I’ve been suffering facial trauma all week, ever since I shaved off my beard. I walk by a mirror and instead of my usual “Hey there, handsome” it’s “Aggh! Who are you?” And then I remember it’s me, only smoother.
It’s as though I were abducted by aliens and they put my brain into a new body, one that’s familiar but not quite right. A little off. A little more off than usual, that is. I mean, if the aliens were going to put me in a new body, the least they could have done was put me in something with more in the way of shoulders and less in the way of George McFly.
Of course, I haven’t been abducted by aliens (although that would explain the tenderness in certain delicate regions). I’ve merely shaved the hair off my face in order to prepare for a play I’m in later this fall. But just like my acting will do to my audience, going barefaced has made me squirm with discomfort.
I’ve had this beard for two years and I’ve become accustomed to the look. I’ve become accustomed to the way it makes me feel. I’ve become accustomed to the scratching. Before I grew it, I had never even heard of “beard dandruff,” and there was a certain comfort in knowing that, as gross as it already was being a middle-aged man, there were still frontiers of grossness to explore.
“You look younger,” people have told me. “Thank God; I hated that beard,” some have said. “Why are you walking funny?” others have asked.
No one – yet – has said, “I never realized your lips were so thin.” Or, “Losing the beard really brings out your nose.” But I know they’re thinking it. I know they’re thinking “wattles,” too. They think it the way they think, “Boy, he must eat garlic, like, all the time,” but are too polite or too far away to say anything.
But I’m not particularly worried that I look worse without the beard because that’s not necessarily the case. To be honest, it was a pretty hideous beard. Some men can grow an impressive beard. Mine, on the other hand, well, let’s just say that as beards go, it was definitely made of hair. As a beard grower, I’m an excellent actor. If my beard were a dog, we’d be seeing the vet about that. If my beard were a song, it would be one of Weird Al Yankovic’s lesser parodies. When people mentioned my beard, three out of five would use air quotes.
It wasn’t much to look at but without it, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of loss. What exactly did I lose, you ask? The beard, of course! Pay attention!
The beard offered me a facade of maturity to cover up the fact that I’m a man who makes jokes about alien probes.
The beard gave me the ability to sing wistful folky music in a high, keening sissy voice.
The beard allowed me to mingle with hipsters. Ironically.
Without my beard, there’s nothing to distract from my habit of pursing my lips the way Bruce Willis does when he’s all intense, only in my case it looks like I’ve just smelled something bad. But mostly there’s nothing to distract from the weird hairs growing on my earlobes. Gross.
When I swam across the lake this summer (fine, it was a pond…), and I started to think about panicking, which in turn made me actually panic, though I did make it, thanks to hanging onto my daughter’s flutterboard (just for a minute, I’m fine… no, you can have it back… okay, I’ll keep it…), and then I had to walk back around the lake (pond) because there was no way I could manage the return swim, and I felt defeated, emasculated and weak, I took solace in the fact that I had a freakin’ man-beard! Now, I’m just a pasty-faced guy in a bathing suit walking through the woods. Of life.
I realize now that my beard provided me with power. It touched something primal deep inside of me. As noted gorilla communication expert Dian Fossey once said: “Oo-oo wu-WUmmmp URRR!”
I miss my beard. I’ll grow it back after the play. Maybe. It really was kind of itchy.