I pulled the bandana over my face, squinted into the noonday sun and walked slowly across the lot. I was a masked man in a small town. I wasn’t looking for trouble, but I was ready if it came looking for me.
Yep, I needed groceries during a pandemic.
That may sound overly dramatic, but one of my first trips to the grocery store as a masked man came after watching a particularly topical episode of “Rawhide,” the TV western series that ran from 1959 to 1965, chronicling a 1860s cattle drive headed up by trail boss Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) with the help of a bunch of cowpokes, including Rowdy Yates (a young Clint Eastwood.)
This episode was about how angry some people get when others wear a mask in public. Like shootin’ angry.
(Warning to readers: The following is a fairly lengthy summary of a single episode of a 61-year-old TV series followed by a detailed account of what is ultimately an uneventful trip to the store. )
In the episode “Incident at Barker Springs,” Mr. Favor — I call him Mr. Favor rather than the more informal Gil out of respect for his position as trail boss — hires on a young fellow and has him riding at the tail end of the herd.
Rowdy is concerned that the new fellow is goofing off and he also doesn’t like that he wears a mask. He confronts him, telling him to take it off.
“Like I told ’em when I signed on,” the young fellow informs Rowdy, “I got a cough. I don’t want to spread it around.”
If true, that’s considerate of him and hygienically sound.
Rowdy, though, is perturbed. He threatens to rip the mask off his face and the two square up for what looks to be a gunfight before Rowdy says, “I can’t gun down anyone Mr. Favor hires.”
So, had he not been a fellow employee, Rowdy would have killed him for not removing his mask.
It seems no one cares for the mask-wearing young fellow.
“When a man covers his face,” says Wishbone the cook, “it’s either because of something he’s done or something he’s gonna do.”
I don’t think he was referring to sneezing.
Since life often imitates art, I was prepared to meet with similar hostility when I entered a grocery looking like I had just robbed the Overland Stage. Instead of “Incident at Barker Springs,” it would be “Confrontation in Canned Goods.”
I made sure I followed the arrows on the floor to avoid any showdown. I didn’t want another customer saying, “Hey, masked man, we don’t take kindly to strangers a-sauntering in the wrong direction in this here store.”
I tipped my hat to the ladies from a safe distance of six feet and gave an approving nod to others who masked up for the trip to the grocery store.
I got a sideways glance or two from those not wearing masks, but, hey, it’s a free country and undertakers have to make a living, too.
I walked out of the store and back into the noonday sun, having gotten what I came to get with no bloodshed on Aisle 3 and humming a familiar tune.
“Keep movin’, movin’, movin’/Though they’re disaprovin’…”