With cases of COVID-19 on the rise in the state of Texas, and Halloween just around the corner, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed an executive order requiring the wearing of masks in public. Exceptions to the order include Texans under 10 years of age (probably the demographic that would most enjoy wearing a disguise to town), patrons eating in restaurants, swimmers and anyone lacking ears.

Speaking of restaurants, this new order has caused a level of strident debate in the Lone Star State not seen since Texans flipped their lids over the purchase of the iconic Whataburger fast food chain by a Chicago investment firm threatening to replace the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich with a Deep-Dish Italian Beef and Hot Dog Whatapizza.

While I’m still not sure how I feel about Abbott’s order after all of the money I’ve spent on whitening toothpaste and nose hair trimmers, it has inspired me to reflect on the defining moments of mask-wearing throughout my life.

Some of my earliest memories involved those sadistic 1970’s molded-plastic Halloween masks – the ones that could make your face sweat in the Arctic and lacerated your tongue when you couldn’t resist trying to force it through the breathing hole.

I dressed up as Frankenstein one year, and along with the vinyl face-sauna, I had a little tube of green “blood” – because everyone knows that Mary Shelley’s creature was part Vulcan. On another Halloween, I chose a Tusken Raider/Sand Person mask from the first Star Wars movie. My mother even made me an authentic cloak to perfect the look and solidify my reputation as a hopeless nerd. Despite our efforts, though, most people didn’t recognize my costume and thought I was dressed as a deformed walrus with severe tooth decay.

When I entered my teen years in the early 1980’s, my masks (and my hygiene practices) became more elaborate and grotesque. I remember blowing my allowance one year on a highly-detailed rubber skull mask I found at Spencer’s in the mall. The mask was the perfect complement to my Members Only jacket and nylon Bugle Boy parachute pants. Michael Jackson’s macabre “Thriller” music video was all the rage at the time, and I was sure that my fashion medley, combined with a playfully frightful disguise, would be irresistible to the ladies. Instead, they just found me frightful, and I nursed my wounded pride by using the mask to scare the younger neighborhood kids when I answered the front door. I only got punched in the gut a few times.

My most memorable masked incident as an adult happened when I was newly married, and my wife and I were house-sitting for some friends of my parents. It was bedtime, and I had discovered a rubber “old man” mask (complete with wig) while rummaging… I mean walking past an open closet. My wife had gone to the bathroom, so I slipped out of bed and met her at the bathroom door wearing nothing but the mask and a pair of boxer briefs. Instead of screaming or running, she just froze in terrified silence and started crying, eliciting a torrent of desperate apologies from me. (She still has the same reaction to seeing me in my underwear – and I still feel the need to apologize.)

Now that I’m a mature adult and rarely dress up like Star Wars characters or elderly exhibitionists, the prospect of wearing a mask to Walmart or the church house isn’t too appealing. But I say let’s have fun with it. Try painting a set of hillbilly teeth on your mask, or one of those curly mustaches you’ve always wanted to grow but were afraid it wouldn’t look right with your favorite shade of lipstick.

Yes, I realize that face coverings make you look like Hannibal Lecter and sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher when you talk. But at least you can take comfort in knowing you’re allowed to remove your mask when you sit down to eat your Chicago-style Whataburger.

Jase Graves is an award-winning humor columnist from East Texas.

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