Milt Pitts, barber, paced about the lobby of the Sheraton Carlton yesterday morning, waiting to be remembered.
"The last time I cut his hair was the day before he resigned five years ago," said Pitts, who took away Richard Nixon's greasy kid stuff and gave him the layered look. "It was a sad occasion. We shook hands. He thanked me. He said, 'Milt, I'll see you again some day, maybe in the Carlton barbershop.'"
Pitts was just one man standing alone with his memories in the deserted lobby at 8:30 a.m., waiting to pay his respects to a president and former client who had returned to Washington to pay his respects to the late Mamie Eisenhower at memorial services here.
"Before I started cutting his hair, he wore it too high in back. He had a curly, oily look, too long on top. When I finished with him, Time magazine called the White House and wanted to know if he had a new fashion consultant. White House press secretary Ron Ziegler said, 'no, a new barber, Milt Pitts." Being the president's barber is a job you don't seek. You are called."
The elevator door slid open and out walked Nixon's aide for a decade, Col. Jack Brennan, a Marine.
"Hello, colonel," said Pitts, 59, who was recruited to staff the one-chair White House barber shop after the barber who urged oils and pomades on Nixon resigned following an Internal Revenue Service investigation into his taxes. r
Pitts asked if he could see "the president" whose hair he had snipped once every 10 days for 4 1/2 years.
Brennan promised he could. Nixon should be down shortly, he said.
The only other person anxious to see Nixon was a reporter. He asked if he, too, could see Nixon. Not a chance, glared Brennan. The reporter said he would wait. Brennan said fine, reporters were "paid to wait."
Nixon was "very warm, quite contrary to what you read," said Pitts, taking up sentry duty by the elevator.
"Once he gets to know you and had confidence in you, he's very pleasant."
Pitts charged Nixon $4 for a trim, $7.50 for a razor cut, the same price he charged John Mitchell, John Erlichman Bob Haldeman, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger (whose hair, Pitts says, was the hardest to cut -- too kinky -- but he tipped well).
"I was there every Tuesday and Thursday," said Pitts, who owns four men's hair salons. "But I was on call for the president anytime. He didn't go for silly jokes or nonsense. He liked to talk sports."
It's all in his book, he said, "The President's Barber," as yet, unpublished, but an agent is hawking it in New York. It took him 18 minutes to cut Nixon's hair and after Nixon left the White House in disgrace, Pitts and his scissors stayed on with President Gerald Ford, persuading Ford to let the one-inch gap above his ear grow down into a more natural look.
Pitts could tell it was almost time by the cartloads of luggage being brought down from above, through the lobby and into a green Econoline van outside. The doorman, Gene Smith, was getting very excited. He had met Ford, but never Nixon, he said. It was 9:05 a.m.
The reporter went to the house phone and dialed the Presidential suite. There, on the eighth floor ("very nice rooms, indeed," according to the chambermaid), Nixon had spent a quiet, "very private" weekend with his wife, Pat, and daughter, Tricia, sources said. Downstairs, there was none of the hoopla of Nixon anticipation in the air -- as when President Carter invited Nixon to dine at the White House with China's Vice Premier Teng Xiaoping last January for his first visit to the White House since he resigned. There was only Pitts. And one reporter.
On the house phone, a man answered the reporter. "No, this isn't Mr. Nixon's room and I wouldn't tell you where he was if I knew." Click.
Two more calls were placed to extension 7848, the number of the presidential suite. Twice, the phone rang. Twice, the receiver on the other end and was picked up and replaced without a word.
Nixon answered the third call. "I'll check on it," he said of the reporter's request for an interview.Click.
Pitts paced into the newsstand and nodded toward the photograph of himself with the late Nelson A. Rockefeller. "Some people say we could pass for identical twins," he said.
"On the way," said a Secret Service agent into his walkie talkie as word was passed that the Nixon party was descending.
Suddenly, three agents swept out of the elevator and through the empty lobby, their necks craning for any suspicious-looking individuals who might be a bother. There was no one. Only Pitts. And a reporter.
Then there was Nixon (who looked fit and rested, no jowls or pancake makeup) in a dark gray suit. And Pat (pale but smiling). And Tricia (shy, perhaps from the weight she had put on). Pitts stepped forward.
"Glad to see you," said Nixon, who seemed disappointed at the empty lobby and stopped to talk to the reporter who had earlier been rebuffed. He was asked about Mamie, the late wife of his former boss. She had rallied Republican women to support Nixon in his darkest hours.
"Mrs. Eisenhower will go down in history as one of the nation's most outstanding first ladies," he said. "She and the general shared one common characteristic. Whether it was a family occasion or a state dinner, they both had the rare ability to bring life, laughter and warmth into the room. All of us who had the privilege to know her well loved her and we're all going to miss her very much."
And then he was gone, and Pitts was left alone with his memories.