On a Good Barber

Milton Pitts was a really good barber. In a haircutting career spanning six decades, Milton cut the hair of the famous and the completely unknown. Most of this time, he worked in a one-chair shop, yet he managed to not only make a living at the profession but also to become somewhat well known in the process.

One of the main reasons for Milton’s popularity and success was his conversational abilities. In the way a doctor has “bedside manner,” Milton had a way about him when a client was in his chair. And it wasn’t that he was a yes-man; if the tie you were wearing was unflattering, he’d tell you so. If you complained about your looks, Milton would tell you to do something about it. He also had a broad knowledge of many subjects. He could speak at length about sports (not that unusual), politics (a little more rare), and even economics (very rare indeed) with authority.

One regular client of his, a fellow named Jerry, kept coming in to the shop and insisting that Milton help him with his combover. “You’re bald,” he told Jerry. “You’re not kidding anyone, and you’re looking a little ridiculous.” He asked Jerry to trust him, and he cut off the combover and brought the sides straight back. “There,” he said, showing Jerry the results. “That’s an honest look.” And Milton was right.

Before he died in his 80s, Milton was interviewed by a newspaper, and he looked back on an amazing career in a profession many people overlook or take for granted. He commented that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they wore their hair. And he recalled his last interaction with a powerful man who came in one day immediately before a major life event. The great man was dour because the task before him was distasteful. Milton tried to reassure him, and he told the man that no matter what happened, he would make sure that the man looked his best. The haircut continued in usual silence, both men aware of the importance of the next few hours in the powerful man’s life.

Milton finished, showed the results in the hand mirror, removed the barber’s cape with his usual flourish, and brushed a few, stray, dark curly strands from the man’s shoulders. He silently helped him into his suit coat, and then shook his hand. The man thanked him.

“You’ve always been a straight shooter with me,” Richard Nixon told Milton, and Nixon went upstairs and out of the White House barber shop and resigned the presidency.


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