There’s something going on with American men in coronavirus isolation ... something akin to the communal visions people were having of Devil’s Tower in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
One by one, many of us, alone, without prompting — motivated perhaps by a reasonable fear that we’ll never see our barber again, perhaps by garden variety mania brought on by our world going to pieces — have unilaterally decided that it's high time to cut our own hair.
Celebrities have been getting in on the self-coiffing act — Pink posted an Instagram video on Tuesday revealing her solo cut, snipped drunkenly the night before, and "Grace and Frankie" actor Scott Evans posted a video on Twitter of his Avengers star brother, Chris Evans, correcting his uneven DIY shearing.
On Thursday Blake Shelton tweeted video of his "quarantine mullet," adding that Gwen Stefani had helped him "take it to the next level" with stripes.
Among my middle-aged dad friends, and scores of others I’ve heard about, the idea has become a virus of its own, filling these men with the belief that they have the chops to give themselves a passable trim. Dissecting this impulse has been interesting to me. It’s a bit of a bouillabaisse of nascent male insecurities and wish fulfillment, all seasoned to taste with the anxiety accelerant of familial isolation.
Clearly it is something one does when mental health starts to break down — think Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.”
It also plays into the perpetual conflict most of us have with reality and where our capabilities fit in. We’ve all watched sniper movies and thrown up our hands in abject rage at an errant shot — just put the X over the dude and squeeze that trigger! Likewise, how hard can it be to snip a few strands in a symmetrical and repetitive manner?
The psychological underpinnings may be complex, but the execution could not be more straightforwardly bad.
The first in my circle was my friend Mat Guliner, a pretty regular finance guy, who has been marooned in a New York City apartment for more than a week with his wife and children. Mat woke up one day and decided it was time to shave his head. With visions of Tommy Shelby from “Peaky Blinders," he took out his clippers and went to town. And while his ambition was glorious — Cillian Murphy is that handsome — the end result was a little more Billy Bob Thornton in “Sling Blade.”
On that very night, on the opposite side of America, two of my oldest friends, Steve Lemme and Kevin Heffernan, stars of a TV show they created, “Tacoma FD” (and, starting Thursday night, stars of the after-show “Tacoma FD: Talkoma”), decided to do likewise: cut their own hair.
It started out well for Lemme. “I have clippers, so I gave myself what I have to say is a pretty sweet hairdo,” he said. “But then complications arose. I tried the sideburn clippers and — I don’t know what happened — I slipped and zapped my right sideburn right off my head. I had no choice but to cut the other one to the top of my ear, which is a terrible look.” It bore zero resemblance to his usual coif courtesy of Floyd’s 99 Barbershop in Woodland Hills.
“But then I FaceTimed with Kevin,” Lemme continued. “And he, joyfully, looked like Boo Radley.”
With all L.A. salons and barber shops closed, Heffernan explained, “we decided to do ‘family haircuts.’ I went first. After the first swipe, all of my kids laughed, and I knew I was in trouble. It was a hatchet job. I’ve been cleaning it up a little every day since, but I still can’t see the back of my head.” Then again, since all production in Hollywood has ground to a halt, he said, he’s promoting his truTV show only via Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. “So no one else ever gets a good look at the back of my head either. I might just ride it out for the ‘Safer at Home’ duration.”
Somehow, these role models moved me to cut my own hair, leaving me looking like a down-on-his-luck Steve Carell with a receding hairline. My wife, polite as ever, cheered me with sweet sophistries about how handsome and rugged it looked, but my boys, Lucky and Georgie, were laughing the whole time. “Better quit while you’re ahead, Dad.” So I knew where I stood.
Curious how we all had fared in the eyes of a professional, I sent pictures to Kevin Lee, a native Angeleno who has clipped clients’ hair for decades, first at Kenneth and now as style director at Julien Farel Restore Salon and Spa in New York. Lee’s first reaction was relief, realizing how busy he’s going to be when COVID-19 passes.
He thought we all did reasonable jobs, given that none of us should ever be taking scissors to our own hair, and he also offered some solace. “For the first time, we as a society aren’t going anywhere,” Lee said. “If anyone was looking for the opportunity to take matters into their own hands, literally, this is it.”
In other good news for those who can’t keep their hands away from the clippers, there are dozens of DIY haircutting guides cropping up across the internet, from the groomed chic to the more utilitarian.
And fortunately, the consequences of failure are pretty minor. “The great thing about hair,” Lee said, “is it always grows back!”
Andy Bellin is a writer and director whose films include "Trust."