Like a character in a contemporary farce, I fell down that unlikely rabbit hole on a fine Tuesday just before Independence Day, when a particularly curious tweet landed in my Twitter feed. Attached was a selfie of a woman in a blue surgical mask seated in a beauty salon chair, her hair enveloped in sheets of what looked like miniature police evidence bags. (You can tell I already possessed an extensive salon vocabulary.)
My Twitter handle, petermarksdrama, was one of four affixed to the end of the tweet, in which the author professed to be in high spirits. “this is how i started my ‘holidays’! it was worth every coffee-less suffocating second!” it read in part.
I had no idea who this exuberant hair-care client was, nor why she chose to share her mid-pandemic joy of coloring with me. And I forgot about it, until the next day — when another tweet mentioning my handle appeared, with a photo of another masked customer in a salon chair, this woman’s hair enmeshed in, it seemed, copper- and saffron-colored cocktail napkins with scalloped edges. “I’ve been talked out of a fringe and a few other major life decisions [tears of laughter emoji] enjoy the holidays,” she wrote.
As other Twitter users chimed in with comments, I became entangled in one of those microscopically petty distractions of the Internet age: the social media mention chain you didn’t ask to be a part of. What’s more, I couldn’t figure out why the heck I was even in this coiffure confab. Until it dawned on me. A few years ago, my college roommate, Paul, sent me a photo of his wife, Victoria, on vacation in Ireland, posing in front of a hair salon. Its name: Peter Mark. It was a business founded on Dublin’s Grafton Street 59 years ago by a pair of brothers, Peter and Mark Keaveney.
Cracked it! The Peter Mark customers came across my Twitter handle and thought it was their establishment’s account. A case of mistaken digital identity, as crops up from time to time. Like that of a woman in Massachusetts named Ashley who was inundated on her @theashes Twitter handle because that’s also the name of the emotionally charged cricket test matches between England and Australia. Or the British woman, Dee Ford, who got all the fan harassment intended for the NFL linebacker of the same name. Or an Irish writer, Joe O’Connor, who wrote an article about how Twitter eternally mixed him up with a more celebrated Irish playwright and novelist also named Joe O’Connor.
So, in a playful frame of mind, I tweeted back. “Please take me out of this thread — I am the theater critic for the Washington Post, not a beauty salon in Dublin. That is Peter MARK [tears of laughter emoji].”
And that is when Twitter went a little wild.
Among the tweet’s 668,000 impressions came hundreds of funny ripostes, from every corner of my account, and many from Ireland:
“There’s usually far better storytelling in a hair salon than on the stage, to be frank,” wrote one.
“In Peter Marks’ next review, he gives us a peek behind the curtain of ‘Death of a Colorist,’ the saga of Willie Loman’s half-sister cop-turned-colorist, Julie,” wrote another.
“Enormous opportunity for a few quid Peter if you accept online payments for advance bookings!” wrote a third.
The story of the misdirected tweet made it onto one of Ireland’s top morning radio talk shows. The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s world-renowned theater company, couldn’t resist a quip: “Always welcome @AbbeyTheatre Peter,” tweeted co-artistic director, Neil Murray. “There’s a few plays that could do with subtle cuts.”
Even the Irish Embassy in Washington weighed in: “Our apologies, Mr Marks. In the excitement of a first haircut since #StPatricksDay, some mistagging across #Irishtwitter is perhaps understandable. Also, it makes for a nice bit of social media theatre!”
It is, of course, a demonstration of the whimsically mischievous reach of this platform that a selfie sent off from a beautician’s chair in Dublin could spark a throwdown of wit across oceans and time zones. And maybe in some cosmically meaningless way, it was the kind of microburst of entertainment that could make a time of sequestered disconnection a bit more bearable.
The perfect epilogue to my story happened courtesy of the Irish salons that almost bear my name: A packet arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, with an official-looking diploma and my name in bold.
“Ireland’s leading hairdressing group, Peter Mark, bestows Peter Marks with an Honorary Doctorate in Hairdressing. In recognition of your services to the Irish hairdressing industry. With the rights, honours and privileges of such thereunto appertaining. Thank you from Peter & Mark.”
The inspired island nation of Shaw, Wilde, Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd was to my mind living up to its billing. I framed the certificate. It’s hanging in a place of pride in my New York home office.
And now, I may start taking appointments for weaves, blow dries, highlights and fades [winking emoji].