Time was, if you wore a mask into a bank lobby, your visit probably wasn’t going to end well. Branch managers and security guards took a dim view of such activity. Now, though, chances are you can’t get through the door of the place without covering your face.

In the turbulent 1960s, Bob Dylan wrote about, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” Well, they were. But not as fast as they have lately. As 2020 dawned, who would have thought that in three short months thriving industries would be totally shut down, toilet paper would be a hot commodity, and the biggest bargain in the nation would be a gallon of gas? We’ve rapidly gone from, “There’s no way I’d ever wear rubber gloves at the grocery store,” to “Where’s that balaclava scarf I had in December?”

Since about mid- to late-February, in the U.S. at least, life has seemingly been a series of “Whattaya means?” The first one may well have been, “Whattaya mean there’s a new virus from China?” After SARS and years of the Asian flu, I think most of us felt we’d already gotten our yearly shot for something like that, hadn’t we? Sure, there were some people in some unheard-of province in the People’s Republic who were infected, but they were thousands of miles from here. And the Chinese government said there was nothing to worry about. They had things under control.

Then there was, “Whattaya mean some people in California and New York are really sick with this, what’s it called, Corona thing? It’s kinda like pneumonia on steroids, right? And didn’t it hit a couple of nursing homes? I’m healthy, and besides, Spring Break is right around the corner.”

That was followed by, “Whattaya mean the NBA isn’t going to play games for a couple of weeks? Well, that’s just crazy. But it’s not so bad. The play-offs are the important thing, and the real action doesn’t get started until the semi-finals anyway.”

But hold on, there’s more. “Whattaya mean no baseball? We can’t go without baseball. What about Spring Training and Opening Day and peanuts and popcorn and a cold Budweiser?” And that doesn’t even count the outrage over missing the Final Four, the Masters, tennis tournaments, car races, spring football, and the postponing of the Olympics.

Shutting down sports certainly got the attention of both male and female fans. But it was, “Whattaya mean my gym’s gotta close?” and “Whattaya mean I can’t go party with my friends?” that garnered the interest of many more folks. Well, that and the great, “Whattaya mean there’s no toilet paper?” scare.

And after that, the “Whattaya means” just kept right on coming. Restaurants closed. Retail stores doing curbside pick-up only. Whole shopping malls just shutting down. And one that rattled every household with school-age children: “Whattaya mean I have to teach my own kids?”

Unless your business was deemed essential, you were working from home. (Hey, at least the daycare or after-school issue wasn’t a problem.) So, life became a simple matter of juggling your job with the kids’ schoolwork, feeding everybody three times a day, trying to find ways to burn off excess energy, scheduling computer time for all concerned, and trying not to worry about friends and family whom you couldn’t go visit even if you wanted to, right? (By the way, is it just me, or is anybody else feeling just a little bothered by the fact that what you do isn’t considered essential?)

And as this stay-in-place edict becomes the new lifestyle norm, I think we’re all getting just a tad exasperated with the “Whattaya mean it might last another month or two or more?” question that really has no answer. Intellectually we know no human can truthfully tell when this vexing problem might finally have an expiration date. But we still want answers.

In my mind, through everything that’s happened, perhaps the biggest “Whattaya mean” is this one: “Whattaya mean China says it isn’t their fault?” The totalitarian regime running that country may be able to hoodwink the Chinese citizens, but the cover-up certainly doesn’t fly here.

The situation reminds me of a scene from the movie Animal House. A freshman’s car had been heavily damaged by seniors who had used it on a road trip. Upon viewing the multiple dents and scrapes, the freshman was told, “Hey, you messed up. You trusted us.” (Well, that’s the family version of the encounter anyway.) Something tells me that’s what we did with China. I want to believe We the People wouldn’t let that happen again.

©MMXX. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer