Much ado about a little fuzz

One of the small pleasures of time off from work is not having to wield a razor. After a couple days I pick up the torture implement and eye my scraggly face. On a whim I shave around the chin and upper lip, leaving a wisp of shadow.

No premeditation. Just the sudden thought that I could have one of those little goatees.

I smear on more foam and carefully shave around and under the stubble, creating a fuzzy line running up over the jawbone and around the mouth and down the other side.

A couple days later I face the mirror again. The unshaved area is more obvious, a work in progress. But several issues seem to have arisen.

The hirsute thingy — it's not yet a beard — is not symmetrical, so I trim one side. A little too much. So I trim the other. Also too much. This way lies madness. I put the razor down before the whole thing gets reduced to one of those little soul patch things under the lower lip.

I gaze at the proto-beard. When did my whiskers get so white? The last time I grew a beard it came in black. Of course that was in the 1970s. Seventies beards were bushy, extravagant things not at all like today's ubiquitous little trimmed brushes. When I look at old photos I wonder why I wanted to look like Grizzly Adams. These days I'd look like Santa Claus.

It soon becomes clear that the brush is not pure white after all. There is an unruly minority of black whiskers. They mix among their paler fellows to create a sort of salt-and-pepper look. This is in no way distinguished-looking, as people sometimes suggest about salt and pepper. The overall look is one of shagginess, even seediness.

I go back to work.

"Stand too far from your razor this morning?" a co-worker says.

"Raising a goat?" says another.

That night I return to the mirror with a more critical eye. One of the main hooks in this deal was the idea of not having to scrape the mouth and chin every morning. But shaving up to those features and stopping and trimming and fussing around is almost more trouble than just shaving.

Adding insult to injury, the weird spot on the left of my throat where whiskers grow in a would-be cowlick is outside the perimeter of the goat and must still be shaved.

To be a man is to decide about facial hair. Even to just shave and not think about it is a form of decision. To the ancient Greeks, a beard was inseparable from manhood. The Romans shaved, probably to say they weren't like those uncouth Greeks. Through the centuries facial hair came and went like hemlines and tides. Most of the presidents between Lincoln and Taft had beards.

When Che Guevara and John Lennon brought facial hair back in the 1960s it was in the full-bore mode of Moses, Karl Marx and the Hayes boys — Rutherford B. and Gabby. If the thing tended to collect pizza toppings, at least the operative technique was simple: you just stopped shaving.

The downside of the goat doesn't stop with the nagging need to trim. There is also, apparently, a danger that as you get sucked into this look you get a strange urge to shave your head. The shiny dome once confined to Yul Brynner, Buddhist monks and Daddy Warbucks now shows up everywhere, usually in combination with the goat.

In the end it's all way too much hassle. I drag the blade through the hoary brush and wash it away. It's the same old face. I still don't look like George Clooney (on whom a full beard looked terrible). But I'm no longer starting to look like Colonel Sanders.

Reach Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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