Maskless Among the Lemmings – WSJ

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks on Covid-19 vaccination incentives in San Francisco, June 14.



Photo:

Nina Riggio/Associated Press

California finally opened up on June 15. We can actually set foot inside stores and restaurants without having to wear a mask. Freedom! And it’s about time. More than 70% of California adults have at least one vaccine jab. The state’s seven-day average number of daily coronavirus cases is down 98% from its peak in January. Herds can romp. It’s over—except, well,

Gov. Gavin Newsom

will keep his emergency powers.

In case he changes his mind about reopening, I made a trip to Trader Joe’s to stock up on Ultra Chocolate ice cream. And yes, I see the irony of buying the least healthy item in a store stocked with expensive organic bruised bananas and dairy-free cashew cheese alternative mozzarella-style shreds. The parking lot was practically a showroom for Teslas and Prii.

I counted 50 shoppers, 49 masked. Did these people not get the unmasking memo? I was the only one not wearing a mask, and I was loving it. California is operating on an honor system, and though I’m fully vaxxed, I wish I weren’t. That very same day, Mr. Newsom was at Disneyland doling out $1.5 million prizes (taxpayer money) to 10 winners of a California vaccine lottery. That beats President Biden’s “Get a shot and have a beer.” Lesson Learned: Next pandemic, I wait to get paid.

Maybe those 49 maskers haven’t yet been vaccinated? The adage is: To find the next measles outbreak, find towns with Whole Foods supermarkets. Those places usually have high concentrations of antivaxers. That adage could probably apply to Trader Joe’s, too.

But this vaccine is different. Statistics suggest red-staters are the ones declining the Covid-19 vaccines, not the usual dissidents inspired by

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I’d bet good money all 49 of my fellow shoppers are topped up with vaccine-induced antibodies. So who exactly are they protecting? Me? Thanks but no thanks.

As I made my way past the wild arugula and baby spinach—the rabbit-food section—I noticed many shoppers giving me the stink eye. But c’mon, it’s not like I had 11 items in the express line. I don’t think anyone was smiling at me under a mask, though I was beaming ear to ear. Freedom feels good.

What bizarro world had I entered? Mask mandates were over, and yet here I was in some weird anxiety zone for the masked who continue to feel they are in perpetual danger. It was as if I were sullying some sacred pure-living temple by breathing freely. Were these 49 shoppers simply Linuses unwilling to let go of their security blankets? Or were they more like robotic Stepford wives, preprogrammed and obedient? I will admit to mumbling “sheep” and “lemmings” and other things under my breath.

At checkout, my iPhone’s

Apple

Pay worked for once, recognizing my maskless mug—some needed normalcy. Since Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s, their fake Oreos, taste like old socks, I was off to Safeway for the real Double Stuf. Sure enough, I was the only unmasked person there, too. Buying Oreos takes me a while because I am always fascinated by the different flavors: Golden, Birthday Cake, Carrot Cake (really?). I’ve even heard of limited-edition “cheerful vegan flavor” Lady Gaga-inspired Oreos. More like gag-gag. I stare at the choices but always get mint, especially this year, since those enterprising Girl Scouts didn’t come around with my Thin Mints, despite their 15-million-box surplus.

Returning to normal is going to take a while. Maybe the Trader Joe’s shoppers are actually saving the planet, and I should be grateful. Or maybe, like Japan, masks are here to stay as a sign that we care about others. That’s OK. Do what you want. Just stop giving stink eye to the rest of us.

Write to kessler@wsj.com.

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