Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Me and My Beard

I’ve grown a beard. I haven’t had one since I was in my thirties, and back then there was very little white or grey or other flag of aging.  This one has come in full salt and pepper with salt in the lead and to me it looks OK.

Facial hair is one of the few ways a man can alter his appearance.  Most of us do not dye whatever is atop our heads, and make-up for men is still in the realm of the early morning weatherman so most males, at one time or another, experiment. Responses—or lack thereof—have been interesting.

First, few people really notice, so the conceit that we really occupy a lot of space in others’ awareness gets destroyed quickly. A friend’s spouse, known for a perpetual scowl that has not benefited her face, snarled, “Well, it doesn’t make you look any younger!” A male friend asked whether I liked looking homeless, and a woman I’ve known for years just went, “Eeehhh.”

On the positive side, someone said I now looked like George Moustaki,  one of my guitar idols (he was guitarist for Edith Piaf and then went on to establish a career of his own in Europe with such hits as Le Métèque) and somewhat Hemingway-ish. The Ethiopian lady who has been cutting my hair for years said, “It’s very, very…” And then she shrugged and volunteered to trim it.

The other night my beard and I went for dinner at a local Thai restaurant. I do this four or five time a year when I am terminally bored with what’s in my fridge and I need to get out of the house. I took a book along, A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernière. It’s an interesting work; the author speaks in the first person with his two principal characters, a man in his 40s and a 20-something Yugoslav girl who has befriended him. De Bernière is the author of Corelli’s Mandolin, one of the biggest selling novels in Great Britain.

I read a few pages of Daughter and realized that at the table next to mine, a quiet but furious argument was developing. I closed the book. This was way more interesting than reading.

The husband and wife were both in their sixties, both armed with red iPhones, both texting madly. Between texts, they hissed at each other, and between hisses, they ate. I could overhear only a word here and there; the couple was being discreet, a habit, I suppose developed over the years of their warfare.  I wondered what the purpose of taking one’s fights to a public space might be, and decided it prevented open yelling and the throwing of things.

I was the only single person in the restaurant—a not unusual occurrence—and felt almost invisible. When the place began to get crowded, my waiter dropped off the check, cleared the table, wiped it, and generally let it be known that others—with more expensive orders and possibly mixed drink—were eager to take my place. The warring couple left at the same time as I did, and out in the parking lot any pretense of civility vanished. He got into their SUV, slammed his door shut and had the vehicle moving before his spouse was fully in.  He neatly cut off another car as he pulled out. There was honking, hand gestures, a raised finger. The perfect ending to a very good night.

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