My wife and I had our first-in-a-long-time inside-a-restaurant meal Friday night, returning to our favorite Italian place, Paul Manno’s. We had continued to support Paul over the last 14 months by picking up some of his delicious food at curbside every few weeks, but this was the first time we’d ventured through the door to sit down for dinner.

As soon as we walked in, he came over to say thanks and welcome us back. I told him I was glad to see the place full and asked if he’d had trouble re-staffing the restaurant now that the county allows him 100% occupancy. Paul told me that he hadn’t laid off anyone during the down times. It wasn’t easy, he said, but many of his employees had been with him for a long time and, even though there wasn’t anything for most of them to do, he kept them all on the payroll. Amazing.

Of course, he couldn’t make up the revenue they missed out on by not receiving tips, so our waiter told us he (and several colleagues) had to go out and get second gigs, but now that the restaurant is up and running again, they’re all masked and back on the full-time. Oh, and the food is still fantastic.

This is the time of year when my brother-in-law and I begin to plan our annual Columbus Day weekend in Las Vegas, during which we play a lot of poker, bet on NFL games, eat well, lounge around the pool, and maybe see a show. Last October was the first time this century we hadn’t taken the trip, and although we haven’t discussed it yet, I have a feeling we won’t be going this fall, either.

It’s not because we’re afraid to fly — we’re both vaccinated and will be traveling elsewhere by air at various times this year. It has more to do with the destination. While some elements of Vegas are re-opening, they aren’t enough to draw us back. Moreover (as I’ve written before), I’ve kinda lost the poker urge. Even if I hadn’t, I don’t relish the prospect of having to sit at tables where the players are separated by plexiglass shields.

Unlike Maxwell Smart’s boss, I’m not falling for the Cone Of Silence routine. Maybe next year.

I stopped for gas the other day and while my tank was filling, I pulled on my mask and headed for the convenience store. There was another guy a step or two ahead of me, so I said, “After you, sir.” He looked at me, noticed my face covering, and asked, “Are they still doing the mask thing here?” I said yes, and he shook his head while complaining, “So stupid!”

Then he pulled a mask out of his pocket and proceeded to cover his mouth — but not his nose — and go inside. I chalked it up to yet another dumb American who doesn’t understand the human respiratory system. Probably doesn’t think he needs to get vaccinated, either.

Or perhaps this gentleman has gotten double-vaxxed, but is frustrated that the law still requires him to wear a mask in retail establishments. I can understand his disappointment — if he’s only thinking about himself, which I’m sure is the case. If he were thinking about others, he might understand the undue burden of expecting the store’s staff to know who’s immune and who’s contagious. Can you imagine the fights that might lead to? Better to have one simple standard that applies to everyone — a rule that’s not actually that difficult to follow, besides.

As I waited an extra beat to follow him into the store, I fought the urge to tell him that my mask not only protects me from COVID, but also from idiocy.