Last week, for the first time since at least February, my son and I went to a barber shop.
We had been getting by during the pandemic with DIY haircuts from a friend, which, if I’m being honest, I thought were pretty good. But this time, it had been too long between cuts. My hair was getting poofy and silver-white, making me look like a poor- and dumb-man’s Einstein.
So into the barber shop we went, masks on. I was a bit on edge. Everyone was following safety protocols to the letter. One stylist even insisted a guy who had briefly removed his mask needed to put it back on, and he did. All very encouraging. Still, I was asking myself if this really was an essential thing to have done. It just felt a bit weird.
No going back now. I sat in a chair next to my son, while I waited for my own cut to begin.
He was talking to the woman cutting his hair about how he had dressed up as the Mandalorian for Halloween. They talked about the show, and how a recent episode featuring giant spiders was kind of gross. She asked if he had gone to many houses trick-or-treating. He hadn’t, he accurately replied, adding, “because of the virus.”
There was a sympathetic noise from the stylist, and I looked off to the side for a bit, missing a few beats of the conversation. My focus sharply returned when I heard my son say, “And Trump won’t even wear a mask!”
I felt my heart leap into my throat. The next few seconds unfolded like hours.
“Biden wears one!” he continued.
The air was as fragile as glass. What is happening?
A little explanation is probably relevant here. I disclose my opinions for a living. Some people like them, some people hate them. Some people don’t read them. Some of those people who don’t read them still write to me to tell me how much they hate them.
I also curate and publish the opinions of others. Some I agree with, some I don’t agree with. But just like say, a dentist, doesn’t go home and look at pictures of rotten teeth or glare discerningly into the mouths of neighbors while out walking the dog, I’m not a 24/7 opinion-dispenser. In fact, I’m fairly quiet, nonjudgmental and, in all honesty, a bit shy around people I don’t know. I’m also that way with some people I do know.
And my wife and I certainly don’t talk politics around our 7-year-old son, unless he has a specific question or we’re trying to educate him on some of the basic aspects of how our government functions.
Opining on presidential politics or the election during one of the most polarizing times in our country’s modern history within the confines of the first service-oriented business I had entered in nine months was not on my agenda. Turns out, it wasn’t up to me.
I put my head down slightly and gripped the bridge of my nose with my thumb and forefinger. “I can’t believe he’s talking about this,” I said out loud.
And then the most wonderful thing happened. People laughed. They assured me it was OK.
“Has someone been talking a bit too much politics at home?” the stylist asked me with a chuckle.
“Uh, I work for the newspaper; it’s a whole thing,” I said, waving my arm in a dismissive motion.
And that was that. No one stopped our haircuts and told us to get out. No one went on a rant one way or the other. The shop didn’t fill up with Proud Boys or antifa demonstrators. Life simply snapped back to real time.
“Your son seems pretty smart,” the stylist cutting my hair later said.
“Oh, we hope so, I guess,” I replied.
I felt relieved. Better than relieved, actually. I felt like there’s a chance that we’re all going to be OK. When strangers are in the same room for a purpose other than planning the kidnapping of the governor of Michigan, we don’t care about political views. We don’t rant about mask policies being fascist. We generally get along. We talk about the weather, and “The Mandalorian.” And, if something political comes up, as long as it’s a kid saying it and their parents show the proper level of embarrassment, it’s all right.