On the B1 floor of 1800 K Street, the three-chair salon known as Charles' Barbershop erupted with a special kind of fervor yesterday. Chants of "OLLIE! OLLIE! OLLIE!" rang forth. "Lookin' like a contra," someone cheered. "Ollie Bay-beeee," another crooned. "Lookin' good," called a third.
High noon, and Michael Bircumshaw was getting an Ollie.
Wisps of hair floated to the floor. Clippers whirred. Water bottles spritzed. Fingers, combs and scissors flew in and out of Bircumshaw's straw-colored hair. George Pettinato, third-generation barber, folded back Bircumshaw's right ear, nuzzled the clipper over the exposed area, then brought out a hand vacuum and removed the loose hair from Bircumshaw's Oxford cloth shirt collar.
Finally, someone who sounded like a bingo caller at the local Grange Hall announced: "We have an Ollie North look-alike!"
An hour later there would be six more, all summer interns, all getting their hair shaved on the sides and in the back and shortened on the top. Grinning. Straightening their ties. Favoring words like "dignity," "honor" and "courage." Surrounded by such barbershop items as Loving Care Color Foam ("The Try-On Hair Color") and Polymerized Electrolytic Humectress Moisture Potion for the Hair, and allowing that the Ollie look could be authenticated with just a bit of gray. But most of all, peering cautiously into the mirror, or into the television cameras.
They did get Ollie cuts, but not from Ollie's barber. And not at Ollie's rates, either. If the young North enthusiasts (and their cheering squad of two dozen) had gone to Isa Saliba at the Westover Barbershop in Virginia, they would have paid $5. Not $9. They could have asked Saliba for an autograph, a firsthand description of their hero and an authoritative definition of the Ollie: "It's just like you see on TV. It's this Marine haircut, actually -- but more -- a little bit -- not too short on top -- like a high-tide Marine -- his hair's longer."
But at Charles' Barbershop, an unflappable Pettinato observed, "It's all, like I say, a trend. The ones that do get involved, they think up things to support their cause."
A voice on the far side of the crowd called out to Pettinato, "Are you going to give complimentary Fawn Halls?" Another voice -- slightly irritated -- answered for Pettinato. "Not Fawn Halls! Betsy Norths!"
The only potential candidates for the Betsy Norths were three young women, summer interns at Freeze Voter, an antinuclear group, and, they said, friends of the seven Ollie fans. But not of the cause. The women whipped out sheets of paper and at strategic moments (in front of the television and newspaper cameras lured for the ceremonies) held them high above their heads: "REAGAN KNEW" and "NO SUPPORT FOR OLLIE/ NORTH IS A CROOK."
"Things like this," Kathe Sennett, 21, said, "only make it worse. He was great on the stand. He was great under pressure. And yeah, he definitely bought everybody's hearts, but he's not a hero."
Tell that to Robert Specker.
One chair down from Bircumshaw, under the scissors of barber Jack Latona, Specker's sandy brown curls fell, feather-light, to the linoleum floor.
"I usually have my hair short," said the American Conservative Union intern, "so it's not that radical."
Specker and three others began organizing the cutting session Monday, circulating to the intern-populated offices of Capitol Hill -- especially the conservative ones -- fliers that called out: "DO YOU LOOK LIKE THIS?" (pictures of Arthur Liman and John Nields Jr., the lawyers interrogating witnesses at the Iran-contra hearings) "THEN IT'S TIME FOR AN OLLIE CUT!!!" (picture of Oliver North). "Join the interns for Ollie tomorrow at Charles' Barbershop."
"We want to demonstrate our support for what he's done," Specker said. "But I bet I don't look much like Ollie when I'm done." His curly hair, short and getting shorter by the second, really didn't lend itself to the Oliver North cause.
He said he plans to maintain the new haircut until the hearings are over or until he finishes his internship.
"The press has been treating this issue unfairly. Now Oliver North has a chance to take his message to the people -- directly. We're just trying to keep the ball rolling -- to get attention. That's the point. Young people having been cutting their hair for years to get attention."
Mike McSunas, an intern with Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.), worried about nuances. "I don't want to look like I'm a Marine," he said. "I want to look like Oliver North." That being difficult, he is "basically gonna tell everyone I meet, 'Do you like my Oliver North haircut?' "
Joe Pecoraro, the barber at the end of the row, worked his way through the crowd and to his chair, escorting a mild-mannered man -- a typical Charles' Barbershop client on the other side of 30 -- whose appointment happened to coincide with interns' hour.
"Is he getting one too?" called out an Ollie fan.
"We're gonna get you back there as soon as we can get past these lights," Pecoraro promised his customer.
"Is he getting an Ollie?" another shouted.
Pecoraro shook his head. "Nah, he's past that stage," he said.