The first time I ventured out in more than two months was a trip to Costco for a 40-pound bag of cat litter, frozen tilapia and a cache of toilet paper half the size of a coffin.

As I approached the giant door to flash my membership card, a gent ahead of me pulled his T-shirt over his mouth and nose and proceeded in. The card checker in a blue vest flagged him down and turned him away. No mask, no buck-49 hot dog or anything else.

Good, I thought. I’m wearing a mask to make sure my grubby germs don’t infect him, but he can’t do the same to keep his grubby germs off me? See ya. Plus, I thought, if he leaves, that means more toilet paper for me.

Survival of the fittest, that's the world we live in now. We also live in a world where business owners and their workers are expected to enforce the public health code.

So it caught my eye a few days later when some of my Colorado friends retweeted a post of a masked man looking into a telephone camera and saying, “Hi, everyone. I work for Costco, and I’m asking this member to put on a mask, because that is our company policy.”

While he was still speaking, the camera swung to an unmasked man, who said, “But I’m not doing it, because I woke up in a free country,” then he uses some unnecessary expletives. The incident played out in Thornton.

“#Costco give this guy a raise, a promotion etc.,” tweeted my friend and former Rocky Mountain News reporter extraordinaire Todd Hartman. “We normal people appreciate your employee.”

This pandemic is increasingly tense and with a widening range of targets, from President Donald Trump to Costco employees conscripted into his culture war.

Getting told what to do, value signaling, rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It causes some to point a crooked finger at orders meant to save their lives and call it the work of conspirators.

People are tired of this pandemic and they're in no mood to be pushed around by the government, and least of all liberals.

The fight has played out in Lafayette the last few weeks, after the City Council passed an emergency ordinance requiring businesses to make sure customers are wearing masks in their stores.

“No person shall operate any public accommodation within the city of Lafayette unless all persons therein, including employees, vendors, and customers, are required to wear face coverings,” the indefinite rule states. If the customer refuses, the business owner can call the cops.

Businesses are struggling to their feet, and playing the heavy to the loyal customers they have is not something they relish.

Marketing and design specialist Jason Bushman runs PostNet, a print shop, packing and shipping center in town. He found out about the idea three hours before a special meeting on May 13.

He didn’t think it was right for the cops to enlist business owners to enforce city laws, or face penalties themselves — up to $500, though the business owners I spoke to doubted it would ever be enforced beyond a warning, politics being what they are.

“It blew me up,” Bushman said.

The council was intent, but there was some give, he concedes. Originally, the ordinance would have allowed “volunteers” to enforce masks in public.

“To me that had vigilante written all over it,” Bushman said.

The road to tyranny is paved with good intentions, and saving lives counts as the best of intentions. 

The balance brought tears to the eyes of the Republican governor of North Dakota. As the Washington Post put it, Gov. Doug Burgum "offered a plea to stop the madness" on May 22.

“This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line," he said. "And I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.

“If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID, and they’re fighting.”

Common courtesy should be common sense, but we never seem to get there once politics poison the well.

Two years ago, breaking sexual harassment was a movement. Insights warned then that the issue should tilt toward justice, not politics. Once Democrats won complete control of the General Assembly that year, took the U.S. House and yet failed to knock a dent in Trump's support, the issue lost its platform.

Three Democratic men in the presidential race this year, including the nominee, had been accused of sexual harassment, and Democrats' Be Heard Act is still languishing in the House, where it was introduced more than a year ago.

I’m lost in the middle on masks, like most Americans, I suspect. It’s like being in the center of a seesaw. If you move to either side gravity tumbles you off. 

Between the public good and individual liberties, with lives in the balance, we again struggle to find our footing beyond survival of the fittest as a code.

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