You awake in a barbershop. It’s filled with old men. They are laughing. Talking. Carrying on. You are wearing plaid pajamas, and your hair is a mess. Where are you? How did you get here? Why are you in pajamas?
Oh well, it could have been worse. At least you didn’t awake standing before your fourth-grade class buck naked again. Thank God for small blessings.
Anyway, the last thing you remember was watching the news on your sofa. It was late. The newscasters were talking about the coronavirus because that’s all anyone thinks about now. Even ocean-dwelling creatures living 35,853 feet below the water are social distancing right now.
Then (boom) you were here. Just like that.
The man in the barber chair is telling a story. It’s wonderful. It isn’t so much what he is saying, but how he’s saying it that makes you smile.
It’s a happy, humorous conversation. He’s not using the buzz words you’ve been hearing lately. Like “self-quarantine,” “mortality rates,” or “interpersonal airborne viral transmission ratio.” He’s talking about fishing.
The old men puff leather-scented smoke from pipes. A few wear fedoras. You find yourself carried away in their conversation. The more they talk, the more you forget the things you’ve been worrying about all week.
It seems like the fear comes in waves lately. Sometimes, you’re fine. Other times, if you hear the word “coronavirus” once more you are going to lose it.
But right now, you’re not worried about viruses. Not in this shop.
You say something to the barber but he doesn’t respond. In fact, he doesn’t even acknowledge you. None of the men notice you. Maybe it’s because you’re wearing dorky pajamas.
“This is weird,” you’re thinking. “Why won’t they look at me?” So you wave your hand in front of a guy’s face, but he stares right through it. “Hello?” you say.
Now you’re really freaking out because you realize that you are either invisible or dead. Or both. You step outside for some fresh air.
You are on a quaint mainstreet. Barefoot. Plaid pajamas and all. You see 1960s model Dodge Darts, Pontiac Tempests, and Lincoln Continentals driving all over town.
You follow the sidewalk from the barbershop until you arrive at a brick courthouse. You knock on the door a few times, but nobody answers. So you let yourself in.
There is a skinny man, reclining behind a desk, feet propped up. He’s holding a candlestick phone, singing: “Neeeeeta… Juan-neeeeeeeeta…” He’s a terrible singer. He’s got a knack for hitting a note just enough “off” to make your skin crawl. He can’t see you.
There are two jail cells in this courthouse. Inside one cell, a man sleeps. He is unshaven, wearing crumpled seersucker, and giggling in his sleep like he’s half tight. The other cell is empty.
You leave the courthouse and keep exploring. You pass a drugstore, a church, a few kids on bikes, dozens of Queen Anne-style houses on streets lined with oaks.
You arrive at a house with a wide porch. There is a woman on a rocking chair. She is older, with salt and pepper hair pulled up in a bun. She wears a floral-print dress. The woman is shelling peas.
Beside her is a boy, also shelling. His hair is pure copper, and he’s wearing the uniform of boyhood. Striped shirt. Blue jeans. Chuck Taylor All Stars. Something about this scene is ringing all your bells, but you can’t quite recall which ones.
The woman talks to the boy in a sweet, almost sing-songy voice. And even though you’re invisible, you sit beside her because it’s been a long time since you’ve shelled peas with an older woman.
You stay on this porch for what seems like hours, and you feel at ease here. No anxiety. No worry. No interpersonal airborne viral transmission.
Then you hear the sound of a car pulling into the driveway. The car is a 1963 Ford Galaxie. Red siren. Yellow star painted on the driver’s door.
“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “I KNOW this car.” But how? How do you know it? Think.
A man steps out of the vehicle. Dark hair, greased with Brylcreem. He’s tall, and he has a smile that takes up his whole face. His voice sounds the same way pepper gravy tastes.
He wears a khaki uniform. A gold star above his left breast pocket. He hollers, “Hey, Ope! What say you’n me go down to the filling station and get a bottle of pop?”
“Oh, Andy,” says the old woman. “You’ll spoil his supper.”
Andy. My God. That’s it.
It hits you all at once. You know where you are. You are in a place that you used to visit often, back when childhood became too daunting to handle. Back when you would get lost inside syndicated black-and-white television every weekday afternoon at 5 p.m.
You wandered these streets, visited this barbershop, sat on this porch. And for thirty minutes, each afternoon, you knew everything was going to be okay.
You are so overcome that you want to run up to the man and introduce yourself, maybe shake his hand, or hug his neck. Because you’re grateful. Grateful for the rest you have always found here.
Before you can say anything, something happens. You feel it on your face. It’s slobbery. Wet. You’re sucked out of this perfect world. You open your eyes to find that you are a slumped on your living room sofa, and a dog is licking your cheek.
The television news is blaring. The only word you hear the news anchors use is: “Coronavirus.”
You are still wearing plaid pajamas. And you’d give anything to go back to Mayberry.