Yesterday I went to get my hair cut and colored. COVID has receded enough to allow hair salons in my county to open again, but with strict restrictions. One client at a time, physical distancing, masks and temperature checks and disinfection protocols between each customer.
So, my stylist was in the last stage of applying color to my roots when a tall, older man with a goatee walked in. She mumbled, “What is he doing here? He is two hours early! His appointment is not until 3:30,” the approximate time she would be finished with me. The man hadn’t stopped at the station right by the door where customers are supposed to use hand sanitizer. He sat down in a chair about 8 feet away. He was not wearing a mask.
In moments like this it’s hard to know what to do. We have all seen the videos of entitled white people flying off the handle in response to “no mask, no service” statements. I expected (wanted) my stylist to be assertive–to ask him to come back with a mask, particularly since he was so early. But she seemed hesitant, like she was trying to figure out how to approach him, even though he was apparently a regular customer. She finished my color treatment and set me underneath a dryer, located about five feet behind from her chair. She then went over to talk with the man.
She signed him in, checked his temperature, and asked him about a mask. He said he didn’t have one. Instead of refusing to serve him, she gave him a tissue to hold over his face as he sat down in her chair. My hair stylist pointed the fan in front him towards the floor, so his respiratory droplets would not be blown back into where I was sitting, held captive by the dryer. I watched all of this, my anxiety growing, then hid behind my magazine, the September issue of The Atlantic, with “How Did It Come to This?” glaring from the front cover. From time to time I would look up from the magazine, to catch the man looking at me through the mirror. Each time I looked up, the tissue was barely covering his mouth, his nose uncovered. My anxiety increased, as did my anger.
After the man left and I was done with the dryer, I asked my stylist what the deal was–why she had let him settle for “wearing” a tissue instead of a mask. I told her he had barely kept it in front of his face, and that I was uncomfortable sitting so close to him. She apologized, explaining he was a “Trump follower,” and she had learned from past experiences that customers like him can be pushed only so far. I empathized with her–her business has been severely impacted by the COVID shut-downs. She applied for unemployment in April and still hasn’t received a dime of assistance. It’s hard to turn any customer away under those conditions. There’s also the gender dynamic. It takes courage for women–even assertive ones like me–to stand up to men. We are so used to being subservient, so socialized to being accommodating.
But I could have said something, done something. In hindsight I had so many choices. I could have politely said, “Excuse me. Would you do me a favor? Would you mind wearing a mask for my protection and that of my health-compromised family?” If he resisted, I could have said, “I understand. You don’t know me. Then, would you wear a mask for our stylist? Because if she doesn’t follow the health guidelines, it puts her shop at risk of being shut down, and that wouldn’t be good for any of us. Would you do it for her?”
And if he responded with some babble about his “liberty,” or how COVID is just a hoax, or that herd immunity is what we should all strive for, I could have said, “You know, 187,000 people have died from COVID so far this year, so it can’t be a hoax. And your “liberty” could cost me and my family not only our liberty but also our lives. Scientists have reported that more than 2 million more people will die before “herd immunity,” is achievable. I believe in God, but God doesn’t save us from being stupid. Please put on a mask.”
And if he still refused? I could have gotten up from underneath the dryer and gone to the far reaches of the salon, where his air was less likely to reach me. I could have told my stylist, to rinse out my color and call me when she’s ready to make everyone follow the health guidelines to keep all of us safe. She earns far more for my treatment than she does for a man’s haircut.
My dog teaches me to always reward the behavior we want repeated. My stylist rewarded the man’s risky behavior by cutting his hair and not forcing the issue. I rewarded his behavior by not saying anything. That won’t be happening again. At least not by me.