Sunday, April 2, 2017

one hundred hairs make a man

Starting from the day after the first time I ever shaved, I had a mustache. I remember gliding my father's electric razor around the contours of my 16-year-old face and thinking, as sparse growths of ultra-fine peach fuzz were sheared off: "Fuck this. I'm growing a mustache." And grow a mustache I did.

In all honesty, it was really just me being lazy. I didn't like shaving. Even with an electric razor, I didn't like standing and staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, trying to remember if I covered that area of my face yet. It wasn't like mowing the lawn, where — if I let it go long enough — I could tell which areas I hit with the mower by the comparison to the areas I hadn't yet covered. But, the hair on my face didn't grow at the same rate as my parent's lawn, so to me, shaving was an unnecessary chore. Of course, as I got older, my facial hair was in need of regular maintenance. I, however, had fallen into the rut of ignoring extensive daily grooming. Brushing my teeth was all I needed. I just pulled my long hair back into a ponytail and I was ready for the day. The scruffiness of my unkempt whiskers was not a priority.

When I attended art school in the early 80s, I earned extra money scooping ice cream at a popular spot on Philadelphia's artsy South Street. When I interviewed for the job, the store owner (a guy my brother knew from high school) told me I would have to shave my mustache. He explained that no one can have facial hair behind the ice cream counter. No exceptions. I really wanted this job, so I informed my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I reluctantly took a razor to my face. For months, I was clean-shaven. I carefully maintained my face and shaved more often than I ever had in my life. One day, a new hire showed up behind the counter. A new hire — with a mustache and beard! I marched right up to the owner and questioned the allowance of the new guy's facial hair. He rattled off some lame excuse about the guy posing for a religious-themed painting and he was portraying Jesus so he had to have a mustache and beard. I wasn't buying it. I told him that, as of this moment, I will stop shaving. I promised to keep my pending mustache neat and trim, but I'd be growing it back just the same. 

When I finished art school, I was finished with scooping ice cream as well. I grew my hair long and my facial hair grew back to its unruly glory. Even as I entered the working world, employers didn't seem to mind how long my hair was or how I grew my mustache as long as my talent as an artist was up to the challenges of the job (or in my case, many jobs). I worked in small production houses (that's art industry talk) until I got my first job interview in the "corporate" world at the suburban Philadelphia offices of a legal publisher. I cut my hair, trimmed my mustache and beard close and got the job.

Several years and several jobs later, I was working for a local chain of floor covering stores where I produced their weekly newspaper ads and in-store signage. One day, a warehouse worker, in the throes of innocent conversation asked my age. I smiled and dared him to guess. He looked me up and down, scratched his head and said, "Eh, I don't know.... sixty?" I was taken aback and a bit insulted. I was not then, nor am I now, sixty. As a matter of fact, at the time, I was forty. I did, though, sport a full gray beard, which I promptly shaved off as soon as I got home that day — never to be grown back again.

When I first began my current job, a co-worker offered me five dollars to shave off my mustache. I did and happily took his money. Everybody got a good laugh and my mustache was back within a few days. However, after toying with the idea for some time, I shaved my mustache off at the beginning of 2017 — this time for good. It had been years since I had shaved the area between my nose and my upper lip. I cut myself a few times, despite being extra careful. Several dabs from my trusty styptic pencil and I was just fine.

With the exception of two colleagues with whom I work very closely, no one in my fourteen-person department said a word. I had shaved early in the morning before my wife woke up. When I got home, it even took a few overly-theatrical coughs and throat clearings until Mrs. P noticed. My in-laws still haven't said a word. My wife postulated that, since my mustache was predominantly white in color, it wasn't really such a drastic change. My son (who is still getting used to seeing my bare upper lip) told me that I now resemble my older brother. My brother, who seemed a little insulted by that assessment, told me I look nothing like him.

When I was a teenager, I think I grew a mustache in an attempt to look older. Now, I'm kind of hoping the lack of a mustache makes me look younger 'cause I'm not so sure the red hair is doing the trick.

1 comment:

  1. Chuckling over your white mustached not being missed on your white face :)