If you ever watched “The Lone Ranger,” a TV series that appeared from 1949 to 1957, you probably remember the question that ended every episode: “Who was that masked man?” The Lone Ranger, a Texas Ranger turned vigilante who became a pop-culture hero fighting for truth and justice, wore a mask to obscure his identity.
The question seems more appropriate today than ever before. With most of us donning masks—or another sort of face-covering—it’s impossible to see the entire face of anyone you encounter in the outside world. We simply have to trust that we won’t run into any evildoers lurking near us while we walk. So far I haven’t felt that I needed someone like the L.R. to come to my rescue.
There’s another concern, however. When I take my daily neighborhood stroll, I find it troubling that, although most of us are now required to wear masks in public, many people I encounter are walking or running sans mask. The most annoying are the joggers, who don’t seem to care that they are exhaling a whole load of droplets every time they breathe, and heck, their droplets just might be contaminated with Covid-19.
In addition to wearing a mask, walkers need to keep at least 6 feet away from each other, and according to an expert quoted in The Washington Post a few days ago, joggers need to run at least 10 feet away from everyone else. Although some of the people I encounter try to observe those distances, many don’t.
As I walk, I often mutter into my mask (usually a colorful scarf covering my nose and mouth), trying to restrain my irritation with those violating the current guidelines.
My mask has actually turned out to be a great way to muffle what I’m not merely thinking but actually saying. A favorite: “Jerk.” Or worse. And lately I’ve been borrowing the title of a hilarious children’s book, “The Stupids Die.”
When we were raising our two daughters in the 1980s, we enthusiastically read countless books to them. Among our favorites were those written and illustrated by James Marshall. Marshall is probably best known for his delightful series featuring two anthropomorphized hippos called George and Martha. The series includes five books published between 1972 and 1988. George and Martha were “best friends,” and one of the things we loved about them was that they were non-gender-specific friends. So although Martha would sometimes be drawn wearing a hair bow or a colorful skirt, and George sometimes sported a casual fedora, both Martha and George liked to do the same things and go to the same places. And no matter what transpired, they were always “best friends.”
But James Marshall didn’t confine his talents to the George and Martha series. As an illustrator, he collaborated with the writer Harry Allard, who wrote a series of four books featuring a family called The Stupids. Marshall’s colorful illustrations for these books, published between 1977 and 1989, are knee-slappingly hilarious.
The Stupids were comically stupid, so much so that in “The Stupids Die,” the Stupids leap to the conclusion that they’re dead when a power outage makes their lights go out, turning their home totally dark. The truth is revealed at the end, and the reader is left laughing at how colossally stupid and astoundingly foolish The Stupids are.
The series had its critics, who griped that the stories promoted low self-esteem and negative behavior. But most kids loved the stories, and copies are still selling to grown-up fans on Amazon.com.
As I witness the choice made by some walkers and joggers on my route–the choice not to keep the prescribed distance or to wear a mask to protect themselves and others from the potentially virus-saturated droplets in their exhalations– “The Stupids Die” keeps reverberating in my head.
Wearing my own mask has the unexpected benefit of allowing me to say whatever I want as I pass these non-mask-wearing and non-distance-keeping people, who are endangering their own lives as well as mine. So in addition to muttering “Jerk” and other expletives, I frequently mutter “The Stupids Die.”
If anyone should hear me, I can promptly explain that I’m simply recalling the title of a favorite children’s book. And if they want to interpret those words as words that apply to them, I hope they will do just that.
I’m well aware that many victims of Covid-19 are very smart people who contracted the disease through no fault of their own. I do NOT include them among “the Stupids.” And I strongly condemn the violent assaults that have recently erupted, where mask-wearers have attacked those who weren’t wearing masks.
But I do judge harshly those in my own surroundings who don’t appear to care about others, and I declare the following:
To everyone walking and jogging, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine that surround us this spring, please remember to wear a mask. Please remember to stay the correct distance away from me.
And for your own sake, please remember that “The Stupids Die.”