Requiem for a barber 

If you were driving the drag-racing Corvette that rear-ended Harry Bolling’s Jaguar early on May 4, you should know a bit about the man you killed.

Perhaps it’s hoping for too much that a hit-and-run killer might feel any remorse for having taken the life of another human being. I’ve heard that it’s easier to kill someone at a distance than it is to kill someone up close and personal — someone you know.

Chances are you didn’t know Harry Bolling, who was 62. Judging by the overflow crowd at his memorial service on May 9, and by those who spoke there, Bolling wasn’t the kind of guy who would have befriended someone so cowardly as a hit-and-run driver. If he had known what kind of person you were and had run into you in his barbershop, my guess is he would have tongue-lashed you with razor words that would have chased you onto the right path or made you damned sure not to cross his path again until you got yourself right.

No, Harry Bolling wasn’t a preacher. He owned the Atlantic Barber Shop, he owned BoMacs jazz club, and he owned strong opinions which he didn’t mind sharing. He was the kind of guy who enjoyed engaging folks in pitched conversation, not chit-chat. Didn’t much care for those who meekly hugged the sidelines. As one of his eulogists pointed out, he almost demanded that you participate. He might not always have given his patrons exactly the haircut they asked for, but they always left his chair looking good just the same. The bonus was an earful of Bolling’s wit, wisdom and conversation.

I’ll admit that I never got to know Bolling, and that is my loss. I’m ashamed to admit that all the time that I’ve been getting my hair cut at the Atlantic Barber Shop, I never knew that the barber working the chair closest to the window — the guy instigating all of that interesting conversation — was the same man who owned BoMacs.

I didn’t know he was the owner of the barber shop, either. Guess I’ve always gotten my hair cut during the off hours when I can pop in and out. Always take a few magazines to catch up on my reading until it’s my turn in the chair. Although I enjoy listening to barbershop conversation, I always feel like I’ve got somewhere else I need to be. To be honest, I don’t always feel like being bothered.

No time. No time. Things to do. Things to do.

One thing I learned about Bolling was that he specialized in taking the time. As gruff and direct as he could sound in the barbershop, it became clear to me last Thursday morning that Harry Bolling was someone who took the time for an awful lot of people. I suspect he was the kind of person who took more time for others than he took for himself.

That explains all those people at Cottrell’s Funeral Home. Crowds of people stood outside in the rain without complaint while others packed inside, two and three deep along the walls. They were willing to stand patiently anywhere they could find a spot just so they could be there and pay their respects. Bolling was a man deserving of respect. And love. And admiration. There are people who exist within a community as islands unto themselves, and then there are people who are the community. These are the people who provide the water and substance upon which those islands are permitted to float. It is obvious which description best depicts Harry Bolling.

Because this description fits Bolling so well, Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins saw fit to take a break from her council duties to present the Bolling family with a City Council testimonial resolution acknowledging his valuable contribution to the city “because the whole city loved Harry Bolling, and there are some things government has to stop for.” She added that Bolling often made BoMacs available for special events for senior citizens and others.

One gent said Bolling’s encouragement helped him decide to enter the ministry.

As others stepped up to share their memories of Bolling, I found myself thinking back to when I first moved to Detroit nearly a decade ago. One of the first music clubs I went to was BoMacs, and for quite a while I was there with my buddies on a regular basis just to check out the sounds and breathe the atmosphere. BoMacs is a huge part of what made me love Detroit, and what made me want to call this city my home.

So if it was you that killed Harry Bolling, then it was you who killed a beautiful part of Detroit. You need to know that, wherever you are.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail

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