“You know what’s the rage this year? Hats.”
Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes
It’s been twelve weeks since my last haircut.
Thanks to the lockdown, I’ve no access to a barber.
I look like Fabio, the first male American supermodel. Well, minus the “super”. And minus the “model”. Also, minus the height—Fabio’s got seven inches on me.
And, alas, minus the hair.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve grown plenty of hair. But compared to Fabio’s fabulous flowing mane my untamed thicket looks like a tumbleweed freshly thrashed by a prairie farmer’s combine.
Imagine boxing promoter Don King on a bad hair day and you’ll have a fair approximation.
I’m not black, admittedly. Perhaps the better comparator is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who surely combs his hair with a balloon).
A host of adjectives spring to mind to describe Messrs. King and Johnson. Supermodel, sadly, isn’t among them.
My wife has kindly offered, multiple times, to tame the wild bush atop my 53-year-old noggin. She’s a surgeon—so pretty good with her hands. But she gets the giggles with tasks of this sort; sharp instruments and helpless laughter do not a happy haircut make. Thus far I’ve fended her off.
I’d do it myself, but I’m not much of a sculptor. I shaped the hair around my dog’s face, once, trimming here, clipping there… she was so embarrassed she walked backward for a month.
Shaving it all off is an option, of course, and simple enough to do. But vanity intrudes: I don’t have the enviable head shape of, say, Bruce Willis.
Undisguised by hair, my skull resembles a squashed eggplant. The left side of my occiput is dominated by a misshapen flat area crowned by a bony ridge. Perhaps I was dropped on my head as an infant (which might explain a few other things).
When I venture out on my weekly jaunt to get groceries I bury my mop under a baseball cap, clamped down backwards in a lame attempt to be cool. At work in the pediatric ER I wear a surgical cap to avoid frightening the children; it also stops bastard COVID particles from hitching a ride home on one of my waving fronds.
Happily for me, and for the hordes of other hairy Calgarians desperately seeking haircuts, the city’s hairdressers are tentatively slated to re-open next week. I suppose I’ll get in the queue.
A burning question, though: Is it safe?
After all the weeks of warnings about the infectious lethality of COVID-19, after all the admonitions to socially distance and shelter at home, is it now suddenly OK to get up-close-and-personal with our barbers and hairstylists for thirty minutes or longer?
On February 28 Donald Trump said of this virus: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Has his prophecy come true?
Sadly, no. Not yet, anyway. The virus remains a clear and present danger.
Thanks to proactive public health measures, helped by luck and geography, Calgary and the other major Western Canadian cities have avoided getting walloped. We’ve been spared the carnage that unfolded in places like New York City or Bergamo. We’re fortunate to be loosening restrictions in an environment in which the spread of COVID-19 is very much under control.
To be clear, the intent of lockdown was to try to get ahead of the virus so we didn’t overwhelm our hospitals, and to buy us time to prepare to live with this virus. We cannot stay locked down indefinitely—society will not grow stronger, Samson-like, as our unshorn locks grow collectively longer.
The opposite is true: we’ve become weaker and weaker as the negative consequences of shutdown accumulate: from cancers and other serious diseases missed for lack of screening; from increased alcohol and substance abuse; from negative educational and psychological impacts on our kids; from financial ruination leading to poverty and poor health.
We must curtail that damage. We must open up. We must emerge from hiding and begin to live with the reality of this virus.
One might expect the people of cities like Vancouver and Calgary to experience some measure of survivor’s guilt for being fortunate enough to escape the brutal experiences of Montreal or New York.
I’m afraid that many are infected instead with “survivor’s arrogance”: the idea that because we’ve escaped the brunt of the pandemic, the virus is not a big deal and that the lockdown was gross over-reaction.
That arrogant attitude is dangerous. The implacable laws of infection and spread still hold. COVID-19 lurks among us. This is hardly the time to throw caution to the wind.
We’ll need plenty courage in the coming weeks and months. But courage isn’t foolhardiness. Courage, as I heard colleague and respected ethicist Dr. Ian Mitchell put it recently, is the midpoint between cowardice and recklessness.
Dancing around this virus in public is courageous. To do so without bothering with intelligent social distancing; without washing your hands; without wearing a mask when appropriate; without staying home when you’re sick— that is simply reckless.
And it’s not cowardice to ask those from whom you cannot distance—like your barber or hairdresser—to wear a mask or to wash their hands or to decontaminate their workspaces.
We could hide in our houses forever, I suppose.
But there’s a great line in The Shawshank Redemption—one of my favourite movies—that applies. It’s uttered by Andy Dufresne, a banker wrongly convicted of murdering his wife:
“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really: Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”
I think we’d best get busy livin’.
So go ahead, my hirsute friends, and get your ears lowered.
But please don’t lower your guard: be careful out there.