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Coronavirus Social Distancing Orders Put Barbers Out Of Work


John Brown misses the sounds of his barbershop - setting up his customers on the maroon leather chairs, talking to the regulars.


Brown has owned Joe Black Barbershop in Pearland, Texas, since 2008. He runs it with his wife and son.

JOHN BROWN: It's more than a haircut. The barbershop gives you a place to come in and just relax. You might be going through some things, or you just may need some alone time.

GREENE: But these days, the blinds are closed. The doors are shut - for now.

BROWN: There's no money coming in. A lot of barbers don't know what to do right now.

KING: The coronavirus outbreak has left his five barbers out of work, and John's family has lost so much more. Back in February, his mom called from her home in New Orleans, and she told him she wasn't feeling right.

BROWN: She told me that, I'm cooking, but I don't taste anything. I don't smell anything.

GREENE: They didn't realize that it was a sign of COVID-19. Doctors ran tests, and she was sent home after going to the ER twice. A few days later, Brown got a call from his mom's husband.

BROWN: He said, I tried to bring your mom to the hospital, but I can't lift her up. Because he says she's so weak to where she can't even talk. Then they told her her results came back that she had coronavirus.

KING: So an ambulance took her to the hospital, and she was put on a ventilator. Brown decided to go to New Orleans to be with her while her doctors waited out the night. And then her condition improved. She started breathing on her own. She was lucid. And she called him.

BROWN: My mom said, hey, son. I love you, son. I said, I'll be there. I'm coming down there. I'm going to see you when I get there. I'm coming down.

The next morning, the doctor called us and told us that my mom didn't make it.

My mom passed on the 27 of March. And four days ago, it just hit me all at once. I just cried myself to sleep. I couldn't help (ph) my mom. We were close. She called me every day. She was my everything. Yeah.


GWENDOLYN HAYES: Hey, son. I'm just calling to holler at you (ph). Give me a call later on. Love you.

BROWN: I thank her every day. When she was here, I thanked her all the time. She was like, son, I'm so proud of you. When she was here, I was like, it's all because of you.

GREENE: All the way back to his college days, when he opened his first barbershop in her living room.

BROWN: The barber chair. I had the mirror. I had a little fish tank for entertainment. She always said if you're going to do something, do it right or don't do it at all. I'm still going to be here to continue on making her proud.


GREENE: That was John Brown remembering his mom, Gwendolyn Hayes, who was 61 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF NILS FRAHM'S "DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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