What a man can do is grow a beard. Every man should grow a beard once in his life, if only to prove he can. It is something to put on a man’s bucket list, because that bucket isn’t just for shaving water. Sadly, this column is a requiem to my latest beard, cut short in its prime.
My dear departed beard started out as a theatrical prop. As some may recall, I played the part of a buccaneer, Jamaica Jim, in a local production titled “A Pirate’s Life for Me.” My role was a bit smaller than a bit part but it did allow me to say “arrgh” a lot, always a source of joy.
A week or two before opening night, our director asked all her pirates to grow beards because she wanted us to look scruffy. Not everybody could comply. In their day jobs, some of the pirates were in well-groomed professions such as accountancy and the law, where the partners do not appreciate the scruffy look. But looking unkempt is no problem in journalism, where business casual is just another way of saying wrinkled.
Hoping to please and glad of a beard-growing excuse, I began growing the beard immediately. While my talents do not extend to electrifying audiences in speech or song, I can do scruffy. By the time the play opened, the beard was more than stubble but less than a bush-like flowering.
Not surprisingly, it came in gray, like my eyebrows and hair (such as it is) and all of it had to be colored black to go with the long dark wig on my head. These changes rendered me anonymous to some in the audience, who whispered to each other: “Who is that scruffy looking pirate over there?” “Which one? They are all scruffy!” “The one who says arrgh with an Australian accent.”
When beards are in the scruffy stage, they are very irritating to the wearer — and also to the wearer’s wife (more on that later). The emerging beard itches and generally makes itself uncomfortable. It is the facial hair equivalent of a teenager.
Soon enough, the beard becomes longer, fuller and more mature. Bits of alphabet soup and passing crackers get caught in its net, allowing the wearer to enjoy an extra snack later. Sometimes a migratory bird will roost in its thickets at night. For all these reasons, the wife of the beard raises an objection, perhaps because the sound of its growing at night keeps her up and makes her grumpy.
In my case, such an objection is most unfair. When we first met on an island in Greece 38 years ago, I sported a particularly fine beard that was almost biblical in its epic proportions. People in taverns didn’t yell, “Hey, Moses, you forgot your sandals!” but it would have been no surprise had they done so. Sandals are easily misplaced at the beach.
This beard-averse wife of mine has forgotten that she fell in love with me when a beard was the most hirsute part of my charm (such as it is). I was young, carefree and debonair and I had what appeared to be a large possum nestled permanently under my chin. I say it is bait-and-switch to lure a happily bearded man into matrimony and then turn around later and ban beards.
But that is what happened. The latest beard was condemned by the Supreme Spousal Court on the grounds that it made me look old (hey, I am old!), although it was reprieved through Thanksgiving while appeals were heard.
The drumstick caught in the beard may have sealed its fate. Inevitably, the fateful hour arrived, and the beard faced its punishment like a man.
So here I am in the season of beards, with jolly fat men in red suits shaking their whiskers on every corner, and me doomed to face the winter winds with a nude face. It is obvious that a pirate’s life is not for me, because a pirate can’t shave on a rocking ship unless he doesn’t mind cutting off his nose.
Blackbeard wasn’t known for his aftershave.
A man’s gotta to do what a man’s gotta do — but only if a woman will let him.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.