Monday, November 21, 2005


In Which We Wonder About Whiskers...

We had a couple of really cold days recently, which led to the usual flurry of activity around the Magazine Mansion, starting with the removal of the giant box of winter clothing from the attic. Then follows the subsequent trip to the store to buy all new winter clothing because your children have outgrown the old winter clothing.

But before this can happen, there's always an emotional moment or two. Last year, I tried to reason--in futility--with the Brownie, who refused to wear her brother's old winter clothes, even though they fit her perfectly. This year, I had to reason with Her Lovely Self, who was ready to hurl herself off a bridge because Thomas accidentally put on her winter snow pants--and they fit perfectly. "The only thing worse would be if YOU put on a pair of my pants and they fit you," she cried. I don't confess to fully getting her point, but the upshot was that no one was wearing hand-me-downs, so off to the store we went.

There were other steps in our cold weather ritual, of course. We dismantled parts of the jungle gym so it could take its winter nap. I brought in the first load of firewood for easy access to the hearth. Thomas and the Brownie started huffing on the windows and writing their names in the condensation.

And I turned once again to the question that has faced me--literally--since I graduated high school:

Should I grow a beard this year?

As a young guy, I hated the forcible removal of what few whiskers I had, but since I went to a Catholic high school, shaving was mandatory. Not that we were graded on it, but you got demerits for being out of uniform if you were not clean-shaven, and five demerits warranted a detention and who wanted detention just because they didn't shave? So every morning I ran that damn Norelco razor over my stubble, an act which tended to give my face a wind-burned redness that only pronounced my freakish mutant acne.

And the razor didn't even do that good a job against my facial hair. In my family, most of the men--and quite a few of the women--are well known for their ability to grow impressive facial hair in a fairly short span of time. When my first stubble sprouted at age 12, I knew I was no exception. In my junior year of high school, I ran afoul of Father Connolly, who taught religion in the afternoons. He once accused me of not shaving and was going to give me demerits. I insisted I had shaved that morning; my beard just grew very quickly. He didn't believe me, but he was willing to give me "a chance to prove it", which was code for "a chance to humiliate myself."

Thus it was that the next morning, I had to march into his homeroom and shave in front of him and a roomful of howling sophomores, so that he could see for himself that, yes, I actually DID get five o'clock shadow by around quarter to 3.

Today, I'd take the demerits and tell him to fuck off.

After four years of this parochial nonsense, I arrived at college ready to shave--er, shake off the chains of educational and social repression and just go nuts. If I had done a list of things I wanted to do that first year in college, growing a beard would have been at the top.

(Well, okay, experimentation involving sex and drugs would have been at the top, but it gives you some sense of how strongly I felt about this that I would put growing a beard in the #3 slot.)

I was so psyched about growing that first beard, it actually became the topic of a column I wrote for the school paper. Here's an excerpt:

They are an exercise in patience, these facial rugs; wonderful, magical things that, once grown, give a man a feeling of power. He has produced something; he has become the captain of his destiny. He has stopped the unnatural act of shaving and let nature run its course. Such were my thoughts when I started growing my beard.

It has taken weeks and many sleepless nights of tossing and turning, trying not to scratch my face as newborn whiskers pushed their way through to the light. Ultimately, though, it grew, showing for all the world to see that here was a formidable fellow, a person of character and strength; for clearly, a man who could grow a beard was a man to be reckoned with.

Yeah, I didn't get out much.

Still, I'll always have a certain fondness for that first beard. It took three full months to grow in, and when it did, it was a blistering red, redder even than the hair on my head. The problem was, no hair was growing on my upper lip. This was a puzzle to me, but there it was: my mustache hair would reach a certain point of growth--a point, sadly, where it could not be discerned from a smudge of rust without close inspection. And so, one morning, as I was trimming up my newly grown beard, I impulsively shaved my upper lip.

Judge the result for yourself from this picture, taken over Christmas break that year. At least you won't have a problem picking me out of a crowd.


Let's take a closer look.


Now, is it just me, or is there something about that face that says Amish serial killer to you?

Suffice it to say, it was not my finest crinitory moment, and I have no doubt that its presence interfered with my ability to make any progress with #1 on my list.

By March I shaved it off, but that was something of a shock too. For one thing, I had never shaved a beard off before, and so wasn't sure how to go about it. I naively thought I could just run my old electric razor over it like a lawn mower and that would be that.

That was that all right. After briefly making a crackling noise the moment they contacted my whiskers, the three rotating razor heads ground themselves painfully and hopelessly into a thatch of beard on the side of my face. This was followed by much screaming from me as the razor was pulling painfully on my whiskers and therefore on my skin. Then a mild "zack!" sound came from the razor as its tiny engine blew out.

There I was, with an electric razor hanging from the side of my face.

I had to run down the hall of my dorm to a friend's room, where--once he stopped laughing--he loaned me a pair of scissors. When I got back to my room, I delicately snipped my poor face free from my ruined Norelco. As long as I had the scissors, I decided to trim the beard down a little bit and that worked pretty well...until I snipped the leading edge of my chin off.

In the space of 5 minutes I had completely redefined my understanding of pain not once, but twice. I hopped and swore, spattering drops of blood everywhere. Blood was flowing freely, lavishly down my neck. I dropped the scissors and grabbed a towel to stanch the flow, but man, it was really bleeding.

After a few more minutes of fruitless blotting, I took myself down to the health center. That was its own ordeal, sitting in the waiting room holding a blood-sopped towel to my partially shaved face, trying to ignore the stark gazes and pointing fingers of my fellow ailing classmates. Somehow I didn't think I was going to write about this for the school paper. The only thing that saved me from complete embarrassment was wondering what my roommate would think when he returned to our room and saw the clumps of hair, the bloody scissors on the floor, and the red trail leading from my spattered mirror all the way out the door. Hopefully, he'd be so surprised by this scene he wouldn't even realize that I had taken his towel.

As it turned out, I didn't need stitches, and eventually, I learned to snip my beard down to a level short enough to allow for a safety razor, but not so short that I was removing actual flesh from my body. But I went through several beards before I mastered the art.

There was this beard, for example.


And this one.


Oh, and we can't forget this one.


(Don't ask. No, please. No.)

Whenever it was time to shave these beards off, I'd spend a little time experimenting with other facial hair styles, always an educational experience. I learned, for example, that although I can probably never wear them in public, I look pretty good in mutton chops. I also learned that no one looks good with a Hitler mustache. Through this process I also learned that a goatee is probably best for my facial structure, and that tends to be the style I have stuck with.

As in this case.


Yes, sports fans, that is yours truly, in the middle of a book tour, on MSNBC, talking to uber-cute broadcast personality Soledad O'Brien.


These days, my hirsute self tends to look like so.


Sigh. Here we are, almost to the end of the entry and I still haven't made up my mind what to do about a beard this winter.

On the one hand, growing a beard is the follicular equivalent of rearranging the furniture in your living room. Nothing's really different, but the slight alteration of scenery is refreshing and exciting.

On the other hand, the Brownie won't let me near her when I'm in full beard. "You're TOO scratchy, Daddy!" my daughter will scream when I come in for a goodnight kiss. Then she throws stuffed animals at me until I leave.

On the third hand, Her Lovely Self is totally ambivalent about it, which is no help. There was a time where I went years without the slightest stubble because my girlfriend--later my bride--begged me to stay shorn so she could "kiss that smooth, cute face." A decade and change later, I don't get the "smooth, cute face" speech anymore. I get the "whatever but just make sure you rinse all that gross stubble out of the sink when you're done trimming it!" speech.

So, beard or no beard? What do YOU want me to do? Give it some thought--you know, don't work yourself into a lather over it or anything--and get back to me.

Let the will of the people decide.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

PS: How many of you found the link to the secret mini-vlog hidden in this entry BEFORE you actually got to this PS telling you there was a secret mini-vlog? Just curious. What can I say? My curiousity, it's REALLY huge.

After reading tonight's post aloud to my two girls (a lovely end to a lovely day, I must add) we open the voting thusly:

Flip sez "Yes!"

TJ mutters "Whatever, just clean that gross stubble out of the sink when you're done trimming it."

Me, I say go for the goatee. Very dashing. If you need any tips on head shaving, lemme know. Although the mental image of you running around the house with a Norelco stuck to the side of your head is rather amusing.
what is so funny is Amish serial killer is exactly what I was thinking!!

No! No beard. Please. Goatee -rrrowwrr. Beard...uh-uh.

Just my two cents...
Can I vote for both (ooh, just did!)...I think that you should grow a beard and shave it to show all of us that you are no longer Norelco-inept - and then wear the goatee for the remainder of the winter.
I found the vlog post before I read the end, but I didn't watch it until I was done with the entry (such behaviour shows how much I like your writing... or maybe just how much I need to finish reading something before I move on).

I say you do the goatee. It looks pretty good.
Goatee. Do it for us guys who can't (because if I don't shave, Homeland Security begins following me).
I can't even hear the word "goatee" without hearing my dearly departed Dad saying "Why would a man want to make his mouth look like a woman's p(art)?"
Huh. Well, I was thinking 'freaky Amish dude' so I was close...

Mmm. Goatee. You look quite dashing. Skip the mutton chops - NO ONE looks good in them. Ever.
I'm still reeling from the wallpaper in that first picture. That is some *seriously* bad stuff! I'm guessing frat house?

I didn't find the vlog till you mentioned it; I have a tendency to read first, and click later.

Fuzz or no fuzz? I vote for goatee, with apologies to The Brownie... :)

no reason what so ever.
Goatee would be my first choice, followed by a full beard. But, please, please, don't grow just a moustache. My apologies to those of you out there that wear just a moustache, but they should be reserved for police officers and porn stars.

Didn't find the vlog link until after you mentioned it, and even then it took me forever to find it. This was last night, it was late, that is my only excuse.
Hmmm... Brownie kisses or facial hair? I would say stay clean shaven, you only have a few good years of good night kisses left from her.

Great photos!
I thought the goatee was very becoming. The Brownie will get over it, won't she? you can just tell her that the whiskers make her kisses from you extra special , cause the whiskes like her kisses to...maybe she'll latch onto that and give you extra? just a thought... :)
Sweet entry, and nice job on the word usage. Crinitory is the first non-scientific word I have had to look up in years. Always learning something at the masthead.

Oh, and yeah, grow the goatee. I've performed the same facial hair experiments, often getting to wear some of the more dubious styles for a short time using community theatre as an excuse.
I say go with the goatee. I think it looks good on you. When they were really popular in the late 90's, I tried to grow one myself, with disastorous results, since I have no ability to grow a decent mustache. Imagine the "Amish serial killer look" in goatee form and you'll get the idea. Since then, I've stayed clean-shaven.
The brownie will get used to it. My dad had a full beard until I was in highschool, and it wasn't ever an issue. Also, if you grow a full beard, you won't have to wear a scarf to keep your face warm in the cold temperatures.
For cryin' out loud, people—it's not a goatee. When there's a 'tache attached, it's a Vandyke.

I remember that article, actually. My favorite part was the progressive Four Stages of Bearddom: lazy —> dirty —> scary —> BEARD.

I've typically done the vandyke, or a thin sidewall. But it's just too much maintenance—getting the sides of the moustache even, or defining the jawline just so. My hair is so short now, and so grey, that I think it's time to let the beard creep up my cheeks and turn my whole head into a single whiskery continuum.

With eyes. Cold, dead eyes.
I have to agree with Alissa. Though the goatee is quite sexy, I'm afraid my opinion is to give it up (at least for a few more years) Trust me on this fact: in a few short years, eager kisses from your little girl will be a thing of the past and you'll wish you had waited on the facial hair. You can always grow a goatee, but once that youthful innocence is gone, it's gone
I say go with the goatee. And, I must agree with Sharfa's earlier claim that you are one sexy writer. HLS is also Her Lucky Self. :)

But still...go with the goatee. Beards tend to make men look like Grizzly Adams...not sexy.
I think you should rock the beard.

Nothing says "I'm a fucking man" more so than having a pieces of dinner in your facial hair!
Amish serial killer or a young George Lucas. Not sure which is worse.
Are you wearing a Wok on your head?
And no, I still haven't found that damned vlog.
To beard or not to beard, that is the question that only you can answer...
You look quite dashing in the goatee/vandyke..whatever it's called.

I didn't find the vlog until told to look.

But, I did notice something about your screen cap with Soledad.

Dude, you are totally looking at her boobs.
Ok, the goatee + mustache looks good, but I'm going to have to lean toward kisses from little girls, and HLS. My guy wears a beard and mustache, and while he looks much better with it than otherwise, kissing is not fun with whiskers going up my nose. However, his beard is not scratchy the way recently shaved stubble is. Maybe the Brownie could give you another chance?
And I also did not know about the hidden vlog until you mentioned it. But, I'd heard there was something huge going on.
Also, these photos were totally taken to tease those of us who don't know who you are, right?
Totally torn. Brownie kisses are in such limited quantities, that perhaps one more winter without facial hair is in order.

But you do look damed handsome with the goatee (or whatever it's called).

Me - on the fence.
I say gopher goat-tee.
My sister once told me of a psychological study that noted "men who grow facial hair have something to hide".

Personally, I think that is a bunch of horse-hockey, and that you should go goatee-fabulous, as you did in front of Soledad.

Oh, and I was completely unaware of the vlog, but then I have a computer so old that managing to get an image on the screen is a miracle.

Have fun with the beardiness.

(formerly of Notes of the Cave, now of the Inverted
Kevin, LOL, you took my comment :) I noticed the George Lucas resemblance, too.

MM, please don't let your neck get out of control in your later years, or it might take over and cause you to revise all the sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll out of your old posts!

I didn't find the vlog until it was mentioned.

As for facial hair, you look distinguished with the goatee-whatever, so I'd say go with that.
You looked pretty good in the pic in front of the brick wall (just below the pyramids pic), which is a style I wouldn't mind having if I could just get over the damn itch. Instead, I wear a goatee, which I started wearing several years ago at the urging of my wife.

What, and no mention of beard dandruff? ;)
I vote for the diabolical moustache and goatee.

Didn't find the vlog till you mentioned it. But it did only take 2 seconds once you did.
Is there any secret video of Soledad O'Brien? Grrrrrowwwwlll!!
I will go along with HLS years ago; no beard. I hate having whisker rash.

But if I was to choose what I think looks the best I would say picture #3. A very handsome beard : )>
i kinda like the "stages" idea. maybe you should just try something new? i suggest start with a beard, then transition to the sideburns/mustache combination. this should give some ideas...

ok, but seriously, vandyke or nothing. speaking as one who isn't well-endowed in the facial hair department, i hate shaving, but bad facial hair is just terrible. if it looks good, do it, but if you grow it just because "i don't feel like shaving," it may be time to re-think it.
As facial hair design is temporary, I request an imperial.
Goatee. Very charming and (key) seasonal. Let the man define the beard.....
I like a well-trimmed beard. Very distinguished. If you don't like it you can always pare back down to the goatee. Plus, it's red! Facial hair like that should not be kept under the skin.
My dad used to have a beard. Now he is beard-less.

I like you better in the pictures of your interview. Plus beards keep your face warm in the winter!

Twinks ;)
I like the soledad version, looks good!
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