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Beware of Geeks bearing - and wearing - masks.

We’re no simps here, so you – like I - never really believed the urban myths we grew up hearing about people waking up in a bathtub full of ice after a first date missing a kidney, HIV-infected needles stuck on gas pump handles, that Mr. Green Jeans was Frank Zappa’s daddy.

None of those resonated, especially since everybody knew Mr. Rogers was really Frank Zappa’s daddy.

But why did it seem somewhat plausible that the story about a nefarious gang going door-to-door passing out masks that make people pass out could be true?

Possibly because of my own experience with masks.

In case you missed it and don’t mess with the internet, there is a story warning that a group of outlaws is going door-to-door offering KN-95 masks that protect against covid-19 and omicron.

Before they leave, though – the story goes – they ask you to try it on to, you know, ensure a proper fit. (Sounds perfectly plausible so far, right?)

The next thing people remember after trying on the free masks is regaining consciousness and finding they’ve been robbed.

So far, at least, all of the victims still had their kidneys.

Chill, homes. I’ve already checked with several police departments and none of them had heard a word about the alleged plot.

I contacted the Durham Police Department and, almost apologetically, asked if they’d been inundated with robbery calls in which the victims, not the suspects, wore masks.

“We checked with our Crime Analysis Unit and our Criminal Investigations Division and they are not aware of any calls similar to this,” a spokesperson responded.

Same from Raleigh Police Department. And Charlotte.

Because I don’t equate wearing a paper mask over my nose and mouth to protect others as an infringement upon my constitutional liberties, I rushed out to buy said masks at Dr. Fauci’s urging.

The smell of the first new mask was vaguely familiar and not really unpleasant – but it didn’t smell like what one would think a new mask should smell like.

Second mask? Equally aromatic.

Had I gotten a bad batch or was this – to poison us with KN-95 masks - some kind of criminal or communist conspiracy? Or perhaps a plot by Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and George Soros?

The mask might indeed save others, but it seemed to be killing me.

In one of the funniest scenes from the greatest novel ever, Don Quixote, the famous knight’s squire told him that his lady love, Dulcinea, smelled like a goat.

Incensed and offended, Don Quixote responded sharply that his squire must be smelling his own upper lip.

Perhaps Sancho Panza was smelling his own breath - especially if he'd eaten what I had.

You see, as I was fixing to rush back to CVS and demand my money or new masks, the identity of the smell hit me right between the nostrils: egg salad, with copious amounts of onions.

It wasn’t the masks at all that I was smelling, but my lunch. Every time I exhaled, the tasty but pungent smell of the egg salad got trapped inside the mask.

I was a victim, all right, but of an urban myth. Most such myths are harmless, except to expose our gullibility and willingness to believe the worst.

When I first moved to Durham 29 years ago, one of the first things a presumably well-intentioned neighbor warned me of was a deadly gang initiation rite: if you see an oncoming car with its headlights out at night, don’t flick your lights to alert them: they’ll come back and shoot you.

Being new in town and a reporter, I dutifully called Durham cop shop spokesman Dwight Pettiford and asked if this was true.

After he stopped laughing, he said that unfounded rumor re-appeared every few years. For weeks thereafter, he’d jokingly ask if I’d flicked my headlights at anyone. (I hadn't: better safe than sorry.)

I was embarrassed then, just as I’m embarrassed now that my first thought with the aromatic mask went to knockout gas or a communist plot. The incident taught a valuable lesson, though: it taught me to first look inward, which is where the problem with – and answer to - many of the things we fear reside.

It also reminded me of what Mr. Rogers and Mr. Green Jeans would have taught us: to brush your teeth after eating egg salad.


Mar 08, 2022

Love this guy!


Feb 07, 2022

Same here. If Barry liked the book, I should read it.


Feb 06, 2022

Loved this piece. I've never read Don Quixote, but I think I'll give it a go. Keep up the good work. Phil





Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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