There is a fine line between myself and sanity, and last Sunday night, in the parking lot of the Mercy Lounge, I crossed it. I walked up the stairs, stepped into the Mercy's welcoming arms (each holding a beer) and thought: I have finally lost it. The room was a sea of facial hair. There wasn't a werewolf left in Transylvania. There were beards grafted to nearly every face in the room. Including mine.
There's the moment in Being John Malkovich where the actor tumbles into his own consciousness, only to look out at the world and see his own mug staring back at him, everywhere. That was this. It was like looking into a weird, warped mirror. Any second now, the hairy faces would all turn to me and start talking, but they wouldn't say anything but "Michael Eades, Michael Eades. Michael Eades, Michael Eades ..."
Eades is the local auteur de interwebs behind Whiskerino, the biannual beard-growing community he started online seven years ago. It's a transnational celebration of masculinity that doesn't rely on misogyny to define itself, just a general fuck-you to the tyranny of Gillette, the barbarism of Barbasol and the profiteers of razor burn. Like Eades' other tonsorial terrordome, the self-explanatory Moustache May, Whiskerino sprouted faster than a soul patch on a Sugar Ray fan.
One hundred and thirteen days prior, 495 participants from East Nashville to Europe had been clean-shaven, defoliated little man-apes with barely a smidge of stubble between them. But since the first of November, there had been no trimming or grooming. No pruning back those annoying mustache hairs that curl back in over your lips and into your teeth. No plucking those hairs that grow out of your cheekbones like a rebellious optometrist trying to poke you in the eye. Now everybody was ready to "grow and show," as the parlance goes.
This evening was an epic bro-down, a barrage of bear hugs and belly laughs as Grizzly Adams and Thelonious Monk look-a-likes mugged for the camera. A bevy of beautiful girls surrounded beard-o Chief "Mackle" Eades, fawning over him like a movie star even though he looks like Captain Caveman sans the leopard-print cape. All around him were folks with full masks of face carpet, eyes peering out like macaws in kudzu, alongside dudes like local DJ Spice J whose wispy beards were strictly middle school run wild.
There were red beards and black beards, pointy beards and bushy beards. And more than a few folks were saving a few sips of beer in theirs for later. (If there's anything a beard is good for, it's storing emergency rations.) The reasons all these chin farmers took part in Whiskerino were almost as diverse as the beards themselves. But when you boil it down, the real motivation is simple: because they can.
Growing a beard tells the world that, yes, by god, you are not only a dude but resplendent in your dudesmanship. If you need proof that hairy-chested machismo is out of favor at the moment, grow a beard. It is in fact quite strange to look at a clean-shaven dude and think "weirdo" after four months of freaking out housewives at the Harris Teeter while stumbling around at 7 a.m. looking for hangover cures. Let's just say there is evidently the slimmest of distinctions between a beard-sporting freelance writer and some grizzled grifter on an FBI alert, and the loss-prevention staff at your local supermarket isn't always adept at telling the difference. (To be fair, this is probably a lot easier when said writer isn't reeking of last night's whiskey and arguing with himself about the virtues of dried beef.)
Eventually you get used to your wife recoiling in horror every time you go in for a kiss. You get used to jokes about The Deadliest Catch and random strangers telling you that you look like Zach Galifianakis. You get used to people rubbing your face like a goat's ass in a petting zoo, and you get used to everyone expounding on the similarities between your face and their pubes (though somehow they never get used to you punching them). You'll even get used to waking up with your cat grooming your face — though there's no way you'll ever get used to cleaning up hairballs made from your own follicles.
But in this era where gender norms are unraveling at unprecedented pace, where we're finally making real progress toward gender equity, it's nice to have one thing the ladies couldn't do even if they wanted. In an age when society is less likely to expect certain behaviors from you just because of the equipment you've got in the undercarriage — look at the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore and their non-gender-specific love for fighting and waxing — facial fuzz is a final frontier for defining oneself against the fairer sex.
It's the zenith of masculinity and one of the last things separating us from the pansexual, pangender singularity that is surely in the offing — hell, we're probably only a few generations away from Avatar-style hair sex. Only beards stand in the way of us becoming a bunch of overgrown smurfs in designer loincloths jumping around our giant hippie treehouse. Or maybe I just think about these things because I'm a full-time house-husband, and there's plenty of time to ponder while I wait for my pot roast to come out of the oven.
Either way, even if my wife is the bread-winner, I'm still the beard-winner in my house. And until March 1, that's OK by me — even if I can't take a deep breath without tickling my tonsils.
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