We’ve all lost a lot over the last couple years: loved ones, careers, relationships, fortunes, friendships, vehicles, carefully laid plans, long-held beliefs, precariously structured illusions… not to mention the last two years themselves, which were not a total waste but which we all could have done without.

Like everyone else, I am a different person on the back end of the pandemic — It is the back end, right? — than I was at the front. Literally though: I’m 15 pounds heavier, there are new networks of wrinkles around me eyes and enough gray hair around my temples to make me look like Reed Richards or, conversely, Paulie Walnuts. And right at the beginning, when my germ paranoia was at its height, I shaved off my soul patch.

Hate if you must, but that little swatch of coolness sat underneath my bottom lip since I was 19 years old, when I grew it in honor of the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, a personal hero who died the next year. Before he became New Orleans’ most prominent barber, an Uptown stylist named Aidan Gill, convinced me to trim it down and shape from a wispy spider into a clean chevron.

Over the years I tinkered with the shape until it became a thin stripe, the barest whisper of a beard. It was so subtle, so sublime, that for a lot of people it never even registered, especially after the hair turned white. But it provided symmetry with the deep crease between my eyebrows, gave a pleasant accent to my chin, gave me that little bit of an edge afforded to Men With Interesting Facial Hair.

Or so I thought. But really, isn’t that the only thing that matters?

It was the virus that made me do it: In those early days, when there were no groceries on the shelves, no people on the streets and some asshole had bought up all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper; when I thought I could almost feel the virus on my hands after I inadvertently touched a bathroom door or grabbed a handrail; when every time I coughed I was pretty sure I had COVID and would die from it.

I thought about it for a week before I shaved it off; seemed like a small sacrifice in the face of everything. And like a lot of those things I thought were important before the coronavirus came to town, I don’t miss it at all.

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