Between the whir of the electric razor and the clip of the scissors, there escape the low, muffled words of Martin Miller.
Call them prophesies. Call them fortunes. Call them vague tidbits of information. Information, he says, he gleans from your face and your fingernails, your hair and your head.
They call him the "psychic barber."
"Oh, you know about that," says the lanky 58-year-old mysteriously, peering out from his wire-rimmed glasses.
That's right, here at the Main Exchange Barbershop at Fort Meade, for $8.40 you can get a haircut. And if you land Miller as your barber, you might even get a small dose of fortunetelling.
But only if you want.
"When people come in, I can tell them by their personalities," says Miller, sitting in his black swivel chair at the bare-bones barbershop that is part of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
"I can read their pictures, their handwriting," he said. "When I get a feeling, I say something."
The morning starts out slow at the AAFES barbershop, a nondescript storefront in the midst of what looks like suburbia. Only it's a military base.
"Experts in the military cut," says a sign on the wall.
Cash only, says a posting on the cash register.
Anyone who can get onto the base can get a haircut here. Nine barbers, nine black chairs.
They are a diverse crew. A Korean woman, a Vietnamese man. A 73-year- old man who's been cutting hair here since 1975.
And Miller, who has been here for 20 years, a fact proudly on display next to his nameplate.
"Proudly serving AAFES customers since 1985," it says.
Business picks up soon. A man in fatigues comes in. Another in a Navy uniform. A woman and a man with two kids in tow.
They pluck a number, and they're good to go.
The cuts take no time at all. Five, 10 minutes tops.
These are mostly military men, after all. Not a whole lot of options other than short, shorter and shortest.
"Level one," says Christopher Rudy to Miller.
The 26-year-old staff sergeant has been to Miller before. Just two weeks ago, actually.
"How you doing?" Rudy asks, as he settles into the chair.
Rudy knows about Miller's fortunes.
"They're kind of vague," he says. "Last time I was here he told me my wife and I would have some problems maybe, and I would have to be the strong one."
"He's pretty well-known around here," he adds.
Miller brushes the hair off of Rudy's forehead. "I wish I could cut hair like I predict," he says, holding up a mirror as Rudy nods his head in approval.
The thing with Miller's fortunes is they're more like general observations and advice. Random bursts about your personality. Marriage and relationship therapy of a sort, surprising for a guy who's single and has never been married.
He began cutting hair in 1969 after going to barber school. Before that, there were stints in construction, cutting grass and other odd jobs. Now, it's hair six days a week. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. He loves it. "I like talking to people," Miller says. "My problem is I'm deaf. It's hard for me to hear."
Not everyone takes to Miller's sharing of information. There are those who want nothing to do with it. Today, he gets a new client, a young man who plops in his chair.
While cutting his hair, Miller advises Matt Botulinski to remove the moles on his head.
"It's very important," he says.
At one point, he peers into his face and says, "You're very open-minded. Fun to be with. You have a girlfriend, about this tall," he says.
A puzzled Botulinski nods his head.
"She's about 18 or 19, dark-brown hair. You're very supportive. When you talk to her, you don't talk down."
He nods - obviously.
"You've been together about 1 1/2 years," he says, tentatively.
"No ... "
"A year maybe," Miller says.
"Not exactly," Botulinski says. (For the record, they've actually been dating "like six months," the 18-year-old says later. But Miller was right about her age, height and hair.)
"Do you know, you should give your girlfriend more compliments," Miller says. "Tell her you love her."
Miller says he gets premonitions sometimes. Once, a man stormed off angrily when he said he needed to get his mole checked out. The man would return years later to thank him. The mole was cancerous.
Another time, three men were going to Iraq. He told them they would come back "messed up." Sure enough, two have returned to the shop with injuries. And once he told a lieutenant that he would become a major and his daughter would be pregnant soon. He got a $20 tip from him.
He takes credit for saving one marriage with his advice. And for helping a 20-year-old find a pretty girlfriend with long, brown hair and green eyes. Not everyone subscribes to Miller's self-professed talent. Sitting next to him, fellow barber Robert Daniels just rolls his eyes.
"He gave it to me one time, but it wasn't right," Daniels, 73, said, laughing. "I don't remember what it was, but it wasn't right."
"I'm always right," Miller retorts. "I'm more right than I'm wrong."
"Marty, tell me my fortune, and I'll tell you whether you're right or wrong."
"You're going on vacation," Miller says.
"I told you I'm going on vacation," Daniels says, bellowing into laughter. "Have I ever had a dog or cat?"
"Yeah, and you killed them," Miller says.
"He's a trip," Daniels says.
The two men are interrupted as another number is called and in come more clients. Time to get back to cutting hair.
Or back to reading a person, if you're Martin Miller. The psychic barber.