From the confines of his tiny barbershop within the vault-like basement of the Federal Reserve building on Constitution Avenue, Leonard Gilleo is the self-appointed "Hairman of the Board."
It says so on his business card, which features a not-so-bald eagle sporting sunglasses and bears his trademark insight on follicle economics:
"My fiscal policy is greatly affected by your growth rate."
Gilleo is something of an institution at the Federal Reserve, part raconteur, part confidant and confessor, part historian. From studying under a man who would become a multi-term White House barber to embarking on a career of shearing the government's head honchos, Gilleo's learned a thing or two about the bigwigs in this town.
He said his regular clients include at least four of the seven current Federal Reserve Board members as well as hundreds of employees from the Fed and from the State Department building across the street. Every three to four weeks, Gilleo has a 15- to 20-minute private audience with board Chairman Alan Greenspan, the kind of access that Wall Street trackers and fiscal policy pundits would kill for.
But Gilleo's not one to cut and tell. After a few beers and a couple hours of chatting, he's no closer to divulging Greenspan's private wisdom than he is to explaining exactly why it takes so long to trim a Fed head whose hairline has been so unkindly treated by recession.
Gilleo said that his barber's chair is a safe, sacred place.
"Being in my chair is just like going to a confessional," Gilleo said. "I never repeat a word I hear in the chair. I would never tell anybody."
Besides, it's impossible to just call him up and get an appointment; prospective clients either have to know Gilleo, work with him, or be vouched for by his trusted friends.
His policy: "No reference, no cut."
Such policies go with the territory for guys like Gilleo, working-class tradesmen whose lives intersect with the rich and powerful just by virtue of the fact that they practice their craft in Washington.
His clientele and his location mean he can't be as accessible as he wants.
Other government buildings -- including the Energy, Interior and State departments and the U.S. Capitol -- also have resident barbers, but gone are the days when outside clients could just drop in for a haircut. Gilleo has to escort any outside customers down to his shop, past multiple security checks and through the bulletproof gantlet that stands between the main entrance to the Fed and the rest of the building.
Barbershops are a feature of federal buildings because Uncle Sam thinks they improve the quality of life for workers. Across the country, most of them are located in buildings full of military personnel, for obvious reasons. Gilleo was invited to rent his shop by the Fed building managers after he developed a following clipping hair at the State Department.
For Gilleo, 57, becoming a barber meant escape after spending more than a decade at an orphanage run by a Baptist church in Bethesda. His parents weren't dead; his mother was in and out of the hospital with various illnesses, and his father, a heavily decorated World War II hero, just wasn't around much. Gilleo graduated from the Alexandria Barber Academy at age 16 in 1963.
Soon after, he landed a job with Steve Martini, a Pentagon haircutter who served as the personal coiffeur for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. Gilleo later served as the backup barber for the White House.
Like many other artisans in his trade, Gilleo scraped through the 1960s -- the "Great Barber Depression," as he calls it -- when far too many men ceased getting regular haircuts. Then came the booming '70s, when male vanity returned to the tonsorial parlors.
"We were doing male perms and giving hairpieces out to every other guy that was half-bald. It was a wild, scary time," Gilleo said, pointing to a bookcase against the wall loaded with trophies from hairstyling competitions of that decade.
Gilleo moved around quite a bit in the '70s, from a short stint at the Pentagon to the State Department, and finally to the Fed, where he has worked for the past 26 years.
Walking into Gilleo's shop in the Fed basement is like going back in time.
Crowning the entrance to the shop is a standard government-issue black-and-white clock that Gilleo had rewired so that all the hands move backwards.
Viewed in the mirror from the the vintage 1937 barber chair, the hands are moving in the right direction and point to the proper places on the dial.
On one wall is a gallery of framed photos of former clients, including former Redskins coach George Allen and Alice M. Rivlin, a former Fed vice chairman under Greenspan and director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration.
A shot of a younger Pope John Paul II is also up on the wall, but Gilleo's former client in this case is the man standing directly behind the pontiff, a Secret Service agent dressed up like a priest.
From the sheer number of people who pop in and out at any given time, it's clear his shop has long been a stopping place for many Fed employees.
Inside, Spencer Bankhead, 30, a communications specialist for the Fed, is angling a golf club across a faux putting green toward a white cup at the other end of the narrow eight-foot turf.
Richard Fabrisio, a longtime Fed employee who recently retired from the IT department, is munching popcorn and telling about the time Gilleo had pizza delivered to a local Little League baseball game, and how the ensuing argument over whether the pizza man could deliver his pies to the dugout so distracted the visiting team that the home team ended up scoring the winning runs.
As Bankhead taps one in from across the room, in walks Frank Zevin, 38, a Fed payment systems technician who gets his hair cut by Gilleo when Zevin's father -- also a barber, in Old Town Alexandria -- doesn't have time for him.
"I'd sort of like to see the barbershops go back to the days of the '40s myself, where you give the guy a shave every once in a while," Gilleo says.
Zevin isn't interested in a shave, just the usual trim. Gilleo is equivocal about his price, which starts at $10.
"My customers determine my rate. They feel like giving me more, that's fine; if they're broke one day and feel like giving me less, that's okay, too. They'll make up for it," Gilleo says.
Zevin's smile crooks as he wrenches his neck back toward Gilleo: "This one's on the house then, right?"
"Sure, it's on the house," Gilleo says, reaching for his electric clippers. "Just like this pretty little eagle you've got carved into the back of your head."
Gilleo said that if he's learned anything from his time at the Fed, it's that he's probably going to have to work until he's 80 years old. Sure, he can look to Social Security, but there's no pension, no 401(k), no nest egg. Gilleo has rented his shop here for the past quarter-century, and he's not getting rich from it.
"The chairman gave me one piece of advice about the market: He said, 'You don't make enough money to be in it,' " Gilleo says.
Spencer looks up from his putting and chimes in. "Yeah, ask Lenny's son. He'll tell you that when it comes to his dad, there's no will there -- it's a won't."
As for his tenure at the Fed, Gilleo is cautiously optimistic. He has cut hair for the past four Fed chairmen (including Greenspan), a job he got when the previous Fed barber was pushed out after former chairman Arthur Burns was ousted in 1978.
Earlier this summer Greenspan won another term from Congress, but he is expected to step down in early 2006 when his term as a Fed member expires.
"All I know is, there's another chairman on the way, and when [Arthur] Burns took a hike, the barber was gone with him," Gilleo said. "The next chairman and board members could come in, and we could have a personality clash.
"But probably not if they all got haircuts down here."