Category Archives: Beards

Beard comparisons and visible minority

The other day, I was with some people I didn’t really know. Okay, I was in a community education geography class that consists of a nice elderly gentleman telling stories from his life at 1.5 mph. Which may well be very entertaining in its context, but is not what I paid $36, trekked half a mile through a junior high school, and squeezed into a child-intended seat for. But that’s why I was with people I didn’t know.

For some reason, the social necessity arose to comment upon my facial hair. I guess it’s the main visible marker for me, much more important than perhaps my education or work experience (which one might infer from my speech, but which can’t be shaved off). Black people might tell me: “Try being the only one with a difference that Norelco can’t fix.” A fair point. However, it’s not that big a novelty. I’ve heard that sentiment from minorities too: “Am I the first one they’ve ever seen?” Women, when alone in all-male groups, probably ask themselves the same thing: Why are the men all acting weird? Was the last female they ever saw, the one who squeezed them out?

No, I don’t directly compare my experience. Too much differs. But I no longer wonder why people in minority situations have made the observations they did. They make sense to me now, even after an incomplete comparison. And I’m beginning to understand why they’d rather it went away, because maybe the damn subject is just old to them. If you’re fifty and Asian, Asianness has probably come up a time or two in your life. You’ve already learned all the perceptions, stereotypes, heard reactions thoughtful and ignorant alike. Maybe you’re ready to just be Joe, rather than Asian Joe.

That said, I also don’t think it stops. Not with newly met people in visible minority situations. So that means that, until people become friends with me or I shave it off, in groups my beard is my identity. And maybe I should be grateful for that, come to think of it, because I’d rather be noteworthy for my beard than for my weight or my bizarre voice. So mostly, I’m not too annoyed, until the comparisons go to undesirable places.

You know, being compared with ZZ Top as a form of beard association wasn’t bad. I can deal with being confused with Santa. This Duck Dynasty comparison crap, however, will meet with icy and obstinate resistance. Yes, I know you like the show. No, I do not see what’s amusing about it. Yes, I realize it’s wildly popular. No, that fact has never influenced my preferences in nearly fifty years of life, unless via contrarianship. Yes, I have watched it. No, I don’t think it’s amusing. In fact, I see little difference between Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Booboo. It’s only funny because they have drawls. If you made either show with North Dakotans or Oregonians, it would be off the air, because much of our society associates a drawl with comical ignorance. (Although in Oregon, of course ‘Duck dynasty’ has a rather more different and literal meaning, one inimical to loyal Huskies.)

It’s one thing being compared to a mythical figure who brings kids joy. It’s one thing being compared to bearded Southerners whose rock band and look are so iconic that people half my age know who they are. It’s quite another being compared to a bunch of guys noteworthy mainly for making duck callers. Who even eats duck meat anyway? I assume people are not buying the duck callers so that they can feed or befriend the ducks.

Rasputin? Da. ZZ Top? Reckon so. Santa? Ho, ho, ho. Duck Dynasty? No. Just don’t.

My beard saved me from the bolt in my hamburger

A heavy quantity of unmanicured facial hair will impact your life in ways you did not imagine. If you are female and have never had reason to confront the topic, no one would expect you to imagine it. Some women find the whole subject fascinating, probably because it’s as far outside their experience as menstruation is mine.

There are two basic beard personality types: fastidious and messy. Fastidious does not refer to styling or waxing or braiding or trimming, but to cleanliness. Some men readily tolerate all manner of filth in their beards without caring. That makes me want to throw up, just as comments about ‘saving it for later’ are the sort of thing where I don’t respond with what’s on my mind. (To do so would usually alienate, for no good reason, a friend whose only fault is to imagine herself the inventor of that juvenile jest.) I believe in a clean beard. I will have a clean beard. I don’t care much how it hangs or flaps in the wind (or blows forklike over both shoulders in a high wind), just about clean.

In public (and even in private for some foods), this affects my choices a great deal. Some examples:

  • Never liked corn on the cob anyway, so the beard is a great excuse to beg off.
  • Hamburgers with enough stuff on them to make them worth eating: require knife, fork and a firm plate. At Red Robin, I ask for a plate rather than the basket. At home, I use toothpicks to hold the burger together while I cut it up. This produces benefits, especially when it comes to burger toppings like onions and bacon, which traditionally come loose and make messes.
  • Anything that involves jalapeño jelly is automatic: it will drip into the beard. Same for syrup, caramel sauce, honey. If it is sugary and sticky, it will. This will send me to a restroom to run the whole thing under the hottest water I can find. I hate sticky anything on my fingers, so the idea of such contamination in my beard is intolerable.
  • BBQ ribs? Knife and fork for sure. You might marvel to watch my dexterity at shaving rib meat off the bones with the utensils.
  • Hot wings? When my wife makes them, I let her have the drumsticks and I take the wings. I strip them one by one, by hand, burning my fingers badly. I then wash my hands for a couple of minutes with dish soap and sit down to eat.
  • Pet peeve: salad with huge, lazy lettuce chunks the size of welcome mats. I cut ’em up myself so that I can eat the salad normally. My wife’s salads are always in demand, especially by me, because she cuts it up beautifully. Never ask me to help in the kitchen by cutting your lettuce unless you want it in half-dollar-size pieces or smaller.
  • Most pizza requires a fork and knife until it cools a bit. Otherwise I’d have a bunch of tomato sauce and grease in my mustache. Unacceptable. Unbearable.
  • Slurp spaghetti? Don’t expect to see it from me; the result would be catastrophic. Pastas are fine long as I can cut them up. Plus, slurping anything without a straw is as barbaric and stomach-wrenching as burping, farting, describing your dumps, telling me about the gory details of your zombie apocalypse novel, or chewing with your mouth open. I can eat spaghetti with lots of marinara sauce while watching True Blood, but a good noisy belch makes me want to push my plate aside.
  • Sub sandwiches are problematic, because they are difficult to cut up and messy to eat in any form.
  • The most serious danger is a strand of beard getting caught on food and hauled into my mouth and swallowed, which could cause me to choke. Of course, I do my utmost to keep all of it out of my mouth at all times, but it’s a risk. Can’t monitor every hair at every moment.
  • General rule: if liquid can drip off it, I distrust it. I’ll do whatever I must in order to avoid contamination.

Other aspects of life:

  • In baseball, I wore it in a ponytail. Stole the little elastic thing from my wife. Otherwise it would blow up into my eyes while batting, which was a headache when people were throwing curveballs I was trying to hit. I didn’t need any artificial disadvantages to compound all my natural ones.
  • Very annoying when it gets hung up on something in bed, especially if I wake up and Deb’s elbow is pinning it to the bed, or it gets hung up in my armpit.
  • I shed worse than a Labrador retriever. Big long wavy 8″ strands.
  • Back when I kept it shorter, I’d shave it all off now and then. Those were opportunities to experiment. One year I shaved off everything but a sinister Fu Manchu, which made me look trans-Mansonian. Shortly thereafter, I had to go in to get my driver’s license picture taken. Five years of showing that post-office-wall ID, and we’ll never know how many nightmares it caused poor innocent cashiers.
  • Grooming involves washing (high pressure very hot water combined with a handheld comb), brushing, and clipping off split ends. I hate snags or tatty hairs, and will clip or even yank those. Clean and smooth. I used to shampoo and condition it daily, then realized how little sense that made. What a great deal for the fashion industry; sell you a product that damages hair, then sell you another product to fix the damage. Shampoo also inflamed my skin underneath. Much more sensible to hit it with steaming hot water that will flush out any dirt and excess oil, leaving only the small amount that’s natural (and would occur within hours anyway). The shampoo from washing the remnants of my hair, and the soap from washing the exposed skin of my face, are enough.
  • I have had this for sixteen years. I have aged a third of my life. I have no idea what I look like now. Not sure I ever want to find out.

One time, though, the beard saved my teeth from breakage.

Our house in Kennewick, WA was fairly close to a few eating establishments, none special. One was the Burger Ranch, your basic burger bar/takeout. I like big hamburgers when I can eat them at home, so I phoned in an order, drove down, paid and picked it up. I sat down at our breakfast bar to have lunch, putting the burger on a plate. Fork and knife. Even when no one can see, I don’t like messes in my beard. I sank the utensils into the burger and hit something very hard.

That’s not normal. I took a look: there was a bolt. Yes, a bolt. A piece of steel with threads, a blunt end, at least 2″ long.

This was not my idea of a suitable iron supplement. After thinking about it for a bit, I phoned the business to report it. I was expecting a strong reaction of embarrassment and concern. To my shock, at first they doubted my truthfulness, as if I were trying to pull a scam. That offended me. While they probably deal with a few sleazebags now and then, this was provable were I to bring it back. I insisted, describing the bolt in detail. When I wouldn’t just give up, they got to looking around. Yep. There was a bolt missing from their lettuce slicer. At that point, their basic stance shifted. Since I hadn’t been hurt–there was no expression of relief on that score–as far as they saw it, no harm no foul. However, their lettuce slicer was now inoperative due to a missing bolt. If I would bring it back, they offered to refund our meal.

When I get angry, I get as obstinate as a cornered sow badger. It wasn’t about the money, which wasn’t that great a sum, but their gall. I told them that I could not fit a custom dropoff of the bolt into my busy afternoon schedule; I wasn’t a delivery service. If they wanted to send someone to get it, I’d consider answering the door–then again, I might ignore the doorbell. Otherwise, I might be able to get there sometime later in the week. Or not. Might throw it away. Might freeze the burger and save it for a decade as a souvenir and evidence (this in the end is what I did). Their reaction made it clear that they considered me a very mean person, angry and difficult for no valid reason. I’d just found a steel bolt in their food, been innuendoed as a liar, had the evidence proven me out, and I was the bad guy for not taxiing it back right away. Only in Tri-Cities, where the standard of service fits the Hanford mentality of “mediocrity now, mediocrity tomorrow and mediocrity forever.”

Charming. But there came more.

In those days, I was a computer shaman. My ads were in the newspaper and in the nickel papers. The very next business day, a fascinating thing happened, unique in the history of my little computer support business. I got a call from their business in my professional context, asking for copies of Microsoft Office. I responded that they could find it at any store. The caller asked if he could buy a ‘copy’ of Office, making clear he meant not a full-price retail version, but a burnt copy. An illegitimate pirated version.

How stupid do they think people are? Does one not assume that a person with enough brains to solve diverse computer problems on request can tell when something’s up? Then again, if they’d been smarter, they’d have taken me seriously to begin with, sent someone out to collect the bolt and drop off both a refund and personal profuse apologies, and I wouldn’t be writing this post ten years later.

It’s hard to see that as anything but a clumsy revenge entrapment effort, though I can’t know that for sure. The timing was certainly worth considering. I gave the only and obvious answer: that would be software piracy, a violation of various laws, and therefore impossible. My company would have nothing to do with piracy. If they wanted the software, they ought to go purchase it from a legitimate outlet. In any case, I did not sell hardware or software in any form, and most especially not pirated software. I didn’t hear a recorder click off, but I could hear disappointment.

We lived there another decade, and never ate there again. I’d rather eat fermented compost. But for all you misopogonic types, let it be known: the beard once saved me some teeth. Had I eaten that burger with my hands, I’d likely have sunk my incisors into steel, and broken one or more.

They would have been much wiser to care about that prospect.