I almost cried while getting my haircut tonight.
I was sitting there at this old-timey place on the upper-east side, It’s way too expensive for what I could get a cut for ($35) but I go there because it reminds me of the place I got my first haircut.
He had given me my very first harcut and every haircut after that until I left home to seek my fame and fortune.
We never had any big conversations. Always small-talk but he’d throw in a quick joke here and there, he’d give me an update on his son who was my age and I’d blabber on about who-knows-what.
After every haircut he’d throw me a penny to use in the gumball machine. When I was very young he’d hand me a penny. I was way too young to catch it but getting that gumball was always the highlight of our family trips into town. That and the comic book rack in the drugstore on main street next to the barber shop.
I still remember when he threw me the penny instead of handing it to me. I felt so big. Like I was older. I felt like a man, even though I was probably 5 years old. I was old enough to catch it and it meant so much to me that he did that. I still remember how cool I felt.
I’m still searching for my fame and fortune but every time I’d go back home I’d stop in to get my haircut and that old-timey barbershop in that small midwestern town. I’d go even though my female friends said he didn’t help my appearance, that the style he’d give me was no style at all. But I needed to go. It was tradition. He’d tell me the news about town, drop a few jokes here and there and eventually I’d stand up and pay him. The silly thing is, I’d always forget about the penny until I was just about to go out the door and he’d say “hey” and toss it to me. It was impossible not to smile.
The years in between my haircuts with him would get further and further apart but I looked forward to it every time.
Then a few years ago I got a call from home.
He was been a very athletic guy. From what I remember he’d run marathons, bike. In fact he was the only person I knew as a kid who would exercise. Everyone else in my life got their exercise from working in the fields or chasing cattle. I always though how “big city” it was of him that he’d go jogging and biking for the sport of it.
It turns out one day his doctor told him he had a type of cancer that would take his life and it was inoperable. He had some time before he’d feel the effects of it but within two years he’d be dead. He went home after this news was given and he killed himself.
When I first heard about it I was sad but I didn’t cry or anything. I took it in and after another day or so I had forgotten all about it. He wasn’t a big part of my life by any means but I’d remember him every time I got a haircut.
Then…tonight after work I was sitting there and I remembered that penny, how he made me feel when I was 5 and how I never really thanked him. I never returned the favor by sending him a christmas card or called him to check in or even just to say how cool it was that he gave everyone a penny for the gumball machine if he had cut their hair as a kid. It made me miss home a bit too.
So there I was getting my haircut and trying to hold back tears. Instead I turned my mind to Sade, knowing she always makes me smile but then I started feeling overwhelmed with joy and how lucky I was and I started tearing up again.
I managed to hold it off without anyone (hopefully) noticing, but I’ve been thinking all night about the people around us and how the smallest gestures can make a lasting impact…
…especially with the people we barely know.