While on vacation last summer, I stopped shaving. During vacations we should be able to stop some routine chores, and taking out the trash wasn’t on the table. So, I grew a beard.
I never shaved it off.
Well, not until my next vacation, which is backward. Beards are for winter, to shield your face from the cold and make you look all manly when covered with frost. (That was the theory – I never noticed it helped much.) But summer is a bad time to have another layer between you and whatever cooling breeze might happen along.
Whether a man (or a woman – let’s not discriminate) should have a beard is an issue that changes over time. For instance, you won’t see many American politicians with a beard these days. At least, not that I know of. I’m not going to examine every member of Congress for facial hair – it would be like spending all day going through a rogue’s gallery of fools, thieves, and scoundrels. That’s what reality TV is for.
The last American President with a beard was Benjamin Harrison, in 1893. In fact, the last President to wear any facial hair at all was William Howard Taft, whose mustache left office with him in 1913.
Maybe the disappearance of Presidential facial hair had to do with the concurrent invention of the safety razor, which had the advantage of bringing – as you might imagine – safety to shaving.
But did Presidents always wear beards before then? On the contrary: Abraham Lincoln was the first to grow a beard in office. The hairy pendulum swings.
Now beards remind American voters of mad mullahs, drop-out hippies, or our old friend Fidel down in Cuba.
In the 1800’s, many firefighters grew long beards as a safety measure. These days facial hair can interfere with an air mask seal, but back then they didn’t have breathing air packs, or anything to protect them from smoke and toxic gasses. So they’d grow a long beard and, before running into a burning building, soak the beard with water and stuff it into their mouths. Quick and easy smoke filtering system.
Who says beards don’t have their uses?
As for me, it was laziness. It’s easier not to shave. Of course, it’s also easier not to shower, and I still do that (no matter what rumor you might hear). I had no motive beyond that, except for thinking it would be nice to have a layer between my face and the winter elements.
Then a strange thing happened: People started telling me they liked the beard. I figured they were messing with me. When I had a beard before, back in my early twenties, it would send people screaming in terror. This time I bought a beard trimmer, which kept me from looking like a half-crazed mountain man but also took away much of the laziness factor.
Now people told me it looked good – distinguished was a term I heard more than once. There was a time when I had no desire to look distinguished, but I gave up long ago on looking handsome, hunky, or in any way better than average. So yeah, I’ll take distinguished. Personally, I didn’t think extra hair made me look better than fair to middling.
But after all these years, I’ve learned to take compliments where I can get them.
Eventually, after some fifty or so weeks of winter, the time came for me to shave the darn thing off. I was due to host a book signing at which I would represent my fire department, and modern firefighters have no need to stuff beards into their mouths except in answer to Friday night bar bets. So, the beard had to go.
But the mustache stayed, let’s not get stupid. Mustaches have been a great American firefighter tradition since the 70’s.
I set my beard shaver to its lowest level, and carpeted the bathroom floor. It looked better than the real carpet, which was there when I bought the place. Who carpets their bathroom?
What remained was some extra heavy duty stubble, and on a related note – how come the hair on my head gets thinner and thinner, but my beard’s like the Amazon rain forest? I tracked down Old Reliable, a double edged razor originally bought during the Bush administration – the first Bush. It took me a few hours, but eventually I was able to expose my entire face and discover …
The beard really did make me look distinguished. Now, instead … well, let’s just say the years haven’t been kind to my chin.
|The beard (and some young relatives) before ...|
|And the lack of beard, even more before.|
Despite my regret, the next night I picked up Old Reliable, placed it against my stubbly face, and watched pieces fly as it broke apart. Removing that forest of beard had just been too much for the old guy.
I wanted another double edged razor and went to the store, where you could still get double edged blades – but not the razors to go with them. Apparently I’m not the only guy who doesn’t give up a razor easily. Not willing to spend the money on those monstrosities with five blades, I went home to consider the possibility of smearing Nair on my face.
The next day, one of those five blade monstrosities arrived in the mail for me, sent by a famous shaver company that wanted me to spend a bunch of money on their multi-bladed miracle refills, which by next year will no doubt be up to ten blades each.
The next day. It’s like they were guided to me by the NSA.
Obviously I was meant to go bare for a while, but there will be other vacations, and I’m thinking it’s time to get lazy again.
I liked being distinguished.