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The Joy of Masks and their many positions

The Chinny Chin-Chin, the Mouth Breather, the Down Dog. Which do you prefer?
Roy Peter Clark models wearing a mask not-so-properly. He calls it the Double-Down Dog.
Roy Peter Clark models wearing a mask not-so-properly. He calls it the Double-Down Dog. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]
Published Aug. 5, 2020

It’s been a half-century now since British physician Alex Comfort wrote one of the most popular books of the 1970s – The Joy of Sex.  If Julia Child had written the Kamasutra, the result would have been The Joy of Sex.  And, for the record, this may be the first time any writer has managed to use the phrase The Joy of Sex three times in the lead of a newspaper story.

This column is not going to be about sex, but it is going to be about positions.  The Alex Comfort book was filled, not with photos, but with illustrations of couples so bulky and wooly they looked prehistoric, two mammoths mating.

Which brings us to the medical mask.

As my bride Karen and I make our way now and then to downtown St. Pete and find a safe outdoor table — well-spaced — at a favorite coffee shop, we notice that the wearing of masks lends itself to its own eccentric styles and positions.  Most of these would not be approved by Dr. Fauci or the CDC.  That said, each of these mask positions is created by someone who understands the value of wearing a mask in public, and maybe now and then, just for fun, in private.

I’ve given each mask position a name.  As you read these, consider which ones describe your preferences and practices, how you experience The Joy of Mask:

The Missionary Position

Karen Clark models the Missionary position in mask fashion.
Karen Clark models the Missionary position in mask fashion. [ Courtesy of Roy Peter Clark ]

Most wearers do the right thing and assume the missionary position, with full frontal coverage of the nose and mouth.  Masks – in a rich variety of styles and materials – prevent the wearer from spreading this promiscuous coronavirus. It lends the wearer some protection as well.  With social distancing and hand washing, this is how you go all the way – to health and safety.  

The Nosey Parker

All wearers know that the mask experience can become uncomfortable. The fabric can be scratchy, the masks can make the Florida heat seem even hotter, and escaping breath can fog up your glasses.  I am guilty of removing the mask for a moment, or sliding it down off my nose for a breath or two.  At a recent trip to the mall, we noticed that many people used the mask to cover just their mouths. I am no medical doctor, but this half-measure makes no sense.  I have got a big nose.  A major-league honker.  With nostrils that look like a double-barreled shotgun.  If I sneeze, or you sneeze, and this schnoz isn’t fully covered, someone’s gonna get somethin'.

The Chinny-Chin-Chin

I see this mostly when people are seated in small groups.  They look like football players wearing a chin strap without the helmet.  I suppose it makes sense if you are eating or talking, but it obviously provides no protection from the virus, which gains access through your mouth, nose, and even your eyes.  I also see people walking down the street with their masks in that position.  We can only hope that they can pull it up to assume the missionary position when getting closer to others.

The Mouth Breather

Very rare, but used now and then for eating, drinking, or smoking.  The user just pulls up the bottom of the mask, while leaving the nose covered.  On occasion, I do this while sucking down an iced latte.  If there are no people within, say 15 feet, I might slip the mask off.  But if they invade my space, even a little, on goes the mask, pulled up to swallow.  As for the smokers who use this technique?  It’s bad for your health, man, and if you do get COVID-19, the virus may see those lungs as a honeymoon suite in the Pocono Mountains. 

The Tiara

There was the couple in church, a man and a woman, who I have watched for years.  Both wear their glasses on the tops of their heads.  The odd thing is that I have never once watched them pull them down over their eyes.  My only conclusion is that the glasses were not for improved vision or protection from the sun.  They were a fashion accessory.  A tiara.  While most folks use the chinny-chin-chin as a place to hold the mask before more serious use, some prefer to pull them up on their foreheads.  Fashion tip:  a bandana style mask looks better up there.

The Down Dog

This, I must say, may be my second favorite position. (How could one not favor the missionary?)  The down dog – named after the yoga pose – allows the user to clear the face to perform some task, from talking to eating to breathing. The mask hangs from one ear, a tribal decoration of sorts without the need for piercing.  Practitioners of the down dog are often, but not always tattooed.  In their cars they keep an extra mask hanging down from the rear-view mirror. 

The Double Down Dog

I’ve only seen this once, and it made me laugh, until I thought “Hmm. Maybe two masks are better than one.” That has been the practice among some front-line medical workers.  Cover up.  Cover up again.  And with so many people “doubling down” on this or that these days, this seems like the perfect name for a perfect position, but only if the masks are covering your face, not hanging from your ears. 

I suppose we must recognize one more position. It is still practiced by too many people.  My bride, her blue eyes shining over the top of her mask, called it the “No Mask” position.  She was referring to those who refuse to wear a mask – anytime, anywhere --in the interests of public health.  But it needs a better name.  What’s your suggestion?

Roy Peter Clark teaches writing at the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Times.  He is the author of many books on writing, including his latest “Murder Your Darlings.”  He can be reached at


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