DIY Haircuts (COVID Story 2.0) by
(125 Stories)

Prompted By Haircuts

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Having recently written my COVID story, this minor aspect of it came immediately to mind when I saw our current haircut prompt.

Back in March of 2020 (i.e., COVID Year 1 A.D.), I realized, sadly, that I wasn’t going to be getting haircuts at my neighborhood barbershop for a while.  And this was to be the case despite having threatened the barbers there — all old school old guys themselves — that, as soon as I retired, I’d probably spend most days just sitting around their shop shooting the breeze about sports and politics with them and their customers.  I said I’d even be willing to make the occasional Dunkin Donuts run for them.

So I did a little bit of internet consumer research, determined that the Wahl hair trimmer set was the ne plus ultra of the male self-barbering niche, and ordered one on Amazon.  Here are the key parts of it (it also comes with about ten other trimmer attachments of various sizes, as well as a nifty black barber’s smock with velcro ties):


There is a famous phrase in baseball lore: “the tools of ignorance.”  It is used to describe catchers’ equipment  — face mask, chest protector, shin guards, etc. — based on the premise that anybody who chooses to play a position where one can be easily and painfully injured in so many ways must be an idiot.  (It is a myth, as often catchers are the smartest guys on the team.  But the phrase has stuck.  Blame Yogi.)  So, too, I consider my Wahl’s set to be my very own “tools of ignorance.”  But, in fairness to catchers, I truly don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my tools most of the time.

And what is it that I’ve been doing exactly? Basically, just running the trimmer with the #5 attachment  — sort of the mid-distance iron of the set —   through my hair about every three weeks until I cut some of it off without creating obvious bald spots.  And, hopefully, I’ve done so pretty evenly all around the old cranium.  Then I clip (carefully) around my ears with the very sharp scissors. More for safety than vanity, I borrow my wife’s make-up mirror while doing all this so I can see whatever it is that I’m doing.

Weather permitting, I have done my DIY haircut outside on our front patio because, smock or not, it makes a real, hairy mess.  Then I immediately run inside and take a  long shower before the clippings itch me to death. However, as this fairly recent picture of our patio suggests, this “barbershop” has not always been a feasible venue:


So, a couple of times, I have administered the haircut while sitting, fully clothed and smocked, in our family room bathroom bath tub.  However, the logistics are not ideal, starting with the ridiculously tiny chair I have to sit on to fit in the tub.  (Actually a grade school chair from the Bank Street School for Children that was given to me, but that’s another story.)  So the indoor haircut option is very much an unfavored Plan B even in truly nasty weather.

It is also not entirely accurate to say that this is a 100% DIY haircut.  Even with the mirror, I can’t possibly see the back of my head.  So I have usually asked my very understanding wife to join me for the last five minutes of my tonsorial adventures and do something with the back part.  What exactly she does I have no idea and have never dared hold up a second mirror to find out.  It is also irrelevant.  She’s about the only person who has seen the back of my head the last eleven months, particularly since I almost always wear a baseball cap when I go outside.

All this notwithstanding, as the recent post-haircut selfie that is the featured image for this story indicates, I think I/we have done a pretty good job of it.  Though you still can’t tell what’s going on in my back forty.

But, despite the apparent success of my harcutting adventures, I am quite anxious to get back to my beloved barbers for three reasons.  First, I know they will do a much better job than I have done and also make it all right going forward. Second, they are really good guys and I have felt badly about not giving them my business these last few months since they re-opened.  However, I just considered it to be an unnecessary risk for an old guy like me (and them).  And third, which is really a corollary of the second, whenever it is I go back to them will mean that we are all in a much safer place than we have been this last year.

And actually there is a fourth reason. I want to do a Dunkin Donuts run.




Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    First, I love that you bought your own tools of the trade at the beginning of lockdown (rather like I bought a Pilates circle and mat), and are brave enough to do all this yourself to obvious great benefit. I also wondered how you could reach so far around the back, but you answered that mystery – Kathie helped!

    From your selfie, you look quite well-groomed, so bravo for you! Winter did bring its own challenges, but somehow, you’ve solved them and immunity and spring (TODAY) are on the way. And so is that Dunkin’ run (they officially changed their name, since they serve other stuff now too).

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I took advantage of the nice weather a couple of days ago and did a little haircutting — possibly my last time. I will not miss it.

      And you’re right about “Dunkin’.” But, to me, they will always be about the doughnuts.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story of adventures in DIY haircuts made me laugh. Actually, you did a pretty good job as proven by your featured image. As with all things these days, anything that feels remotely normal is a huge deal, so I hope you get back to that barbershop soon.

  3. You did a great job, John…kudos! I’m going to urge my husband to read your story in the hope he might order a kit. He recently asked me to trim his hair, which I reluctantly did, but I was filled with trepidation as I’ve never cut anyone’s hair, not even my own. Well, I’ve trimmed my bangs, but that’s about it.

    Earlier this week, since it’s been over two weeks since my second vaccine, I ventured out (masked, of course) to my local “barbershop” and had four inches trimmed from the overall length. Before they allowed me inside, though, they took my temperature and had me fill out a disclaimer (I think that’s what you’d call it, just relieving them of any responsibility should I somehow contract Covid19). The place was almost empty, and they sanitized thoroughly after each of the few patrons moved from one seat to another. I felt so bad listening to the stories there about the closures, how their business has fallen off, and my stylist’s woes in making ends meet. I know most of us, like you, can’t wait to support our local barbershop or salon, for their sake, and for our own.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Barb. To quote an old ad jingle (I forget for what): “If I can do it, you can do it.”

      And, yes, as I noted, I have felt the same ambivalence/guilt about not going to my barbershop these past months. I hope they don’t throw me out when I finally reappear.

  4. I must pick up on “tools of ignorance.” I loved Little League when I was that age, and started as an outfielder. However, a few years later, our family purchased a catcher’s mitt, why I do not know, and as I was the one with the mitt, after that I was often the team catcher.

    In Little League I don’t think that the catcher position is more dangerous than any other, but I could be wrong. What I loved about catching was that I was always in the action, and I loved that. In the outfield I might stand for entire games without ever touching the ball, but the catcher touches every pitch.

    Was I a good catcher? I could catch any pitch that was not wild, but I never ever threw anyone out stealing. The trick is to keep your eye on the ball and forget about the batter. Maybe there is a more profound lesson there?

    • John Shutkin says:

      Not to worry, Mike. I tried to make clear that “tools of ignorance” was not just a misnomer, but exactly wrong. The catcher is often the smartest guy on the team.

      And yes; forget about the batter. Otherwise you will worry about every possible foul tip that could come flying your way. And keep your mask and helmet on.

  5. Suzy says:

    Great story, John, and I too am impressed by your haircutting prowess. Glad you showed us a picture of your “tools of ignorance,” and also one of your patio and its drawbacks as a barbershop. However, now that I have finished the story, I am overcome by a craving for a Dunkin’ Donut!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. Actually, since I took that picture, we have had some major melting, so the patio is back open for business.

      And I did some googling and I’m happy to report that there are a couple of Dunkins and other doughnut emporia in and around your town.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Necessity is the mother of invention again, apologies to Frank Zappa. You did a good job!

  7. Marian says:

    I laughed out loud, John, but I wish I’d known about the “tools of ignorance” earlier in the pandemic so I could have cut Dick’s hair. Then again, with my track record with any kind of tool, that might not have been a good bet. Glad it worked out for you and you look good!

  8. Looks great, John. Seriously. Maybe you should lead Zoom cut-along sessions??
    Two points: “tools of ignorance”. Quite right about the baseball IQ. But did you ever shake hands with a major league catcher with a long career? It’s like grasping a bag of peanuts. I don’t know how they do it.
    And re handling the back of the head? I learned, quickly, as I began shaving my head never, ever to use a mirror. Unless your a dentist you’ll be confused. I shave the back of my head by feel; not an issue of course ‘cuz there are no obstacles like mouths, noses and ears. Good story.

  9. Love your hair story John , and how brave of you to cut your own!

    I dare not cut my own but a did get a barber’s scissor and am cutting my husband’s! (Must admit it doesn’t look great but I don’t tell him!)

  10. Risa Nye says:

    Bravo, John! (And welcome back to the barber shop and those donuts). As one who used to cut hair (husband and then children…and my own briefly), it’s no easy task. As you say, when no one can see what you’ve done, it feels less risky. During the pandemic year, my husband let his hair grow for months until it reached his college years length. I liked it, but he said it was “itchy.” Glad your home salon has thawed out by now.

  11. This was a very engaging tale of the Covid haircutting experience. I found myself truly engrossed by all the paraphernalia that played key roles in the narrative, from the black barber’s smock that you didn’t include in your self-portrait, to your clipper set, to the borrowed mirror. Almost like a fairy tale; you know how the protagonist has three valuable items that they must use over the course of their journey?
    And then–came the donuts1.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks much, Dale. I usually keep the smock crumpled up next to the kit, so I didn’t think it was quite ready for its screen test.

      And yes, I remember from an anthropology course I took in folklore about the valuable items — almost always three (think wishes).

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