Grizzly beard

Next time I'm faced with a questionnaire that asks my hobbies, I plan to write: "Unruly beard."

What is a hobby, after all, but a way to pass the time, usually in intense concentration? Beard wearers spend an inordinate number of man-hours in front of the mirror, clipping and snipping and shaping. We could pursue more productive endeavors, but we find serenity in the care and feeding of a neat beard.

In short, it's like bonsai.

If you've ever tried to keep bonsai trees alive, you know it's not as easy as it looks. And unlike a potted dwarf tree, you can't just stick your beard in the garage if you ruin it. You either shave it off or go around looking lop-sided for a week.

Men always say they wear beards because they hate to shave. They make it sound like they've removed one obstacle in their daily dash out into the dog-eat-dog world. But the dirty little secret is that most spend way more time on their beards than they ever would on a clean-shaven face.

A bearded man can waste most of the morning in front of the mirror, combing and trimming, getting everything just right, then -- sproing! -- a whisker stands out from its peers, three inches tall, begging for a haircut. Often, this whisker will be gray. After the man recovers from the initial shock, he gets the scissors out again. Snip, snip. Then he needs to trim the other side for balance. Snip. Now that side's too short. Snip, snip. Pretty soon, he's got sideburns.

Some men get professionals to trim their beards, but where's the challenge in that? And electric trimmers don't leave enough room for error. Scissors are the weapon of choice. Better to snip a few whiskers wrong than to mow an entire stripe by mistake.

(I'm excluding from this discussion those men who never prune their facial hair. The ones with long, woolly whiskers a la Gabby Hayes. Those men have no vanity and I admire them greatly, though I find they tend to be bachelors.)

A lot of men who work at home sport beards. It's part of our rebellious attitude, thumbing our noses at the suit-and-tie world.

Having a beard at home presents two disparate dangers. One, a stay-at-home worker's hobby can go out of control, and his work-in-progress can eat up all his time. Or, two, he can forget to trim it at all, the same way he forgets to change out of his pajamas. He never looks in the mirror, doesn't realize he's walking around all day with toothpaste on his chin. These men are in imminent danger of becoming bachelors again. Or hermits like Howard Hughes.

I first grew a scraggly beard when I was fresh out of college -- 20 years ago -- and I've had one ever since, except for one drunken weekend in San Francisco when my wife thought it would be fun to see my real face. I shaved it off, giggling. The face in the mirror sobered me right up. My narrow chin was pale from years without sun and I'd undergone a certain thickening in the neck and jowl areas. I looked like a cross between that guy in the "Where's Waldo?" puzzles and my own father. I started growing it back the next day. My wife had no objections.

Most of my friends and both of my children have never seen me without a beard. It's become part of my persona. If you asked my sons to draw a picture of Dad, here's what it would be: bushy hair, bushy beard, round eyeglasses. "Where's Waldo?" with a beard.

I occasionally muse about shaving it off, but in truth I expect to take a beard to the grave. By then, I trust, it'll be white and woolly and weird. I hope, by that time, I will have developed real hobbies.

In the meantime, a beard is a pretty good disguise. If I ever had to, say, go underground, I could look like a different man in a matter of minutes. All I'd need is a razor and a red-and-white cap. Then I could hide in any crowd.

(Editor's note: I don't wear glasses anymore, but the beard stays.)

1 comment:

Stuart MacBride said...

Beardy Writers of the world UNITE!!!