Happy Labor Day, sort of


Babies taste everything—gravel, bugs, poop. Children are indoctrinated to color within the lines. Flirt with that cute kid? Avoid the bully, stand up to ‘em, or become a bully ourselves? We each get to decide which rules to play by, and how and when to defy them. If we make good choices, graduate, work hard, get married, help our neighbors, we are judged as socialized and productive. If not, we are oddballs, loners, nonconformists. On the good side, we dance to the rhythm of different drums, as rugged individualists, lovable losers, hermits or mad scientists. On the other hand, we may be considered antisocial or dangerous.

All our personality traits and choices put us on public display in the world of 2020. Mask or no mask? Black Lives Matter or White Supremacist? Data-dependent or conspiracy theorist?

Last week, for the first time since February, my wife and I ventured into the world outside, and let it creep into our safe place out in the hills. To go anywhere together, we have to have a sitter for her 88-year old mom, so Thursday we went on a small date, with a safe sitter here for a few hours.

We visited Homestead Farms tent, Eureka Market and Hart’s for provisions. We paid a call on a musician friend, who had played a sheltered gig at the Gotahold Brewery. Tips were great, socially distanced reservations sold out, sound system was excellent.

We parked at the library and strolled into town. Yakked with a gardener and her pooch at Sweet Spring, chatted with a friend at the Brews patio, discussed the wonderful new landscaping with the owner at Statton Gallery, and wandered down toward Basin Park. All the locals were masked—well, not the pooch—but few tourists down by Basin Park were; we turned around and walked back. Most businesses post placards requiring masks, and signs provided by the city promote mutual health and precaution. One place displayed a sign “Masks not required here.”

Driving home, we heard Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daily briefing. He was quietly fuming while telling about a group of state legislators who are suing to have his executive authority to declare a state of emergency given instead to the General Assembly.

His argument is that he relies upon the state’s medical experts for advice, while nobody in that group of legislators (including ours—vote Suzie Bell!) has experience or training in the field. Furthermore, “undeclaring” the emergency would cancel telehealth, financial aid for small businesses, and other measures.

Hutch and state Health Director Jose Romero also pleaded with college students to be vigilant over Labor Day weekend. Labor Day—originally created to protest working conditions and promote labor unions—has defaulted into the end-of-summer party weekend. The sudden explosion of new cases in Fayetteville matches college towns nationwide. Students follow the recommendations on campus, but the masks come off for frat parties and juke joints on weekends. A local high school football coach offered the variation for his teenagers—they go to McDonald’s and hang out with friends after school.

Remember Paul Simon’s song “The Boxer?” “A man hears what he wants to hear and he disregards the rest.” So we all get to choose the level of risk we are comfortable with.

Ironically, medical personnel in wards restricted to covid-19 patients now feel safest, because they know that everyone they work with is dead serious—or else they’ll be seriously dead. They are at greater risk if they go to grab a meal on the way home, or send their kids to school.

Our Republican governor can repeat until he is blue in the face: “We got more work to do,” but our Republican president creates his own reality that too many people nod their unmasked heads to: Not Me.

University of Arkansas cancels nonacademic gatherings of more than ten. Students around the country are suspended or arrested for violating school protocols. After the first game of the season, Berryville High School football players and coaches are in quarantine. This will keep up until and unless everyone knows someone who has been terribly sick or dead. That’s the real herd immunity.

Kirk Ashworth

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