The Trivial Things We Don’t Care About

I always wanted long hair. I grew up in the sixties, when it was the norm my friends and I were aspiring to. I lived in Romania and browsed western magazines with photographs of musicians, movie stars and clusters of hippies, all looking great. Their hair cascaded to their shoulders, as if animated by freedom itself. Yet for me, having long hair was a constant battle, in my high school, later in college and even in the streets. The police would round up the ‘unruly’ and send them promptly to the barbershop. They said they didn’t want any trace of the decadent west. My battle continued at home, where my own mother didn’t think that long hair was nice. Her image of a civilized man included a clean shave and hair combed backwards and closely cropped. ‘A tall forehead is a sign of intelligence,’ she would often say. One summer, I went with my friends to the beach, escaping my teachers’ and my mother’s scrutiny for a couple of months. My hair grew long enough to cover my forehead and half of my ears in lazy, dark curls. My face was sunburnt and peeling. I had lost weight. When I returned home, my mother happened to meet me in the street. She passed her fingers through my curls and pushed them off my forehead revealing the white skin that had escaped the sunrays immediately below the hairline. ‘You are so ugly,’ she said.

With time, hairstyles changed. I changed too and I came to America and became a part of the corporate world. I tried to look civilized and comply. When people wore ties to work, I wore ties. I never went to the office in jeans or flip-flops and shorts. I subjected myself to regular haircuts, for years on end, to this day. Now my hair is gray. It is thinner than before, and while I still have most of it, a bald spot is growing right on the top of my head. You can’t see it unless you look at me from above, or when I come out of the pool and my hair is wet. Because of the coronavirus, the last time I went to the barbershop was six weeks ago. My wife says I need a haircut. She’s willing to give one to me and every day I say, ’Not yet, please.’ I look at myself in the mirror and see the feeble spark of my youth.

When he was younger, my son, a proud millennial, changed his hairstyle often. This was a reflection of his search for his identity, a part of growing up. Nobody seemed to object and his mother and I didn’t either. He wore his hair long, then switched to dreadlocks, and then buzz cuts. I don’t think he ever colored his hair, although some of his friends did. He never had a Mohawk. Once he started corporate life, like me, he complied. He cut his hair very short: about half an inch all around. He wears a two-day stubble. I think it is ‘in’ nowadays. Coronavirus caught him flatfooted, and now his hair is long. When I saw him on Face Time this weekend, I suggested it was becoming. He didn’t think so. He sent me this picture as a measure of his discontent.

I get it. It’s ridiculous to complain about haircuts when there is real tragedy all around us: the unemployed, the turndown in the economy, the brave doctors and nurses, the sick and the dead. Yet I think of all these trivial things that have changed in our lives and I am sorry. I should not complain.

We have created a grocery decontamination station on the porch by our front door. Every time we get a package or an Instacard delivery, we put on our gloves and wash down the items with bleach solution. Then we leave them outside for a while, unless they require refrigeration.

When I go to get the mail, I wear gloves. We have a tray in the garage where I drop the mail and hold it in quarantine for a minimum of two days. I wash the gloves for twenty seconds with warm water and soap. I disinfect the keys and the door locks. Then I wash my hands.

I don’t wear shoes in the house — not anymore.

Every Tuesday is recycle day. Before I take the bin back, I clean it with alcohol wipes.

We take vitamin C and vitamin D, and every five days a pill of zinc. They say it strengthens the immune system. Perhaps it does.

Since paper products are harder to get, we are careful in how we use them. For instance, my wife ordered industrial paper towels, which arrived in a huge two-foot roll that we keep in the garage. It is blue-gray in color like the sky in the spring. Each sheet is too large to be used all at once and every morning I cut a few sheets in four parts and place them in the kitchen near the sink. We also cut the napkins in two. They are large and half of one per person is more than enough. We don’t rationalize toilet paper. Not yet.

I don’t have patience to read and I limit myself to no more than two hours of news on TV. It’s always the same. I don’t understand why testing is unavailable. Besides, if a person takes a test today and turns out to be healthy, what prevents him or her from contacting the virus tomorrow? Should he be tested again? It doesn’t make sense. We talk about this on and on. Theories abound. Some politicians lie. People rebel and march against their own good. It’s disappointing, at best.

I think writing has become my strongest vaccine.

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Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.