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'The Bills Aren't Stopping': Marfa Hairstylist Describes Struggle To Make Ends Meet

As part of our West Texas Wonders journalism initiative, we're asking you to tell us how you and your loved ones have been affected by the pandemic. 

One of the first people to respond to our callout was Lawrence Rivera, a hairstylist in Marfa.

Marfa Public Radio's Diana Nguyen talked to Rivera about how his work has been impacted by the coronavirus and the changes he's considering as the pandemic wears on.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Listen to the complete interview by pressing play on the above audio player.

Diana Nguyen: Lawrence, whenever the pandemic kind of was in full swing, and we were starting to realize the gravity of this in March... Is that when you stopped working? When did you stop taking clients?

Lawrence Rivera: I stopped taking clients around March 19. You know, because I had friends in Denver that we're already testing positive. And it was just scary. Like I knew it was getting closer. We had that one [coronavirus] case in Terlingua, then the one case in Ojinaga... so I knew it was coming. Then you just see those articles about, "Hey, come to a COVID free West Texas." And then the anxiety starts to set in.

DN: How long were you not working?

LR: I stopped working from March 19th to about May 23rd.

DN: And so you started taking clients again, kind of out of necessity. What has it been like to cut people's hair during this time for you?

LR: You're just in such close proximity and there's no way for me to put that fiberglass in front of me, you know? And with the weather, people are sweating. So you're worried about that and constant sanitation.

It's so hard to keep a conversation going when all I can think about in the back of my mind is, "Did this person's sweat get on me?" "Did my sweat get on them?" You know, there are so many variables. And nothing is for certain, and there's so many new things coming out like, "Oh, if you touch a handrail, you could get it." And [then you hear], "Oh, no, that's just a lie." There are so many uncertainties and you never know what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.

People were offering me so much money to just go to their house and cut their hair. And I was just kind of like, "There's a pandemic. You don't need your hair cut." There's so many more things to worry about than your appearance.

DN: Generally speaking, do you feel safe? Do you feel like clients are being respectful of you and are taking precautions as much as they can in this situation where you're face-to-face with one another?

LR: Yeah, for the most part. Even before the the the mandate to wear a mask, I was making people wear a mask. Everyone's real cool about it. No one's really complained about wearing a mask during a haircut. So it makes me feel better that they're not upset. But, you know, I just want to keep people safe as much as possible.

DN: You wrote that you've been applying for jobs in the area and that that it's been hard. Can you tell me about why you've been applying for jobs and what that process has been like?

LR: I know people don't have [disposable] income for a haircut and I get it. I wouldn't be spending money on a haircut either. But the bills aren't stopping. You know, my car company was cool. Verizon was cool. They gave me a huge extension, but that ends. So now I have to make up whatever I can, and with a booth rent and everything... Sometimes I'm just not making what I need to make that monthly payment to catch up.

And so I need something steady. I need something that's hopefully safe, something that I could just work by myself. [But] in Marfa, it's all about food. Unless you're making food, where else are you going to work?

DN: What kind of places have you applied for jobs in the area?

LR: Well, I did apply to AutoZone as a parts delivery driver, because I mean, you don't have to really ride with anyone and you can just drop off parts and then leave. I've applied at work from home jobs for Amazon, data entry and whatnot. But I mean, when your resume has nothing but hairdressing for the last 11 years, people just kind of overlook it.

DN: I wonder if people are going to start to leave West Texas. It seems like you're maybe looking at jobs outside of the region. Can you talk about that?

LR: If I can only get a job in the industry I've been working in, I might as well do it in a place where I'm going to get a steady flow of traffic. Because here, I can do maybe three haircuts and then nothing for the next two days.

I've looked at doing haircuts in Houston, even though that's a hotbed. But, you know, that's just the reality. I'm just looking in cities where there's more of a steady flow of people with disposable income.

DN: Is there anything that you want your neighbors to know about your situation or just some of the things you're thinking about?

LR: In Marfa, we're all in this together. I went to high school here, a lot of my closest friends are here, my best friends live here. We wish we could help each other out. But there's only so much that we can do, you know? And I just want to let everyone know that I'm struggling with you.

Diana Nguyen is a reporter for Marfa Public Radio.
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