Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gratuitous Confessions of a College Student With an Actual Beard

by Brendan Cavanagh

I can easily recall the circumstances leading up to the first time I shaved. As I sat in the kitchen, basking dreamily in the afterglow of my first seventh-grade all-school dance, my father entered and illuminated me to what was a copious amount of bristly mustache-hairs for a twelve-year-old. Because my dad allegedly began shaving and taking his coffee black at the same age, he dragged me to the upstairs bathroom where he placed me in front of the mirror and shone a bright light in my face to point out to me what I had previously ignored- facial hair of more substance than the peach fuzz most of the fellows in my class wouldn't have the capacity to grow until the middle of high school. Naturally, a cliche Father-Teaches-His-Son-Life-Lessons scene a la 7th Heaven ensued. I think Fenton Hardy stopped by to dispense advice on sleuthing and being a gentleman while Cliff Huxtable made silly faces and did a goofy jig in the corner. Anyway, I learned that night how to apply shaving cream and use a disposable razor and discern which aftershave doesn't assault my nasal passages while stinging like a bitch on little nicks left by the occasional, uncoordinated slip of the wrist, and when I returned to the kitchen with fresh-smelling, waxen-smooth visage, my mom snapped a photo of my awkward amalgamation of sheepishness and pride. I believe the picture is still floating around in one of the numerous photo albums around my house.

For a year or two after that I never grew much more than a sparse amount of short, wiry black hairs in random areas of my face, so I didn't hassle with all the unnecessary howdy-do and brouhaha involved in basic shaving routine and simply went for the dry shave, with few accidents. As high school wore on and my collection of each of the eleven season of M*A*S*H grew, my facial hair became less patchy and consistenty stubbly, thus requiring me to dust off a finely-aged can of Barbasol and shave on a regular basis. I think by the time senior year rolled around, I was finally able to grow a worthy facsimile of a beard, which I decided to incorporate into my basic weekend schedule, which looked something like this:

1. Nap immediately after school lets out
2. Lazily carbo-load for pending cross country race
3. Endure shortness of breath and confusedly half-hearted pats on the back from the coach who doesn't
    remember my name at Saturday's race
4. Sit in a parking lot with friends and pray for a party or something new to talk about
5. Grow "beardish" to look ruggedly handsome and have something to talk about in aforementioned
    parking lot

I detect traces of beard, there, on my face.

Alrighty, then came college. For most of freshman year, my modus operandi involved growing out my beard, which was never really anything more than a half-beard at most, at school until the next time I got a ride home, so I could give the impression to the folks back in dem ole cotton fields back home that I lived an untamed, ragged Grizzly Adams-esque existence in my dorm. Then I'd go ahead and clean myself up- that is, get a shave and a haircut, only this time it didn't cost two bits because it was all taken care of at my house.

Before and after, if you will.
Then, because my boss at the country club wanted me to look presentable when greeting members for three hours at a time in a sun-baked parking lot, but also because I just felt like it, I didn't grow a single beard all summer until the week or two leading up to my return to school. Perhaps it was simply laziness, or an act of curiously-manifested apathy. Perhaps my face, in an act of pointed irony, was cold during the hottest months of the year. Or most likely all of the above combined with a maddening desire to grow a legitimate, un-creepy mustache (still a little creepy-looking, presently). Whatever the reason, I stopped shaving in August. Well, actually September. I have shaved one time since coming back to school two months ago. In just a few fly-by weeks, I grew a pretty lush-looking beard, got bored and shaved. Then I decided in September that I could grow out my facial hair until Halloween, so that if I arbitrarily decide to assemble a costume that requires a mustache or a beard, then I'll be set. In case you're wondering, I do, in fact, have an idea for a good Halloween costume. I'll wear obnoxiously loud clothing and my old round glasses- the ones that resemble Harry Potter's har har- and shave everything but a looping mustache and scruffy sideburns and moonlight as John Lennon, circa 1967 (around the recording of the "Strawberry Fields Forever" single and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band).

 Lennon, in red, is what I'm aiming for. Maybe I can pull off George Harrison, I don't know. But damn it, I want Paul McCartney's mustache! Like all the time!

But I digress. Here's the thing about having a beard: people really like it. I admit, what I'm about to say makes me sound a little bit like Narcissus, but hey, we're awesome, handsome men and we should be allowed to boast our best qualities in some form. As the beard gets longer, some friends' and mere acquaintances' interest in it piques. If they see me for the first time in a little while, they'll say something along the lines of, "Heyyyy, I'm liking the beeaard," usually accompanied by an unconscious stroking of an imaginary goatee. Sometimes it catches me off guard because I normally have enough facial hair, but truthfully, it's continually reaching unprecedented lengths.

My God, I could probably knit a sweater with the cornucopia of hair trimmings I'm bound to shave.

Now, I'll allow that I'm a fairly humble person, so I don't like to make much mention or display of my beard; however, due to the fact that it is on my face, it is something I must visibly display. But then again, why else am I growing it out? To supplement a costume and look good. So it's weird that I'm very lackluster about having to let people see it, while at the same time secretly wanting people to acknowledge it. I guess I'm just bitter because I inexplicably miss shaving.

There are some redeeming qualities to having a beard, though. For instance, the other day I volunteered to aid an English professor man the English department's booth at an informative seminar for prospective freshmen. I was polite and conversational, and thus hit it off well with the professor and some of his colleagues from other departments when we had an informal rap session between breakout sessions. One of them was my Principles of Reasoning professor from last semester, so he asked me how I was doing, and was a senior? I said, "Au contraire, mon frère; I am a sophomore." The professors appeared shocked. I told them that I tend to have that effect on people due to my beard and good posture, to which one of them remarked, "You do have nice posture." But you get the point. Having a beard, in part, makes me look older and elicits both increased attention and respect, which I guess allows a little bit a leeway in certain situations. I really can't say how, exactly, but maybe I'll be offered a job or served alcoholic beverages before I shave again.

Finally, I do dig being told that the beard, in addition to my Ray Ban glasses and the fact that I cross my legs when I sit down, gives the impression that I am a plebian English-major-turned-published author. I mean, I guess I have to look the part, and apparently resembling an author is enough to convince someone that I am. Take that, Christopher Paolini.

Oh yeah, I also resent being told I look like a lumberjack when I wear red flannel.

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