I was just getting used to living in a world of bandits, train robbers and highwaymen when everybody started taking off their masks.
“It’s OK,” my neighbor said. “Trump doesn’t wear one, so if he, of all people, doesn’t, why should I?”
“But hey,” I told him. “It’s sort of fun going incognito. You can be who you really are — even a Mr. Milquetoast — and nobody will know you’re a wussy. Or you can pretend you’re somebody else — a rough, tough Jesse James — and nobody will know you aren’t. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Maybe the reason that alter ego idea intrigues me so much is that I’ve got some bandit in my blood. Honest. My ancestors, stalwart members of the Elliott clan of Scotland, were among the infamous Border Reivers of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and were some of the best bad guys of the times.
Raiding and plundering, they made life uncomfortable for many a Brit on the other side of the ill-defined line that separated Scotland and England. They were cattle rustlers and sheep thieves, and they didn’t mind burning a barn or a barley field just for fun. And if they couldn’t find an Englishman worthy of harassment, they just quarreled with their neighbors the Armstrongs, Kerrs and Johnstones.
They were people, in other words, who probably would have been wearing masks in another place or another time. But being a reiver was a way of life in those days, a career, you might say, and reivers lived among reivers and “went to work” with other reivers. When they commuted across the border into merrie old England they didn’t stay long enough for anyone to get to know them. There was no need, really, to wear bandanas across their faces.
So they didn’t. They went bare-faced and bristling.
But now, several generations later, here at the beginning of the 21st century, dwell I, a more-or-less upstanding citizen who has left his reiver ways behind, and there is a need to wear a mask. At least in town, at the store. Or the post office, the gas station.
It’s not very comfortable sometimes, I concede. A mask isn’t easy to wear. The elastic bands that many use chafe my ears. The cloth ties on others get tangled up in my wild, unkempt hair, and I’m no good at tying things that I can’t see anyway.
And those one-piece models, the kind you slip down over your head, the ones that look — and probably feel — like a tight argyle sock? They’ve got to be hot and cloying. I’ve never tried them.
But wearing a mask is nevertheless a simple and easy way to make yourself and others safer. It’s the responsible thing to do. And I’m trying to redeem my family’s reputation, albeit in an odd and maybe ironic way.
Wearing a mask has some unforeseen benefits, too. If you have bad breath, a leaky nose, a three-day beard, fever blisters or other disgusting problems, nobody needs to know. If you hear a joke you don’t get, nobody needs to see that you’re not smiling. If you secretly do smile at somebody’s dummkopf ways, nobody needs to think you’re mean.
And it helps in fibbing. You can muffle-mumble a not-quite-true answer to a question like “Did you call Aunt Bertie on her birthday?” and often get away with it.
So if my great-great-great-etcetera grandfather Angus didn’t wear a mask, I hope he isn’t looking down, frowning, about the fact that I do. I’m not a wimp, Gramps.
And I hope he understands, too, why I’m not wearing a kilt. Times change, Gramps.