I know this doesn’t rank very high on the list of pandemic hardships, but COVID has been hard on my hair.

I missed a few trips to the barber shop in the early days of the pandemic, and even though they were some of the first businesses to reopen, I opted to buy some clippers and perform my own quarantine buzz cut.

I guess I was hoping to look like Steve McQueen, and it worked, only it was the toothless Steve McQueen from the end of “Papillon,” the part of the movie where he’s emerges from years of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island.

It was good for me. It taught me humility. I learned to respect the professionalism of the barber trade. But it was not a long-term solution.

Then, I let it grow for a few months, figuring that I’d had long hair as a teenager and it looked quite dashing. Only, back then, it wasn’t so gray, and it emerged evenly all over my scalp and not in patches.

The unanimous guidance from my wife and two daughters was to get it cut by someone who knows what they’re doing.

So, I went back to Cliff’s one-chair shop on Free Street, and he graciously welcomed me back (“It’s what we do, man, we cut heads.”)

We caught up with each other’s 2020 story. I talked about the pros and cons of working from home. He talked about the challenges of following the public health guidance in a business where working from home is not an option.

I asked what it was like to be downtown when so many businesses had moved to remote work.

“Everybody is so mad all the time,” he said. “It wears you out.”

His answer surprised me until I thought about it. In my job, I’m used to angry people, and sometimes I am one of them.

But the general sense of anger that used to be limited to online comment boards and talk radio at election time has spilled out into our day-to-day life. Now I see political signs on people’s houses three years away from the next presidential election, some with words I can’t publish here.

And Cliff is right: It’s exhausting. This generally pissy mood could be our collective long-haul symptom. What if living through the pandemic is making us permanently angry in the same way that living through the Great Depression made some of our grandparents cheap?

It started last year, when refusing to wear a mask became a statement that could turn you into a YouTube celebrity if you yelled loud enough about your freedom.

Now it’s extended to refusing a life-saving vaccine to – I guess? – show you are an independent thinker. How mad do you have to be at the Democrats to risk your own life and the lives of people around you? Why is this a badge of identity?

I guess I’m angry, too. I was so happy to stop masking up, and it’s been great to have family visiting from out of state this summer. I see the cases rising in Maine while the number of vaccinations has leveled off, and I’m dreading the cold weather, when people spend most of their time indoors.

Is this going to be another lonely Thanksgiving? Another long winter?

I don’t know any more about epidemiology than I do about cutting hair, and I expect the same is true for the anti-vax armchair experts.

I got vaccinated as soon as I could and think just about everyone else should, too. As long as the transmission rate is high in my community, I’m going to wear a mask indoors if I think I could be around unvaccinated people.

I think it’s smart for workplaces and public-facing businesses to require proof of vaccination for everyone who comes in their doors. When a vaccine is approved for children, I think schools should require it, the same way they require kids to be immunized for other diseases. If parents don’t want to comply, they can teach their kids at home. Personal freedom should not mean you can put other people’s health at risk.

But I’m going to try as hard as I can not to be angry. If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic – besides leaving hair-cutting to the professionals – it’s that, like it or not, we really are all in this together.

Yelling at each other is no way to build unity, and collective action is what it will take to get through this.


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