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On a visit to DC this week I discovered something everybody might know. Which is that dwellers in the swamp still wear masks. Unlike most New Yorkers, the DC crowd still like to cover their faces as they walk down the streets. If you get into a lift unmasked they still glare at you like New Yorkers did a couple of years ago.

It’s a reminder that different parts of the country are throwing off the COVID restrictions at different speeds. Just like nations. Even now there are places like New Zealand that are still reacting to COVID as though it was the bubonic plague. In fact I would guess that in decades to come those of us who once went there will tell our grandchildren about that majestic country. Immortalized in the “Lord of the Rings,” we will explain how it then cut itself off from the rest of the world in the 2020s. Who will believe our stories of that far-off land?

As a New Yorker it is easy to sometimes feel smug about our city getting going again. But while much of life has returned to normal, plenty of it still has not.

No city wants to get going as much as this one. But we’re not back yet. The city’s office districts are still much quieter than they should be. Too many companies are still worried about ordering their staff back to the office. And too many young employees are still getting away with pretending that they are worried about returning to work because of the virus, when in fact it is purely about lifestyle. One of the greatest con tricks ever. And so there are still vast uninhabited swathes of office-space in the city. With all the knock-on effects to local businesses that this has. Not a good sign of things returning to normal.

Masks are no longer enforced on public transit in New York City.
JUSTIN LANE/EPA

Elsewhere a strain of COVID restrictions has remained across our city like an oil slick. Sure, much of life goes on as normal. But then there are places where you are suddenly hurtled back two years. Some parts of the city just don’t seem to want to go back to normal.

For example, it is unfathomably dumb and cruel that children under five are still forced to cover their faces. But I digress . . .I was at Carnegie Hall the other day and there they are still forcing masks on audiences like it’s May 2020. I’d almost forgotten what it is like. Today you can go to a restaurant unmasked. You can fly on an airplane unmasked. But for some reason if you go to Carnegie Hall you have to remember to keep your mask on throughout the performance. Will that ever change? Will we just accept that it is something you have to do — like remembering your wallet and keys? I don’t know. But I do know that not being allowed a choice in the matter is a toxic remnant of a phase we should have left behind.

Sadly there are still people out there eager to pretend that mask-wearing is the great cause of our time. Look at that video of Patti LuPone on Broadway earlier this week. Sitting in front of an audience, talking about her revival of “Company,” LuPone spotted a member of the audience who didn’t have her mask pulled up over her nose. “Put your mask over your nose,” LuPone spat out at the paying customer, behaving like the warder in an especially sadistic prison. Of course LuPone and her fellow cast-members were all sitting on stage maskless. But LuPone seemed to think that the audience member was more dangerous than a loaded gun. “That is the rule,” she went on. “If you don’t want to follow the rule, get the f–k out! I’m serious. Who do you think you are.”

Patti LuPone was seen berating maskless patrons during a cast talkback.
Patti LuPone was seen berating maskless patrons during a cast talkback.
Henry Waletzko via Storyful

Personally I thought this was a new low for the entitled celeb class. For the last six months we have had to see celebrities swanning through their awards ceremony, all showing us their beautiful, freed-up faces. And the only people who still have to be masked at these events are “the help.” It was the same at the Met Gala earlier this month. The famous people can all have their faces freed. Only the staff have to keep muzzled.

But LuPone’s foul-mouthed tirade was a step lower even than this. How come a celebrity feels so incredibly entitled that they can scream at an audience member, and swear at them for daring to do what the celebrities themselves are doing? Much of the audience seemed to be on LuPone’s side, probably wowed by her fame. But they shouldn’t have been.

The entitled person was LuPone, not the audience member who had paid to be there. Like a lot of other people in recent years, LuPone seems to think she can be as vulgar and hectoring as she likes, so long as she has COVID is an excuse.

We’ll probably have these people around for a long time yet. They seemed to relish the era in which they could tell people off.

A toddler sits during a protest against mask mandates for school children on April 4.
A toddler sits during a protest against mask mandates for school children on April 4.
Erik Pendzich/Shutterstock

Just this week a columnist at the New York Times actually wrote a lament for masks. Pamela Paul seems to think that we enjoyed mask-wearing and that children in New York liked being hidden behind these pointless face-coverings. It is a look that people are “sorry to see go” she claimed. Apparently, during the era of masks “we got to more creatively choose the face we presented to the outside world, without piercing a nose.” But the main point Paul tried to make was that masks were a useful political signifier. As though we needed more of these in our country.

Masks have certainly remained a signifier. Outside of a tiny number of people who believe they need them for a medical reason, they are a signifier of the people who want to get on with their lives versus those who do not. Who doesn’t? Well, the highly risk averse, obviously. But also those, like LuPone, who want an excuse to feel better than other people. People who enjoy hectoring other people and want a virtuous excuse for doing so. I always thought LuPone was a natural on Broadway. But if she thinks she’s so above her New York audiences that she can scream abuse at them then perhaps she should move on down to the Swamp. They would love her. And she might even like them in turn.