Last night I ran into an old friend who’s no longer a friend because he’s more or less turned into a wokester fanatic. Yes, the viral insanity has even permeated the exurban, tree-shrouded hamlet where I now hang my hat. I won’t name names but the words between us were (mostly on his end) awful.

It happened inside Wilton’s Village Market sometime around dinner hour, and it started when I saw him poking around the exotic cheese section. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, a fall jacket, a smallish hat and a black mask. No point in ducking the guy so I walked over and offered a greeting. Small talk followed.

Then I asked what was up with the mask, and stated in moderate but plain terms that the pandemic is over, and then asked how many booster shots he’d had, etc. I told him I’ve had four, and that I succumbed to the Omicron virus late last year. One of the reasons he wears a mask, he said, was to wind up people like me. And then we were off to the races.

He began ranting about the anti-woke assholes who refused to be vaccinated last year, and I agreed, I said, that the anti-vaxxers didn’t help matters at all, especially those who refused to mask up. Then he expanded the topic to include all anti-woke people of whatever persuasion, and I said, “Well, that’s me…I’m an anti-wokester because of the shrill lunatic attitudes of the woke left.”

And then the subject drifted over to my deluded enemies in the #MeToo congregation, which mainly stems from that unfortunate March ’21 episode in which I posted a friend’s Oscar-related opinion about how the horrific Atlanta massage parlor shootings (which the left tried to characterize as a racial hate crime until the facts began to dispute that) might blow favoring winds in the direction of Chloe Zhao.

I took the sentence-long comment down after a brief Twitter flare-up, but the haters were on a rampage and before you knew it I was being blamed for everything including the burning of the Reichstag, even though I’d actually done zip. As in Z-I-P. I had written dead fucking nothing.

Then he looked me in the eye and said I deserved all the rain that had fallen on my head since that episode, and said — this was classic — that I was just as deplorable of a human being as Harvey Weinstein. I gulped. “You can’t be saying that…you can’t be,” I replied. But he was. He’s King Lear with three Millennial daughters, you see, and they’re all wokesters and he feels he owes them his allegiance. So we’d basically entered cuckoo-bird territory.

I’ve known this guy since high school, and have regarded him for decades as one of the best and brightest, a guy whose views and judgments I’ve always felt were wise and on-target…I could have never imagined that this guy, of all people, would look me in the eye and essentially call me a piece of shit who deserved to die.

It was like speaking to Tom Courtenay’s “Strelnikov” character in Dr. Zhivago during that train-car scene with Omar Sharif. It was as if this former friend had been taken over by a woke pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Decades of trust and affection and mutual respect, and this guy had chucked it all over a moronic woke-vs.-anti-woke, Hatfield vs. McCoys blood feud.

I wrote him a couple of hours later. “You’re aware that 70-plus years ago a hardcore cabal of allegedly patriotic rightwing Americans devoted themselves to punishing people who’d sympathized with Communism in the ‘30s,” I said. “Careers and lives ruined because righties were trying to purify America and cleanse it of Communism.

“Has it occurred to you and your fanatical spawn that you’re trying to do exactly the same thing now? You and your woke Robespierres are looking to cleanse the country of the wily anti-woke pathan. You’re doing the same damn thing, man. And you know what? People hate who you are, and what you’re about. I just can’t believe that you’ve turned into a woke seed pod. It’s scary.”

I whined about this supermarket trauma to a friend, and the friend decided to write Strelnikov and share a few thoughts.

Excerpt #1: “I’ve been friendly with Jeff for 15 or 16 years now. In all of that time, he has always spoken very highly of you. Your friendship was something he was proud of, and he loved visiting you from time to time.

“Recently, however, it seems that you’ve decided Jeff is somehow a bad guy or someone deserving of being shunned by you. You became angry that he had become outspoken against wokeness, or the collective sense of purpose the Left seems to now be guided by.

Excerpt #2: “I’m writing you because none of us have the luxury of waiting 20 years for this madness, this intolerance, this inhumanity to end. It might feel justified to you, as it does to so many on the left now. A kind of moral purity or intolerance seems to have taken hold. But we just don’t have that much time left. Any of us.

Excerpt #3: “I gather you’ve decided Jeff is as bad as someone like Harvey Weinstein, but he’s never been accused of anything except being a flawed human being like the rest of us and and occasionally posting or saying things that some people have felt crossed the proverbial line.”

Excerpt #4: “Jeff posts provocative things because that is what he does and why his site is a must-read for so many people. That’s what journalists do, good ones, and what artists do, good ones. Otherwise, they become nothing more than propaganda delivery devices and will have no lasting impact.”

Excerpt #5: “He might not be a perfect human being (who is?), but you know he’s a decent guy because I know he’s a decent guy. That’s the truth. I know that your friendship mattered to Jeff. I can’t imagine it being torn apart over something so petty. I hope that you will find a way to mend things. Life is way too short for anything else.”

Strelnikov replies: “Dear [friendo] — Thank you for your note. I like the way you write. Jeff is my lifelong buddy and I’ve always accepted him as the flawed, eccentric dude that he is, but this is different. I never read the original offending piece that Jeff ran in his column, but I get the racial/misogynistic gist of it.”

HE to Strelnikov: “There WAS no ‘original offending piece,’ Mr. Greenjeans. It was a SINGLE SENTENCE that a friend wrote. Which I posted within a broader context in the column for about 45 minutes, and then removed.

“The ‘racial gist’ that you and your brilliant spawn saw in that posting was simply a friend’s conversational aside — an incidental opinion about how major news events sometimes have a way of influencing Oscar voting. Nothing more.

“I’m sorry to inform that the Strelnikov family’s perception of misogyny is totally 100% imaginary.

“Have you or your daughters ever read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible? You might find it instructive. Or you might not.

HE to Streklnikov clan: If you’re shrill and myopic and fortified with sufficient self-inflated rage, you can conjure anything out of anything.”

Strelnikov replies: “Those who know Jeff would agree that a large part of his charm comes from his unfiltered nature and poor impulse control. I love the guy, but he’s oblivious to the fact that we are in a war at this moment, in This World. The people who are too ‘woke’ for Jeff are the racially and sexually OPPRESSED people who are finally having their say, and they’re saying ‘NO MORE’ to Trump and Harvey Weinstein, et. al. I have three grown daughters and an intact marriage of 38 years and I consider myself a Feminist. I don’t have to mince words with Jeff — he just doesn’t get it. I still consider us friends, and always will, but our country & the whole world is in the grip of a rightwing fascist movement and Jeff better get with the program as soon as he can. I hope he does.”

HE to Strelnikov: “Oh, I get it, all right! I get it and then some. Whew.”