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Hair today, gone tomorrow

After being shuttered for two months, a barber in New Hampshire reopens to a whole new world.

Micah Drexler, proprietor of the Lebanon Barber Shop in Lebanon, N.H., was allowed to reopen this week with restrictions.
Micah Drexler, proprietor of the Lebanon Barber Shop in Lebanon, N.H., was allowed to reopen this week with restrictions.Kevin Cullen/Globe Staff

LEBANON, N.H. — The last time I was in Micah Drexler’s barber shop, the New Hampshire presidential primary was in the news and I resembled a human being.

When I walked in Tuesday, nearly three months without a haircut, I resembled something entirely different.

“Beethoven,” Micah Drexler said behind his mask.

I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the German composer with unkempt hair or the over-eating, drooling Saint Bernard from those movies, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say it was the dog.

Micah Drexler runs the Lebanon Barber Shop, and like everybody else who cuts hair for a living, he had to shut everything down two months ago amid the pandemic.

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Per Governor Chris Sununu’s orders, he was allowed to open up on Tuesday. You had to book online. No walk-ins. Only one customer in the shop at a time, and customers must wear masks. I was No. 29 of his 32 scheduled appointments Tuesday.

“I’m booked solid all week,” he said.

As with a lot of sole proprietor operations, the beauty of the Lebanon Barber Shop, beyond its modest pricing, is its informality, a vibe that if it was any more laid back would be supine. But now, the shop is like a minimalist production of “Waiting for Godot,” with just barber and customer on stage. There is no chorus of Willie Nelson doppelgangers and old men wearing Vietnam Veteran hats — that is, the sorts of good people who patronize the shop.

Like many barber shops, the Lebanon Barber Shop existed on the premise that those who needed a trim would pop in, take a look at the wait, calculate what they needed to do that day, and, based on those calculations, would either grab a copy of the Valley News and take a seat or demur, vowing to come back later.

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Now, all that spontaneity is gone, replaced by online certainty.

Booking appointments online is proving hard if not impossible for some of the old-timers. Right before I got there, Drexler had to turn away an elderly man in a Red Sox cap and leg cast, explaining the new rules to him. Drexler felt terrible when the guy said he didn’t have a computer.

“This is the new normal,” Drexler said. “I don’t like it. But we have all these regulations we have to follow.”

He got slightly defensive when I suggested that by insisting on appointments, he was now running a salon.

“No way,” he said, “this is still a barber shop.”

Micah Drexler is a native of Indiana, and has a Midwest sensibility that is invariably upbeat and optimistic.

Being a native New Englander and, worse, a Bostonian, I got into the chair ready to complain about anything and everything. I began by presumptuously assuming the economic crash had left him destitute, feeding his kids rationed portions of SPAM, while pining for all that stimulus money set aside for small businesses like his that went to big chains instead.

“No,” he said, “I got it.”

He got some unemployment benefits, too. After missing out on the first Paycheck Protection Program run by the Small Business Administration, he called up a local bank, Mascoma, and they helped him get that, too.

“I got to spend more time with my wife and four kids,” he went on, tilting from side to side, trying to decide if he needed a weed whacker to take on my eyebrows. “I did school work with my daughter a few hours every day. Got to small projects around the house.”

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He said reopening, with the new protocol, was exciting.

“Coming in today was like my wedding day," he said. "Knots in my stomach.”

Soon, it was back to the shared, secret language of barbers and customers: inane small talk.

“So,” he said, “how was your weekend?”

“It was great," I replied. "I played golf Sunday.”

Micah Drexler looked over my shoulder, into the mirror.

“It was Mother’s Day Sunday,” he said.

I nodded.

“Your wife was OK with you golfing?” he asked.

I shrugged.

“She’s not my mother,” I said.

Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this column gave the wrong spelling for Micah Drexler’s last name.




Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.