’em and force on a mask; or, grab a bag of shredded cabbage. I chose the cabbage.
There’s no way to enforce, cajole or encourage folks to wear masks and to wear them properly. There is not enough law enforcement in the world, much less in Key West and up the Keys, to make it happen. You could hire hundreds of well-paid enforcers, make the fine $10,000 with a mandatory six months in jail and loss of internet and cell service for a lifetime and folks would still uncover their noses. We private citizens learn fast that people-to-people is at best a fruitless endeavor and at worst a guaranteed way to escalate aggression in one’s life.
Fact is, the kids who didn’t throw the spit wad when the teacher left the room are the adults who wear masks and try to keep coronavirus at bay. The kids who threw the spit wads and made us all have to stay after class? They’re showing nekkid noses and, oh, yuck, teeth. Like back then, no one wants to rat out the class punk. We don’t tattle to the teacher. We don’t beat him up on the playground. We sit there in after-school detention thinking up ways we can get even.
Oops. Let’s rewind that: We think up ways to get even. That’s precisely what I’ve been doing for the past seven days — eight if you count today when I’m writing this — figuring out the perfect comeback for what happened the last time I was in Publix. Mom with two sons, ages about 8-12. One son fully masked. One no mask. Mom with lovely red mask flopping below her nose. I say: “Oh, your mask slipped below your nose. I am sure you’re unaware.” She with blank stare, pulls at mask, says “I’m OK.” She wasn’t but cabbage wins.
So, what are the perfect comebacks? Here are six to get you started. But, I do have to warn you, they’re only going to work if you’ve perfected the Southern mother drawl or the Jersey Girl (dare I say it) honk.
Bless your heart. This one is the mother lode. Three words easily modified with the slightest of inflection shifts to convey how wonderful one is for wearing a mask perfectly or dismissing the maskless offender straight to detention.
Benny. Works best as a pass-by insult-with-a-sniff for day trippers. Originally used to deride the folks coming down the Shore from Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark and New York, but should be just fine in the Keys. Because, well, MKLITLMBPSSIKW is difficult to pronounce. Feel free to change things up when you’re feeling Jersey by substituting Shoobie for Benny. A Shoobie is a Shore day tripper who brings lunch in a shoe box. Down here, it’s a cooler.
Sweet boy (girl), didn’t y’all’s mama raise you right? Add a sad-eyed shaking of the head with a tsk-tsk behind the mask. Keep walking.
Put on that dang mask, child, before I snatch you bald. Probably won’t work if you’re confronting the follicly challenged, but they’ll get the point.
How are we going to get your dog in the hunt, my friend? You can do that one in full-throated drawl or just keep it to the Kenyon & Knott Standard Pronouncing Dictionary. Your target will either think you’ve lost your mind or understand. And you can just walk on by with the cabbage.
Puthergoin-eh! OK, so I’m slipping that one in for my Midwestern friends who probably can’t manage a Jersey honk or Dixie drawl. But, if you can get your tongue around it, it means “let’s get ‘er going,” put on that mask.
Bless your hearts. Choose the cabbage.