CUTTING BACK – A COVID STORY

I was recently struck by the reaction of a Richmond barber to the decision of the mayor not to allow the city to begin to reopen, after he (the barber) had stepped out in preparation to reopen by setting appointments for customers that he then had to cancel.  So I wrote a short story – and then I saw the article about the “Haircut Police in Lansing, Michigan!”

John was feeling depressed. He had been in social isolation for more than two months, living alone and only connecting online with friends and family. His weekly trip to the grocery store had become the highlight of his social life. He had shocked himself by flirting with the girl on the checkout behind her plexiglas shield.

His phone pinged and he looked for the text. It was Brian again, with another one of his harebrained schemes for flaunting the rules.

“Hey John, how long is your hair?”

“Eh, what?” John responded.

The phone rang. He answered and listened as Brian told him to meet him at eleven that evening on the corner of South Main and Sixth. “There’s a place I know”, he said, secretively.

John pondered a moment. So far he had declined Brian’s invitations to afterhours adventures, but boredom and depression were provoking a desire to let his hair down, so to speak.

He drove downtown and parked in a mostly empty lot. He walked across Main and greeted Brian, who quickly steered him down Sixth Street. He looked in surprise at Brian’s normally well-groomed appearance. He had never before seen him with a beard and now it was hard to tell where the uncut locks above ended and the downy facial growth began.

“Boy! Do I look as if I’m having as bad a hair-day as you do?” asked Brian. John pondered the question and then caught a glimpse of himself in a store-front reflection.

“And I have just the place for us tonight!” continued Brian, slapping his friend across the shoulders.

This section of Sixth Street was normally known for its restaurants and bars. They had been shuttered for the duration and the street was beginning to look a little faded. That seemed not to deter Brian as he again grabbed John by the elbow and steered him between two closed establishments and down some steps to an unassuming subterranean entrance. A couple of sharp taps and the door swung open for the two friends to be greeted by a suited and well-groomed doorman, sporting a remarkably sharp razor cut.

The light was low, but John could see enough to observe a shimmering plastic-sheeted wall some fifteen feet in front of him, a few tables and chairs in the foreground, and, over to the right-hand side, what looked like a bar with rows of bottles ranked behind it.

“Good evening Sirs. What can I get you?” inquired a man in a white dress shirt with a black bowtie at his neck. John was surprised to see how neat the barman’s dark hair was, brushed back and neatly trimmed. He hadn’t been in a bar for nearly three months and felt the urge to ask facetiously if they stocked Corona. Instead he asked for a single malt with a little ice.

“I’m sorry sir, but we are not that kind of establishment”, he responded as he folded a white towel and lay it on the counter in front of him. “If you’ve come for a drink try Charlie’s down on Seventh”.

John looked helplessly at Brian who stepped up and stated, “We’ve come for a .. ahem .. cut!” He dropped his voice to a whisper at the end of the statement.

“In that case I can offer you a crew or a quiff. I doubt a mohawk would look so good on you, but maybe an Ivy League to give you that professional look”, responded the host.

“What is this place?” John nudged Brian.

Their host responded. “We call it a SnipEasy. A hundred years ago we had the Spanish flu followed by the era of the Speak-easy as we dealt with prohibition. Today we have this Covid thing, so it stands to reason that in another era of proscription we should have a few places where honest guys and girls can get their hair cut.

“So, how does it work?” asked Brian.

“Well we’ve set up our chairs back there, each one shrouded in plastic, six feet wall to wall, and then the next little booth. We’ve got stylists from all over town setting up shop here. Maybe you know Julia from Julia Styles down on Riverside. Rapunzel was in here last week and Julia gave her a Pixie Cut. Locks of Love were overwhelmed. Julia’s even thinking of changing the name of her salon to “The Whole Nine Yards”, when she opens up again”.

“So I guess we’ve come to the right place to get a trim and a shave then”, declared Brian. “But’s what’s with all the bottles on the wall?”

“Oh, they’re real alright. A little bourbon, a little gin and so on. Flip them round though and we have a little argan oil, a tea tree, and a jojoba conditioner. See, all of them disguised, but all genuine. We’ve even got a little restorative tonic aged over thirty years”. He chuckled a moment and went on. “We need to keep up the appearance. We would not want the wrong people to get the right idea about this place. After all we are not here to encourage bar-hopping, just a little barber-shopping.

Just at that moment the doorman snapped his fingers. “Feds are coming!”

“Quick” the host said, pointing to a card table and a couple of chairs. “Grab a glass and take your seats. We’ll show them that we’re nothing more than a few friends enjoying a socially distanced night-cap”.

As they sat down, the door burst open and in rushed four men wearing government gray suits. All of them were completely bald. They quickly glanced around, eyes settling first on the man at the bar, and then roaming past the table to the shimmering plastic curtain.

“What’s going on here then?” demanded the lead man, whose naked dome seemed larger and balder than those of the other men. “We heard the buzz of an electric razor going round the neighborhood!”

“There’s nothing to concern yourselves with here gentlemen”, responded the barman, now fully in role, “Just some friends having a quiet drink and a game”.

“And what’s back there?” he impatiently indicated the curtain.

“Take a look”, came an invitation.

He pulled back the curtain to reveal a dark and silent hallway.

“Just some restyling we’re doing during the lockdown!”

“Well make sure it stays that way, or we’ll be back to trim your business further”.

With that the four men turned somewhat disappointedly and left the establishment.

“So, who were they?” Brian asked.

“Oh they’re just the local enforcers. They call the big guy Allott Less. I understand he had a childhood accident with a wax”.

“And the others?”

“They call them ‘The Uncuttables!”

The curtain shimmered again, and with a plastic rustle a small man came through from the rear. Rubbing his chin and speaking to no one in particular, he headed out into the night, with the words: “Well, that was a close shave!”

Andrew Fuller – May 20, 2020

I was recently struck by the reaction of a Richmond barber to the decision of the mayor not to allow the city to begin to reopen, after he (the barber) had stepped out in preparation to reopen by setting appointments for customers that he then had to cancel.  So I wrote a short story – and then I saw the article about the “Haircut Police in Lansing, Michigan!” What are we coming to!
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