He was a big guy, at least 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, with a flowing red beard and a bushy head of hair. He was standing in the pneumatic tool aisle of Moscow Building Supply, loudly explaining to a store employee why he won’t wear a mask.

The employee, a petite woman with a mask over her mouth, stoically listened as he fumed and sprayed about the injustice of it all.

“All I know,” he concluded, “is I feel sorry for anybody who tries to make me wear one.” With that, he struck a defiant pose, as if daring someone to challenge him.

The sales clerk nodded mechanically, but her eyes spoke volumes. “Put on a flippin’ mask,” those eyes appeared to say. “I deal with guys like you all the time, but I’m just trying to make a living here. Don’t infect me, you idiot.”

After 10 months of coronavirus restrictions, everyone is weary, the weather is dreary and the thrill is gone. It would be easy for us, as a society, to lessen our vigilance against COVID-19.

From what I see, most folks are pretty vigilant, but there are still some self-centered divas who refuse to wear a mask when they’re in close proximity to strangers. I ran into one earlier this week, at 6:30 in the morning inside WinCo Foods, as he was buying doughnuts with his young son.

There were dozens of people in the store, all wearing masks, but that didn’t seem to register. The grownup and his impressionable son were oblivious to everyone but themselves.

In today’s brave new world of “alternative facts,” many anti-maskers insist, incredibly, there is no global health emergency. They breezily dismiss a mountain of dead bodies to claim it’s all a hoax. As they see it, mask requirements have nothing to do with public health and are merely a ruse for Uncle Sam to put his boots on the little guy’s throat.

Yeah, that’s it. Don’t tread on me.

Anyone who drinks that Kool-Aid should open this newspaper — or any other newspaper in America — and turn to the Obituary section. Take a good look at the photos, then read the accompanying obit. Some of those folks were killed by COVID-19, right here in our little town. I knew one of them. He was a really nice, kind man.

So far, 360,000 Americans have been snuffed out by the disease. At the current rate, nearly three more will die in the next minute.

But hey, there’s a lot of Americans, right? And there’s safety in numbers, too. You anti-maskers are young and vigorous, so you have little to fear from a disease that strikes disproportionately at older members of society.

Well, bully for you – and to hell with that World War II veteran who lives down the block, eh? He’s had his day, just like the old widow who lives around the corner. Ain’t that right?

That’s how the rest of us interpret your refusal to wear a mask. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Even if you mean no harm, you could be infectious, unknowingly shedding the virus onto people more vulnerable than yourself.

Maybe you are infectious; maybe you aren’t. It’s hard to tell, so why not err on the side of caution? Wearing a mask won’t hurt you, and it could protect someone else. It’s Good Citizenship 101.

I suspect most anti-maskers are soldiers in someone else’s army, simply aping a morally bankrupt president, a ratings-hungry TV host, or the divisive pastor of a local church. In their own way, each of these science-denying masterminds craves public attention. Incivility and provocation are their tools in an attempt to win followers.

Here on the Palouse, the Dec. 11 front page of the Daily News painted a perfect portrait of this sorry masquerade.

The lead story ran beneath this headline: “November’s top Idaho killer? Coronavirus.” Lower on the page was another story with this headline and subhead: “Maskless customers close Tri-State Outfitters – Message from Christ Church leader Doug Wilson prompted people to visit Moscow store without face coverings.”

Pssst, Doug. Here’s some friendly advice: Stop braying about your rights, and start living up to your responsibilities.

After years of collecting passport stamps, William Brock finally ran aground on the Palouse. He has been a Daily News columnist since 2002.

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