After thirty some years of exposing my dimpled chin and hollow cheeks to accent my blue eyes, I woke up about a year and three-quarters ago, looked in the foggy mirror, and wondered to myself, “What the hell am I doing this for?”
When my wife and I first met I had a shaggy beard, and that did not deter her enthusiasm. We were together for a number of years before I took up the razor.
It was a business associate and later partner who told me that if I ever expected to be a success in business then I needed to remove the beard. Remove it daily. So I did that. Though I am in the construction industry, beside eradication of facial hair I also took up clean clothes, a white shirt with a collar, and a tie. If left to my own devices I would tend to wear t-shirts with graphics on them and mottos like, “We Specialize in Tall Erections,” or, “Roofers Like to Be on Top.” Instead, I wear colorful ties.
So, after decades of feigned conformity, I moved on from that clean-suited executive career, and eventually my associate and former business partner died an untimely and unfortunate death. After a year of my still waking up at an ungodly early hour to cram in a shave every morning it occurred to me that possibly nobody was around that cared if I shaved or not. So I stopped.
At first I was worried that something bad would happen. I wasn’t sure my wife noticed. She may have thought it a phase at first.
When I was younger my beard was auburn brown. Now it is a white exuberance. I don’t trim it. I have this natural-man idea that hair should be left to do what it wants to do with itself: sort of like a free market on my face, or the invisible hand that leaves me to my own personal dystopia. My wife told me to get over myself.
In March I went to Home Depot to get faucet washers and as I was lost in the parking lot trying to figure out what I had done with my dinky truck, a fellow drove past, shouting out of the cab of his giant truck that I had made his day because his young daughter was sure that she had seen Santa Claus let loose in the Home Depot.
Man, there is nothing quite like being identified as a mythical super-human all-prescient folk hero to little girls and boys when all you are up to is shoddy plumbing. Even with adults I get to ask with a knowing wink, “Have you been good or bad today?”
My Muslim friends call me Mohammad Gabriel, and an old man I met at a workshop on historic lighting asked me if I was a Mormon. Some think I am an Orthodox Jew and a few know me well enough to consider that I could be all of the above. I have not yet checked on the religious persuasion of ZZ Top though that identification seems to resonate most with street bums who then ask me for a cigarette. I no longer smoke, which is an advisable non-habit when one has a face full of hair, particularly when not smoking inhibits the likewise habit to bring facial hair too close to the flame of the stove burner. Been there, done that.
Friends I have known for years but have not seen often enough like it when I can sit next to them at a bar table and talk with them for a half hour before they suddenly realize it is me. About the only reason I can think of to go back to the shave would be to surprise them all over again. Some have suggested that I dye the beard blue and wear an eye patch but I’m not ready for that just yet.
My son introduced me to the buzz cut and I began to cut the hair on the top and back of my neck. (It just seemed weird to grow a beard out of the back of my neck —kinky on the order of magic underpants.) Maintaining a buzz cut is like mowing a lawn with a blindfold, and a lot easier than shaving. I only need to cut it to 1/8” and then leave it alone for two months and like a Chia Pet, it fills back out. Though it is messy, I would not consider doing it in the shower as I am not sure the electric trimmer would be compatible with an aquatic environment.
When asked how long it took me to look like this I reply that I stopped shaving last week. On other occasions I remark, “I’m not sure. I woke up this morning.” Then there is always the explanation that I was embarrassed and did not want anyone to notice my nose hairs. This is a good line for when you really do want someone to look up your nose cavities.
A friend asked why I decided to cut the top so short and my unequivocal response is that I do not want to be confused with a Hippy. Same reason I do not wear tie-dyed shorts. “Too late,” she said. Ouch.
Truth is, though, I really don’t like to have to invest so much time and expense in coiffing. I was born with short arms and deep pockets. Has anyone else noticed that when you go to a unisex hair stylist that your hair grows out faster and you have to go back a week later to keep it all in bounds? If I need a professional barber I prefer it to be quarterly.
I do need to comb the beard. Well, some people like it when I comb the beard. I find it interesting when I find beard hairs in odd places. Used to be my wife’s hair, long and silver blonde, would end up in strange places and I always thought that was interesting. Where hair goes, just think, that is us! When she finds a strain of my beard hair in the sink she thinks of country roads that wind around the landscape. How intimate is that?
The most irritating issue with having a long beard is that the air conditioning in the truck died before this hotter than usual summer arrived, and when I drive down the road with the window open the beard on the left side tends to fly up into my eyes. I have tried to equalize the hairy turbulence with negative air through judicious operation of the passenger window. Lean over the cab, foot on gas, hold the steering wheel steady and crank. But it does diddly to allay the flap of the tentacles that try to cut into my eyeballs like a snapped wire rope let loose on an out-of-control offshore oil rig.
In compensation I drive with one hand and hold my beard out of range with the other. This is a difficult confession for me to make in public as I fear the legislation of hands-free beards for all on-road vehicle operation. I considered for all of thirty seconds shaving the left side of my face, but I am of a mind that an all-American Harley is probably the best alternative as the wind could then be coming at me front on and I can actually look normal if I wear bubble-eye goggles.
Read more on Shaving on The Good Life:
Oliver Gray writes: “I always silently panic when I see the disaster area I’ve made in our little bathroom. Mistakes were made. Spots were missed. Blood is in the water and on tiny pieces of toilet paper.”
Mark Herro demonstrates a traditional—even ceremonial—wet shave.
Photo credit: elvissa/Flickr