Last week, my university held a commencement ceremony for graduating seniors. For days before and after the event, the neighborhood swelled with the students’ family and friends. You could see dads and moms strolling down the sidewalk, into and out of cafes and pastry shops, helping their baseball-capped kids move out of dorm rooms or off-campus housing for the last time.
Even if you were unaware of graduation, you could still tell what time of year it was by the mounds of broken Ikea furniture, mini refrigerators, and fans on the street. The businesses here love graduation, especially the restaurants and coffee houses, which follow the dictates of market economics and raise prices on average twenty-five percent or more.
Not so Ciro. Ciro (tʃiːro) is neither an economist, nor a restaurant owner. He is my barber. He is a young guy, an honest guy, a family guy from Montenegro. He would no more raise prices on students and their families than throw a milkshake at Mayor De Blasio.
Actually, we discussed that the other day. Although Ciro agreed with the sentiment, he rejected the idea in the end. I, however, named several flavors of milkshake (e.g., strawberry) that I would have no problem hurling at hizzoner, whose real name is Warren Wilhelm, Jr. Governor Cuomo would get two milkshakes. The bartender one Congressional district over, four. Politics is an exponential thing.
Ciro is such a likable guy that many seniors came back after graduation to bid him farewell, introduce their parents to him, and take group photos. One woman reportedly said, “So, you’re the barber who makes my son look so handsome! He had a mat of hair before, but when he comes home now, he looks positively human. Thank you!”
This came via Ciro. I don’t doubt it, but it was difficult to get the details straight through his accent. He added that the mother kissed him. That’s not the kind of thing you make up about somebody’s mother.
I know some of these students. The day I got my last haircut, I recognized a student from my business ethics class in the chair next to me. He is a bright kid whose mother is a CPA. When the student left, I asked Ciro why he thought so many kids brought their families back to meet him, take pictures, and wax nostalgic about the barbershop. He smiled, flattered, but wasn’t sure.
You could say that such behavior is a natural expression of students moving on, maturing, passing from one social status to another. That sounds right, but what strikes me is the particular way in which this expression happens. The experience of getting your hair cut by Ciro has become a marker of this transition. Maybe it isn’t as important as walking across the stage and being handed your diploma by the dean or reverend president, but it is important enough to drag your parents into the shop and take pictures. The former ritual is expected, the latter sought after.
These smaller rituals comprise the atoms of human existence. They combine with each other, helping us not only make sense of life but leave our mark on the world. We derive our identities from them and rely on them for assurance when confronted with the stupidities of the modern world, including–dare I say it?–politics. One day students can tell their spouses or children, “Here I was at this time and place, getting my haircut from Ciro. And I did it for four years!”
I see this kind of thing all the time. People who grew up in the neighborhood return with their children and grandchildren in tow, pointing out this restaurant, that bakery, the hardware store that is no longer there but that used to be a fixture way back when.
Memorial Day, which we commemorate tomorrow, is a national day of remembrance and mourning on a grand scale. But we ought to be mindful as well of the lost rituals on a small scale, the missed opportunities and loves that never materialized. The lives that were never lived. The wounds that never healed.
The haircuts that were never given.