I’m a beard man. I don’t like to make a lot of show about it, but my beard has been as much a part of my identity for the past five or so years as my eyes or my nose. It’s just a part that always seemed to have been there. But every once in a while, I yearn for a change. To do something radical to shake up the way people see me. I’ve played with a goatee, I’ve tried several variations from clean and trim to shaggy and long. On my darkest days I even go clean shaven and expose my baby face and nonexistent jawline to the world.
A little over a week ago, I shaved down to a mustache for the first time in my life. I have lived with this awkward lip garnish since then. This is my story.
This whole debacle started at the gym. While I was sitting on the bench pretending like I was talking myself up for another set, I stared at myself in the mirror wall for entirely too long. I like to make funny faces anytime I’m in front of the mirror and I was in the middle of some solid gems when I just became focused on my mustache.
I had always flirted with the idea of a mustache. When shaving I’d leave the mustache long enough for a few selfies before sending it down the drain with everything else. The mustache never left the bathroom. But on this fateful day, I decided to go for it. I mean, what did I have to lose? At best I’d have a solid Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation vibe, at worst it’d be pure Paul Blart.
I rushed home that night giddy for this ridiculous transformation. I told myself that I’d leave it for a week. An entire week. I anticipated ridicule and awkward stares, but I tried to push that from my mind by saying, “If people ask just say you’re doing it for your blog.”
I played fast and lose with the beard trimmer that night. I had already been rockin’ the goatee, so I was half way there already. I sheered the chin bush with reckless abandon, quickly leaving myself with the ultimate question: Stubble or clean cheeks? Stubble kind of makes you look dirty, but clean shaven has a very “I meant to do this” feel to it and that could be worse.
The decision was made for me when I accidentally shaved too close and finally decided that I was going bald cheeked. This soup strainer would be on full display. I shaved, dried my face, and threw on a beanie for a selfie.
I threw it out to the internet and let my friends decide my fate. Then I locked the razors away so that I could not go back on my word. This would stay for a full week. The mustache will know the light of day.
The next morning I woke with aspirations of having a nice relaxing Saturday out. I was going to go to my favorite area of Austin. Hit up the bookstore and see a movie. But first I needed to figure out what to do with my hair that did not make me look like a trendy soccer dad. I don’t think I was particularly successful in that regard, but I had a flannel so I at least looked earthy.
Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I just giggled like a dork. I couldn’t get over the way I looked, how would anyone else possibly take me seriously. The entire drive I was just in my head, trying to imagine what passersby and cashiers would do or say. Would I look like a creeper in the comic book section or would I finally look like I belonged?
I have this chronic desire to not stand out. I am very quiet and reserved. I apologize habitually and avoid eye contact. Anything I could possibly do to not cause a scene. But here I was walking around with a target for humiliation directly plastered on my face. Immersion therapy at its finest.
What I quickly realized was that no one really cared all that much. I mean, strangers did not stop and stare. Parents did not whisk their children away from me. No one said anything. I was just as faceless as I had been at any other time. I mean, that sounds like a terrible thing to think to yourself. But when you constantly feel like the entire world is constantly searching for some little screw up or silly embarrassment to hold over you forever, it’s kind of refreshing to realize that people don’t care one way or the other. I mean, as long as you’re a middle class white guy. Let’s not forget that I’ve already been dealt a pretty solid hand.
My friends have tended to have a little more fun with it. My gym buddies all yelled in excitement, cycling through different mustachioed characters I looked like. “Oh you look like Anchorman!” “Oh no, that mall cop. Paul Blart!” I went to dinner with my friends Colin, Steph and Mark as well as Colin and Steph’s kids and I realized that my mustache is the furthest thing from the weirdest part about me.
The mustache even had to face the frightening world of dating. I’d been trying to settle on a date to get dinner with this nice young lady and of course we finally landed on a day during the mustachioed week. But I sent a fair warning, “Just to let you know, I kind of have a mustache right now. If that changes things, I totally understand.” It didn’t. It was a fine evening. She assured me that the fullness of it kept it free from creepy territory. She said it looked very Ron Swanson. #Swansoning.
Now I want to say that the entire week was full of fun and games and celebrity impressions. But ultimately halfway through the week my father and I had to steal away on an emergency trip to Louisiana. My great grandmother’s health had been in a slow decline for months. We visited her in January when she was in the hospital, but this trip seemed to have more finality to it. This wasn’t a happy ending kind of visit.
I was really quiet on the drive to New Orleans. I just kept beating myself up. This was probably going to be the last time she got to see me and I had this stupid thing on my face. I was a walking joke. She wouldn’t see me the way I was meant to be seen and for some reason that bothered me to no end.
She would pass while were there. She was non-responsive once we got there and never came back to us. She never saw the mustache. But at the end of the day, that didn’t really matter much, did it?
I finished the mustachioed week in Louisiana, hunkered in a nursing home room with my dad’s family. There were the jokes. I explained that the whole mustache thing was “a joke that seems very inopportune right about now.” But I did get to see a few old photos of my uncles rockin’ some classic ‘stache work. A moment of solidarity in a somber weekend.
The mustache is still kicking even now. While the cheek fuzz is coming back in, I hold out to show a few friends who missed it while I was away. At the end of the day, this was a silly experiment that wasn’t much of an experiment. I mean, it was refreshing to find that I could do something unusual and survive the consequences, even if it were minor. It was nice to know that I could stand out or at the least attempt to without the world shattering. That its ok to just be yourself, because at the end of the day the world isn’t watching you hoping you’d fall.
It was fun to be a dork for a week, because sadly I think I’m stuck being one for the rest of my life.