Monday, December 5, 2005

Barbarian Musings

It’s this time of year, when the mercury falls and the thermostat rises, that I often reflect on beards gone by.

The Christmas Beard is the gift I have to give myself every year, but I’ve neglected myself once again. I miss my beard. I should have shaved off the rest of me instead.

There are two sorts of people in the world, of course: people who like beards . . .

And women.

Women in the audience should know a curious thing: wearing a real beard provides almost the exact same sensation as wearing a false beard held on by cosmetic glue. Should any of you ever wish to experience an hour or two of facial hair, simply purchase a kit from your costume shop. You won’t be disappointed. Or you will be. In either event, you will have magnified your knowledge of beards.

Under a beard, one forgets oneself. Or, anyway, one forgets the contours of one’s chin and jaw - which is the same thing.

When you cut away the beard from the rest of you, you reveal mostly regret; a pasty, raw, unfamiliar kind of regret that you’d just as soon cover with bristles.

Oh well.

Don’t shampoo your beard in the shower, imagining that it would benefit form the process as does the longer, softer hair of your scalp. It only makes your beard itch more, I’ve found.

A beard is the scaffolding upon which a mustache is constructed.

A beard is the camouflage that conceals your true purpose. Then, like the sculptor sees in the stone the statue’s final form, you find the final courage to carve the mustache from the hairy medium.

But mustaches are an advanced maneuver and should not be attempted lightly or with much hope of happiness or success. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

It feels weird to brush beards out, away from your face. It hurts, but in the way that chewing on a canker or worrying a hangnail hurts. That is to say: it hurts in the way you cannot quite stop yourself from doing, though you know you will regret it.

It doesn’t really keep you warm, a beard, but it cuts the wind. It denies you the pleasure of a cool pillow on your face. This is a thing you learn to miss.

It gives you something to do when you are thinking about something. Stroking a beard while musing or concentrating is a terrible cliché. Like most terrible clichés, it works.

Everyone should grow a full beard at least once in their life. That so many will not is a kind of tragedy. Beards are to the male experience what childbirth is to the female.

Maybe haircuts would be a better fit there.

In any case, as the narrator in Cheever's The Swimmer had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not throw themselves into pools, so I have an abiding distaste for those who shave every morning. And a special hell is reserved for those who ignore the grain of the ingrowing beard by shaving against it.

You might surprise yourself by growing a beard an entirely different color from the hair on your head.

Also, with a beard, you’ll look better in a baseball cap, but worse in a collared shirt, but better in a crewneck sweater, but worse in a sportcoat. These are the wages of beards.

When you finally do buckle under the pressure from the women in your life and shave your beard away, you will feel a sickly regret and loathe your puffy face and ill-defined cheekbones, not to mention your gullibility and the ease with which you folded under pressure. You’ll want nothing so much as to pluck the hairs one by one from the sink and glue them back to your face.

It will take a while to tan the bottom part of your face. People will notice.

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