Belinda Luscombe, great writer. Or at least she was.
Now, she’s written a Time essay about mandatory face masks, and how frustrating they are because they hide your smile, and how hard it is to communicate clearly without the ability to express a smile, because there are so many situations where you need to smile in order to communicate anything.
Ms. Luscombe (I used to call her Belinda, but no more, because her smile thing has made me so cranky) says a smile is shorthand for any number of messages, and she misses being able to communicate that way.
I say, good riddance.
Certainly, yes, here in my hometown of Ipswich, we practice all the various Belinda Luscombe smiles. For example:
Yesterday, on a downtown Ipswich sidewalk, I encountered my bright, intelligent friend Larry (that’s what I’ll call him, for his own protection) in a face mask of his own. From behind my mask, I did one of the smiles Ms. Luscombe misses: an honest “What a delight to see you!” smile.
I hadn’t seen Larry, who happens to be a member of my church, in two and a half months, except in a tiny square on my laptop screen during the parish’s weekly Zoom meetings. (I do love that painting on the wall over his left shoulder. It may be one of KT Morse’s pieces; I’ll have to ask Larry about that.)
But now, on the sidewalk downtown, I couldn’t help but notice that Larry seemed to be aimlessly wandering the sidewalks, bending this way and that, peering down at something mysterious and unknowable, on the pavement under his feet.
“Are you okay, Larry?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied, with a crazed look in his eye, “I’m tracking Camponotus pennsylvanicus!”
I was too stunned to ask what Camponotus pennsylvanicus means.
“Carpenter ants!” Larry crowed.
I shivered. We’ve struggled for a decade against carpenter ants in our 200-year-old home on outer Linebrook Road.
“I was so bored, under lockdown!” he cried. “I had to get out! I had to find some purpose in life! I’m tracking carpenter ants! THEY MUST BE ANNIHILATED!”
In a moment like this — when you’re saying “Haha, Larry, you’re so funny!” but thinking “This guy is dangerous!” — it’s a good thing to be behind a mask. Smiling requires the use of facial muscles, and when you have to force the smile — when you’re constructing the smile to cover up what you’re really thinking — it takes even moremuscle power. Some of us in Ipswich are perpetually exhausted, and this is why.
But now, with mandatory face coverings, we can relax. In Ipswich, our masks are actually improving our intra-town relationships. When you offer some absurdly stupid complaint about Article 12 on the upcoming Town Meeting warrant, I don’t have to smile that helpless fake smile. I can glower at you.
My mask does my faking for me.
Ms. Luscombe, if you lived here on the North Shore, you might have a different feeling about your face mask. Smiling is a pain.
After this pandemic, when face coverings are finally no longer required, I think I’m keeping mine on.
Inside his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Doug Brendel is a perpetually cheerful fellow. Otherwise, not so much. Follow him, regardless, at Outsidah.com. And his charitable work can be accessed at NewThing.net.