Confessions of a Maskhole

A man wears a cap, glasses, and a black mask
Bill Joyce.

Oakland Voices asked our correspondents about their experiences since being forced to wear face masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The April order to wear face coverings sent me scurrying to a Dimond district seamstress who was working overtime to meet the sudden demand with made-to-order masks. I breathed a sigh of relief, slightly muffled, when I scored one for me and a neighbor. I keep this one now in the glove compartment: a slightly faded brown one with an elastic band that hangs around the ear, like the headbands we wore in little league.

Soon, I realized that one grungy mask wouldn’t be enough. My nurse/ daughter-in-law — deluged in face coverings when neighbors discovered that she works with COVID-19 patients — gave me my first designer mask: beige in a flower print with more tasteful ear straps. Stylish but not manly enough, it rarely gets worn.

I discovered that my favorite tee-shirt maker, a union shop which provided Berkeley High with shirts for every occasion, had shifted into mask production. More to my taste, plain black with cloth straps, I ordered a set of five.

As the pandemic grew, so did my hair. Wild tufts cascading over my ears, the late Beatles look complicated the strapping procedure. I found them slipping loose in checkout lines, drawing frowns from fellow customers. 

I thought I had found a solution, which hearkened back to a childhood of endless western movies on winter afternoons. Like Roy Rogers, the king of the cowboys, I could tie a kerchief around my neck first thing in the morning and lift it up over my nose when I stepped into the streets. 

I came to favor the outlaw look: ballcap corralling my hair and pulled down to my forehead, scarf dangling below my chin. My granddaughter found this highly amusing and even modeled it on occasion.

A toddler wears a red bandana as a mask.
Bill Joyce’s granddaughter dons a bandana.

But recently, I’ve let go of the bad guy look. First, I learned there’s now a term to describe people like me who are undisciplined mask wearers — maskholes. You know the type: we slop them on like an old sock. When we talk, we move closer, even sliding the mask down to make the point. 

Then my brother, who is married to a nurse, harshly rebuked my flippancy. Bandanas are the least effective face covering, he told me, you could look it up. 

The latest research is clear. With an uncovered sneeze, droplets in the air — one way we are exposed to COVID-19 — travel about eight feet. A cowboy-style kerchief limits the distance to three feet, or right across the table. In contrast, the drug store cone style mask stops droplets at about eight inches, or around the stool beside you at the lunch counter. It’s not even close: the best coverings are the homemade masks, usually stitched with cotton fabric, which stop droplets at 2.5 inches. [N95 masks are also effective].

Fortunately, there’s now an extensive cottage industry of handmade coverings that was led by seamstresses, artists, and activists whose efforts not only responded to the need but put others to work, often while addressing issues of equity.

So, I’ve let the sloppy, loose fitting, fake cowboy pose ride into the sunset. Now, I even happily wear the flowered mask on occasion. Masking up the right way is serious. Besides, I don’t want to be called a maskhole.  

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Bill Joyce is a retired Berkeley teacher and 2016 alumnus of Oakland Voices.


  1. A clever article that gets across a serious point about the importance of wearing a mask. Great photos!

  2. Found myself giggling throughout the whole article.Especially liked the “N95 can be effective too!! ”
    Your grand daughter is quite adorable!
    Thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom!!

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