Since I was 22, I’ve had that full beard. It started as a bet. Everybody else dropped out after a month. Not me, I’m as stubborn as I am secretive.
Aside from the bet, I’m not sure why I grew it. I was the youngest of the guys in the bet so maybe I was trying to look older. Maybe I was trying to make it easier to buy beer. Can’t say for sure. All I know is that it came in and it stayed.
Turned out I was as good at growing a beard as I was at blowing smoke rings. At 22, it’s good to be good at anything. The beard outlasted the rings by thirty years. I smoke Black and Mild Cigars now just to blow the rings and I’m still good at that. I can blow smoke rings through smoke rings like the giant Camel Man did from the billboard mounted on the Claridge Hotel on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Street that used to blow smoke rings over Time Square.
That poster disappeared long before my beard did but not before Camelman spent a few years blowing smoke ringsider adult bookshops and peep shows.
My beard disappeared yesterday. None of my children were around but my wife was.
We’ve moved down here to Carolina, along way from Gotham. The weather is so hot that the lizards are turning colors on the front porches. Maybe the heat had something to do with the disappearance. Maybe i thought it would be cooler both literally and figuratively.
Nobody knows me around here anyways.
I don’t know.
It just happened.
Maybe it was because my beard trimmer decided to die halfway through my usual trim. I picked up the razor that my wife uses on her legs and started to rub it across my face. It felt kinda good. Kinda cool.
I went into the shower and kept dragging the blade across my face as remaining the whiskers went down the drain.
No mirror during the shave.
Naked, I stepped out of the shower. I didn’t realize exactly how naked I was until I looked into the bathroom mirror.
I got the first glimpse of my full face in half a century.
It looked all right. No big thing.
I toweled off. I put on my clothes.
I walked into the living room where my wife was watching teevee.
I stepped directly in front of the teevee. She always accuses me of being an attention whore and I always deny it.
She says that I’m in denial.
I say I deny what isn’t true etc.
I was looking for her attention at that moment.
She had never seen my naked face before. I had kept it a secret.
“that’s a nice change”, she said and went back to her viewing.
I didn’t know how to respond so I just said “good.”
I’d been through a lot of stages with my beard
Single guy, married guy, father, divorced guy, single guy, remarried guy, father, stepfather, teaching guy, retired guy, cancer guy…you name it.
Beards have come and gone and come again in fashion. I was a constant. I’ve been stereotyped both positively and negatively because of my beard. It came in handy at Dead concerts when strangers were passing joints around or when a hockey team was going into the playoffs. Not so handy when I would run into beard haters who thought beards were for bums, beatniks, hippies, ARTsy fartsys, sick son of a bitches from hell hole trailers in South Carolina and a whole range of hater paranoia.
After awhile, I forgot I had a beard until I would see a picture of myself and realize that my beard was my outstanding feature.
In describing or trying to identify me a witness might say: “he had a beard.”
If I was an extra in a movie, i’d be ‘guy with beard’ and that’s why I would have been hired in the first place because casting was in a hurry and needed a ‘guy with beard’ immediately.
Later that night, I went to the mirror and took a closer look.
I looked ‘younger’ without the beard.
The younger underneath looked startlingly older than the under looked the last time that I saw it.
I looked younger and older.
I looked weird and naked.
My face was a little less tan where my stash and beard used to be.
For all those years, I had set my ‘under” face in a certain way. I never moved it much and the beginning of puppet mouth had set in for shits and giggles.
My wife noticed that, of course, and pointed it out to me
And now I notice it and it’s all that I can see.
Howdy Fuckin’ Doody.
When we told Mary, our daughter in Boston about the change, she seemed startled. This was her reply.
“If you don’t like it, you can grow it back.”
I don’t know if I like it or not.
I was starting to look kinda writers with the beard. My friend Cal even went so far as Hemmingwayish. Now I looked more Doodyish.
And so naked as to seem almost profane.
Way O’er Faced.
Plus, I hadn’t felt stubble on my cheek or chin forever.
I ran my hand across my chin as I went to bed that night.
I felt the stubble.
It felt good.
My wife had never rubbed my cheek that carried five hours worth of fresh stubble.
I said, “Hey Honey, rub my cheek.”
“I’m too tired.
I’ll rub it tomorrow.”
And tomorrow, I would once again be faced with the dilemma, the daily question that faces men and all men’s faces almost every day. : To beard or not to beard.