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Beard envy

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010

I'm a beard guy (or, as some of us prefer to be called, a "whiskered-American") - have been ever since I could grow the spottiest-looking cheek dirt.

Here are a few reasons why:

• Beards make great sunscreen. They're non-greasy and para-aminobenzoic acid-free. In fact, I wish I could grow one continuous beard all over my body. I'm so pale, that'd be the only way I could sunbathe nude.

• Beards are nature's balaclava, much like Funyuns are a vegetarian's pork rinds. They really do keep your face warm. And I love the way my breath condenses and freezes on my beard after I've been in the cold for a while. Makes me feel like a yeti.

• My parents hate the beard. And for some reason, I still do things specifically to cheese off my parents - even though I'm in my mid-30s now, with a kid who does things specifically to cheese me off ... and another one who'll do the same once he develops voluntary motor skills.

• I can't stand shaving. I know, ladies (and male swimmers), shaving my face isn't nearly as difficult as shaving your legs. I don't have to balance on one leg in the shower, and I can put on a bathing suit without having to worry, even if I haven't picked up a razor all winter. (By the way, I'm not anti-body hair. I'm just saying, there wouldn't be a whole hair removal industry if people didn't support it.)

• In the absence of head hair, a beard gives you something to fidget with. Which brings me to my last point...

• Beards make you feel better about going bald.

There, I said it. I suffer from androgenic alopecia, better known as male pattern baldness - full-blown by the time I reached 24.

At 17, I had a long, luxurious tangle of flame red curls (which my parents also hated). I'd stuff some into a ponytail, and leave a tendril free to chew on during class. The only facial hair I could grow, however, were a pair of fluffy sideburns and an incomplete goatee that formed two devil's points on either side of my chin. This would've looked cool if I'd still been into Slayer, but by then I'd moved on to the Grateful Dead. Don't get me wrong, you'd see plenty of mangy facial hair in the Dead show parking lot, but you'd also get 60-year-old bikers. Those dudes can grow a beard.

Anyway, male pattern baldness is caused by hypersensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which also happens to be the hormone responsible for beard growth. The more DHT, the better the facial hair. But for genetic unfortunates like me, DHT fries the follicles on our heads. Essentially, I traded one hair location for another. Was it fair? No, but a deal's a deal. At least I've got all my teeth.

Honestly, minus the beard, my face looks featureless, like a wad of raw bread dough with eyes. Without it, someone's liable to try and bake my head.

In fact, part of the reason I stayed in Alaska was its beard-friendly attitude. Well, that and the yearly check and the fact that the temperature rarely exceeds 75 degrees. Also, it's a good place to live if you're pitching an Alaska-based reality show, which I am, chronicling my life as I do nothing but watch other Alaska-based reality shows and feud with their stars through Twitter. I'm calling it "From My House." I think it's a natural for Discovery Health.

Of course, we've got some great local beards in Juneau, too - there's even one certified world-class beard, which placed second in the Alaska Whaler category at the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Anchorage last year. That, my friends, is a magnificent beard.

Other beards I admire (living and dead): Charles Darwin, Jerry Garcia, Santa Claus, Billy Mays, Gandalf, Bob Ross, Walt Whitman, Dumbledore, the dad from "Family Ties," Al from "Home Improvement," Fidel Castro (say what you will about his totalitarian regime, homeboy rocks a nice beard), Saddam Hussein after they pulled him from that spider hole (see previous parenthetical), 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield, Moses, Abbey Road-era John Lennon, Abbey Road-era George Harrison and Abbey Road-era Ringo Starr. (Abbey Road-era Paul McCartney was clean-shaven, but his Let It Be-era beard was rad.)

The thing is, with all the great facial hair around, I've got beard envy. I can't help but feel inadequate, like my beard isn't bushy enough. What I wouldn't give for just a few more inches.

So, for the past few months, I've invested myself in trying to coax nice even beard growth: shampooing with Mane 'n Tail, taking extra vitamin E, listening to ZZ Top, stuff like that.

Now, several months in, I stand at a crossroads. The beard's getting ungainly. It's doing exactly what my head hair did when I let it grow: it doesn't go "down" as much as "out," a style my people affectionately call a "Jewfro."

As such, I'm confronted with one of the toughest choices in bearding: to trim or not to trim?

Part of me thinks it's just at an awkward in-between phase, and that with patience, all my beard-related dreams can come true. That's how I dealt with the Jewfro 20 years ago. I waited out the Art Garfunkel stage until I wound up at the Robert Plant stage (where I spent two short, glorious years). If I can get past the ratty Conan O'Brien beard, I'm sure an awesome Willie Nelson awaits me on the other side.

The only difference is, you can cover scraggly transitional head hair with a baseball cap. Nothing masks a bad beard day. Well, maybe those face nets the sample guys at Costco wear.

Somehow, those are even worse.

• Geoff Kirsch is a professional writer. His first book-length project "Run For Your Life Apocalypse 2012!" is forthcoming from Workman Publishing. "Slack Tide" appears every other Sunday in Neighbors. Visit his website at www.geoffkirsch.com.



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