All the things I can do with my beard
Posted December 4, 2008on:
I guess it’s natural to yearn for things you can’t have, and my yearning for a beard goes way back.
I was fairly late going through puberty, and even when it finally arrived I wasn’t all that good at it. So while my high-school and college friends were all displaying manly five-o’clock shadows and growing impressive full beards, I was cultivating 6 or 7 straggly hairs on my chin. When those hairs got long enough that they curled up on each other several times, I could almost kid myself into thinking that what I had was a beard. But then some young lady that I thought was attracted to me would make a disparaging remark about my “Sillygoat scruff,” and reality would set in with a bang.
Fortunately, moustaches can be made up of 6 or 7 really long, straggly hairs — or so I imagined — so by the time I was 23, I decided to abandon my beard attempts and try my luck with a moustache. (By this time, Rhonda and I had left Iran and moved to Germany, where I was teaching English as a Foreign Language to American soldiers. Yes, you read that right. But that’s another story.) Within a short time, however, it was evident that 6 or 7 really long, straggly hairs on my upper lip didn’t look much better than 6 or 7 really long, straggly hairs had on my chin.
Then I discovered moustache wax! I bought a big pot of the stuff and a tiny brush, and devoted much of each day to dipping the brush into the pot and stroking my upper lip horizontally away from my nose in both directions. And when I wasn’t dipping and brushing, I was pulling and twisting. All day long — dip, stroke, pull, twist; dip, stroke, pull twist. Very therapeutic, really. It gives you something socially acceptable to do with your hands when you get nervous.
And it worked! After 4 or 5 months, I had what appeared to be a respectable handle-bar moustache. OK, it was mostly dark brown goo, but that wasn’t obvious to anyone who kept their hands off my face. Boy, was I proud of that moustache.
One morning, though, I didn’t pay attention when I was shaving my lower lip and cheeks, and when I looked up, the tip of one side of my pride and joy was gone! Nooooo! I trimmed the other side to match it, but got it too short. Back to the first side. Back to the other. Back. Forth. By the time I finished, I had a nice little Charlie Chaplin (Hitler!) moustache in the center of my lip. That wasn’t exactly the thing for an American to have on his face in Germany in 1975, so off it came.
The next year, I started work for a computer company that had a rule against facial hair, and for the next 20 years, my urge to grow a beard was frustrated. But unbeknownst to me, by the time I was in my early 40s, all those little hormones that had been so recalcitrant in my youth had finally decided to pay me a visit. And when my company lifted the ban on facial hair, I went on a beard-growing orgy that lasted — well, it’s still going on.
Rhonda has always hated beards, and generally refuses to get too close when I’ve got one. So every year or so, I shave, get a fix of affection, and then grow the beard again. Now that we live apart most of the year, it’s not so much of an issue.
Usually, I keep the whole affair reasonably neatly trimmed. But a few weeks ago we started rehearsing a play that I wrote on Charles Darwin (see the Plays tab, and look for “The Debate”), and I’m playing Darwin! In preparation, I’ve been letting the beard grow since my son David’s wedding in mid-September. The play closes in early March, so that’ll be 6 months growth in all. By that time, I’ll be a Rip Van Winkle lookalike.
In the meantime, though, my beard is as long as it’s ever been, and I’ve discovered a number of interesting things that it’s good for (in addition to the obvious one of keeping my face warm in a Colorado winter). First, I’m a big fan of spare-ribs. Now, by licking my moustache hairs, I get to continue tasting the barbecue sauce for hours after the meal is finished. Yumm! Second, after I wash my face or take a shower, my chin hairs become a water reservoir of considerable volume. That will be very refreshing on warm days and could be a life saver the next time I trek through the desert.
Perhaps most important though, the beard is enabling me to go undercover while doing the research for my latest play, “Postville.” The play has a number of characters who are Hasidic Jews. You know, the ultra-orthodox guys with the black coats and hats and the long beards! In doing my research, I’ve been spending time with the Lubavitch community in Boulder, and they’ve been very welcoming and helpful. But it has been pretty clear to everyone that I am an outsider. Now, with each passing week, I come closer and closer to disappearing into the crowd.
Over the next 3 months, I’m sure I’ll come up with lots of other fun things I can do with my beard. I’ll keep you informed.