I was getting very shaggy, so I scheduled a haircut for this afternoon. Never in my life have I spent so much time thinking about a simple haircut. I thought of the chair and the people rotating through it. I thought about how many times my barber touches people day after day, week after week. I thought about if I would shake his hand coming and going. Mostly, I thought, is this safe or a completely dumb idea?
My longtime barber, and all his peers, look like a Punk-a-Billy band. In fact, many of them are in those kinds of bands. Lots of tattoos, slicked back hair. Chains dropped from wallets. Biker boots. Nice collection of old-school Harleys neatly parked on the street outside. The Rock-a-Billy station is streaming all the time with barbers occasionally making remarks on the songs. I like the place. We talk cars and punk rock. I have gone out to see my guy and his band at punk shows. It’s my kind of place. I suppose I do get a little credibility as the old dude who is always telling them what punk shows I have seen lately. And, it’s hard to slide a car reference by me.
Thinking about this haircut, I have never, in my life, been so conscious of the fact that I am 64 years old. I live the life I have led for most of adulthood, many of the same interests, and now without an annoying job, doing the things I have always loved doing, only more. But now COVID-19 has me hyper-conscious that I am above the “greatest risk” 60 and up line. Here I thought that age would just be about wisdom and free time. Silly me.
I decided to go ahead and get the haircut, a little shorter than usual so I won’t need one so soon. In the door, as usual, my guy offered me a beer or a whiskey (yea, it’s that kind of place) and his hand. I stepped back and looked him in the eye. Not sharing a firm handshake with these men and women is an insult.
I said, “Good to see you man. You know, I am over 60, kind of the danger zone for this virus thing, so for the duration I am not shaking hands. OK?”
Eric held his hand out in the air, then dropped it as a serious look crossed his face. “Yea man I get that.”
The folks there talked about the hysteria of the virus and the craziness of hoarding toilet paper. Eric said he uses a lot of bleach wipes and can’t find any. I was being careful. I didn’t want to get political, but I wanted to impart some of what I learned in the last week. These folks respect their elders, so I to stay what they respected. I told them I mostly blew off the cable news and went looking for scientists and epidemiologists to follow. I got them up to date on what is happening in Seattle. We talked about rock shows that wouldn’t go on and basketball being played in empty arenas. Now on the same page, I told them the stories of the doctors in Italy. Brutal, life and death triage and not enough hospital beds. Then one of the toughest in the bunch said, quietly, “Yea, I am not sure what to do with my kid if schools shut down.”
Just in the shot time I was in the barber’s chair, the NCAA announced that March Madness will not have crowds. WHO declared an official pandemic. The stock markets dropped into a Bear market. The SF Giants killed the bay series with Oakland. Seattle closed all schools. And, Trump was once again on television trying to wish it all away.
Eric finished the cut. Standing up I said, “You guys do know that all of you are going to have to shave your beards to wear masks, right?”
“What?” said Eric.
“I heard that,” said the tough guy, “the whiskers collect the virus.”
“Maybe put a sign in the window offering to shave all the hipsters at a discount,” I said as everyone laughed.
“Wash those hands, stay safe,” I said as I put on my coat to leave.
When I got back to my car, I washed my hands with sanitizer then went home to do the rest of my Coronavirus haircut plan. I took off all my clothes and put them in the wash. Then I took a long, hot shower. Out of the shower, there was more news from Italy. The prime minister just closed all shops but pharmacies and food marts. Barbershops too, I thought.
The privilege of being Americans will not let us escape this virus. It is coming hard and fast. As I roam around, in spite of the warnings, Americans remain mostly clueless. I listened to right wing radio on the way home. The talker was calling it the Wuhan Flu. Nice propaganda, I thought, make it foreign and just like the flu. Except, testifying before Congress this morning, one of those hero CDC doctors said that the absolute best case is that the mortality of COVID-19 will be 10 times that of the flu. Estimates of 500,000 to 1 million deaths are perfectly reasonable. Nope, it isn’t the flu.
So, I got a haircut today. Home, seemingly safe again, I am thinking about the future of my buddies at the puck rock barbershop. How will they make a living, pay the rent and care for their kids when the virus cloud now enveloping Seattle shifts south. I just don’t know. But I got a haircut.