Mustachioed Weak – An Experiment in Facial Hair Reconstruction

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.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

For reference: This me in my natural habitat. Bearded, proud, sexy.

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 have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

I have been told many times that I look like Kevin James. I have yet to decide if I should be offended.

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 was going for more of an "Austin hipster" look than "creepy predator" vibe.

I was going for more of an “Austin hipster” look than “creepy predator” vibe.

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.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

This week on Fear Factor, Chase must order a cup of coffee without stuttering and dropping things.

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.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don't care if its for a three year old. I don't care if its several hats stacked on top of each other.

If you have a cute hat, I will wear it. I don’t care if its for a three year old or if its several hats.

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.

#living the dream

#living the dream

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.

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin'it #mustaches will never die

Understated selfie with the awkward lighting. #killin’it #mustaches will never die

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Board Games: A Blood Sport

My younger cousin does not know how to lose. She’s a board game shark. She’s a hustler. She walks around my grandma’s house with the confidence of a mob boss, challenging you to innocent games of Uno and then robbing you of your dignity. When I visited my grandma’s house in Louisiana this summer I decided it was time to put an end to the tyranny.

I threw down the gauntlet. One day of games, any game she picked we’d play, winner takes all, loser cries in a corner. She accepted with a smug look on her face. But over the course of four hours I took that smug look, threw it in a bowl with some cereal, and ate it for breakfast.

She never knew what hit her. We started with Sorry! and oh was she sorry. 4 to 1 victory for me. Even after two rematches, she was no closer to stealing away my Sorry! crown. Then we moved on to Trouble, Sorry!’s bastard little cousin. And guess who won, I did. I beat her again and again. No matter how many rematches, I beat her. And I laughed in her tiny little face.

Chinese Checkers, Uno, Go Fish, all of these games ended in huge wins for me. Uno, her wheel house, her go to hustle move, I beat her four times in half an hour. I was relentless. Hide and Seek, Freeze Tag, I win. I even found ways to beat her at made up games like Restaurant. She honestly thought she could make better invisible pancakes than me! Silly kid.

At the end of the day, we sat down to a soul crushing game of Scrabble, just to make sure she got the message. I was winning, because we have thoroughly determined that that is what I do. Her older sister (the middle child of three) came home from a long day of doing something related to horses. She sat at the table and watched as I bullied her sister around with big money words like fireman while she cashed in three letter words for junk change. I turned to the new arrival with a huge smile. “So I’ve been beating your sister at games all day. Uno, Sorry!, Trouble, you name it, I beat her.” I was so proud of myself.

She looked over at her little sister whose face just looked miserable after learning that she sucked at everything, then she whispered to me “You that she’s seven years old, right?”

We all laughed. Well I kinda laughed, it was more like I was crying. I realized that my cousin (a seven year old little girl) had somehow convinced me (a twenty year old man big manly man) that it was very important that I spend an entire day of my life proving that I was better than her. And that’s a victory I could never take away from her.

Paternal Instincts Not Included

I love kids. I’m great with kids. They like me, I like playing games, and I can listen to child psychobabble for hours on end (well I can tolerate it but that’s still a gift). The problem is that I have this irrational fear that I look like the type of man that other adults deem suspicious when interacting with young children. It’s all in my head, my imagination running away with old episodes of Law and Order: SVU and To Catch a Predator, thinking that parents are on the lookout for shady individuals. And I have this feeling that my large frame, often wild and bushy beard, and the vague distant look on my face that I may be plotting something at all times, sets off an alarm in paranoid parents’ minds when I am interacting with my young cousins in public.

This fear of mine came to a boiling point on my mom’s birthday a few weeks ago. My parents and I were having dinner at a restaurant in town called Hasler Brothers Steakhouse with my dad’s sisters and my six year cousin Eldon. I was quietly sitting in the corner watching whatever god-awful college bowl game was on that night when my dad suggested that the chatty Eldon sit next to me. So I turned my attention from football and became enraptured in this young boys obsession with dinosaurs. His eyes grew wide with excitement behind his glasses as he detailed the anatomy of the Plesiosaur and recreated the epic battles between Allosaurus and Triceratops with his hands.

Suddenly he stopped everything and looked at me with fear. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he whispered. And I was not briefed on how to handle that situation when he was annexed over to my section of the restaurant, so I ignored him like a responsible adult. After a moment he said it again but this time it was not a whisper so I was forced to engage.

“Then go,” I said and he gave me a look that said Dude, I’m six. What the hell does that mean? So I turned to my dad and said that Eldon had to pee. To which he replied, “Then take him.”

So I begrudgingly led him to the restroom that the restaurant shares with the bar next door. And instantly the fear of judgment hit me because the thought struck that “nervous-looking bearded guy leads small child to restroom” is not a fun vibe to send out to the world.

Once inside the empty restroom Eldon set off exploring the different stalls while I stood in the corner wishing I could just phase through the wall and escape the situation. He finally chose a urinal and proceeded to pull down both his pants and underwear. I totally forgot that that was how small boys used the restroom and immediately started searching for hidden cameras as if I were the subject of some sort of sting operation. Eldon turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Pretend you don’t see me.” Sadly, I couldn’t.

I suggested that maybe he should go to a stall but he was all like Dude, I got this. I pointed out that he wasn’t even tall enough for the urinal to which he was all like Dude, I got this. When suddenly an adult man that I did not know entered the restroom. He surveyed the situation, a small pant-less child using the urinal and me trying desperately to mentally escape to a field full of puppies, and then proceeded to go about his day and use the restroom.

There was no safe place to look. It was between A) watch my pant-less cousin pee next to a stranger, B) turn around and watch it in the mirror, or C) read the things taped to the paper towel dispenser. I chose option D and left the bathroom entirely. Leaving my young cousin alone in a restroom with a stranger. Because I’m an adult who makes good decisions.

More men exited from the bar in pursuit of the bathroom and were greeted by me awkwardly guarding the door like a creepy sentry. They ignored me the best they could, entered the restroom and I felt more and more like a horrible human being.

Finally one man poked his head back out the bathroom and said “I think we have a problem in here.” I entered the room to see Eldon squirming around the trying to pull his pants back on and button them. For some reason this was a big task because apparently he was raised by wolves or something. So I had to debate the pros and cons of helping out in this situation. He insisted that he could do it but he was slipping and sliding his way across the whole bathroom. I crouched down like a lineman awaiting the snap with my hands out in case I had to help with the button. After a minute of struggle he finally was able to button up and wash his hands and I was free from this nightmare.

As I was exiting the restroom I looked back at the first man who entered and apologized for the entire situation. He laughed as he washed his hands and said, “Don’t worry. I have kids too.” And it was initially weird to think that this man thought that Eldon was my son but there was also a tremendous wave of relief when it was finally confirmed that I don’t in fact look like a pedophile, just a very confused father. And I’m OK with that.