Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Hair-Raising Adventure

Yesterday, Justin Bieber tweeted the following:

im not shaving for a month so you all can see my mustache.. im pumped.

Here’s what I have to say about that:

When I was young, the family that lived across the street from me had it all: a house in the suburbs, two kids, a minivan, and a dad with a beard. A full, jolly beard that screamed little league coach and family game night and Ask me about the American dream!

I thought that this dad and his beard were the coolest things in the world.

At that time, I took a lot of baths, and my constant bath-time companion was a orange razor made of molded plastic. I soaped up my cheeks and shaved at the end of every bath. It should be clear from this description just how fun this orange razor could be.

I don’t think that this orange razor was a very good influence. For one thing, it gave me the impression that it was totally OK to spend a long time in the bath, playing games and enjoying yourself. So, as I grew older, I spent more and more time in baths. Just hanging out. Reading books, listening to music, whatever. A good 30% of my teenage years were spent in a bathtub. I really wish I had been born in a time and place where a long daily bath was considered a necessary part of a vigorous lifestyle rather than something that babies and Jean-Luc Godard characters do. To give you a sense of how much time I spent in the bathtub: when I first read Ulysses in high school, I read most of it in the bath. I wasn’t getting invited to a ton of parties in those days.

Incidentally, my orange razor also gave me the mistaken impression that, when I grew up, I would grow hair on my face and that, like my father and the man across the street, I would need to shave daily in order to avoid growing a large, masculine beard.

This turned out not to be the case.

Around that time, I had surgery. It was fairly serious. I am told it was painful, but I can’t remember. But I do remember that it gave me license to do all sorts of things that three-year-olds aren’t normally allowed to do, like ride in a wheelchair and have as much ice cream and morphine as I wanted. I had my own room, which was great, but the nurses said it was because I would disturb other patients with my screaming, which was less so.

My parents wanted to make me as happy and comfortable as possible, so they asked me whether I would like a surgery gift — something to make me smile as I was recovering in the hospital. So I asked my dad for the thing I wanted most in the world. The one thing that all great fathers had.

I asked him to grow a beard.

My dad doesn’t like facial hair, and I’m sure he didn’t like it back then, either. But his son, his helpless little baby boy child, had asked his daddy to grow a beard, and so, of course, he did. And, let me tell you, it made me very, very happy.

Fast forward to the 21st century. For years, my mom has been saying that I would look really good with a mustache. My mom is a very honest person, but I guess this is just one of those lies you tell your children, like “yes, many boys your age read Joyce in the bathtub” and “you’ll always remember the day you meet the woman of your dreams.”

The sad truth is, mom, that I cannot produce facial hair of any kind. Dark-haired women from southern Europe who have to deal with unsightly growth on their upper lip: I’m sorry, but I can’t relate at all. My facial follicles are as strong as my biceps, which is to say, “totally useless”. Some college aged males practice “No Shave November”, where they celebrate not having to shave every day. By contrast, I spend each November shaving daily, just to see what it feels like to be a normal man.

Nevertheless my mother has, up to now, refused to be swayed. And, to make matters worse, in an act of supreme selflessness that, I suspect, she is undertaking solely in order to gain eternal admiration and sympathy from my sister and me, my mother is having surgery in two weeks to donate her kidney to a very dear friend.

The fact that my mother is donating her kidney to a friend is so noble and kind that it makes the rest of us look like assholes by comparison, even if otherwise we were being fairly good people for the most part. I mean, why should I even bother helping old women carry their groceries if my mom’s just going to show me up by having her body cut open and one of her organs removed? The long and short of it is that as soon as I heard that my mother was pulling this “altruistic” stunt, I tried to think of a way that I could get back at her.

What could I do that would make my mother happy, and at the same time be so self-sacrificing and so clearly contrary to my interests that it would be adequate payback for her act of self-sacrificing generosity?

Well, I could do what my dad did. I could grow her a mustache.

Here’s where we are so far:

my travesty of a

I realize this is barely a mustache. I realized that most of my high school students (girls and boys) could do a more convincing mustache job than this. I assure you no one is less happy about this than I am.

Despite the fact that my (gross, patchy-as-shit) mustache is getting more obvious by the day, I keep hoping that it is escaping everyone’s notice. I am hoping, in other words, that the sheer hideousness of my mustache is proving repulsive even to incoming photons and has become some sort of strange backwards localized black hole which conceals my mustache to everyone except me. (Thus validating a famous theorem in general relativity that black holes have no hair. Did I mention that I get invited to a lot of parties?)

Unfortunately it seems like the news has gotten out. I cannot read lips in Chinese (obviously), except for one time last week, when I walked into a classroom and saw a student lean over to his neighbor and whisper “有胡子了.” (“He has a beard/mustache.” Don’t get me started on how Chinese has a single word for these two entirely different phenomena.) And then his neighbor turned back to look at me, widened his eyes skeptically, and shrugged, as if to say, “what can you do?” (And in my head, I’m screaming: NOTHING. THERE IS NOTHING TO BE DONE. IT’S JUST SITTING HERE ON MY FACE. WHY CAN’T I BE A NORMAL PERSON LIKE YOU, SECANT? (Yes, he named himself after a trigonometric function. Now there’s a kid who’s getting invited to parties!))

The response from my friends here has been mixed. My friend Simon finds it “fairly pedophilic.” Andy claims I look like a member of Modest Mouse. Serena said it was actually “somewhat handsome,” and later, after after Andy had left, shyly asked me if she could touch it.

“Sure, but you’ll think it’s disgusting,” I said.

“No!” she said, already stroking it. “It’s fun!”

A few days ago, another thing happened. I was at a roadside lamb stand (won’t be able to say THAT phrase once I move back to America, except I’m moving to New York, so actually I will absolutely be able to say that all the time) run by a Uyghur woman. Uyghurs are one of China’s 56 (I have a chart with all of them on my wall!) official ethnic minorities, along with the very famous and popular Miao people and — I’m not making this up — Koreans.

Uyghurs don’t look very much like Han Chinese people. Gristle claims they are a Turkic group; surprisingly, wikipedia agrees. In general, they look something like this:


Anyway, as I was hanging out by this lamb stand, a mother and daughter came up and ordered a kebab. The mother then took out her wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to me.

I stared at her. She stared back, apparently completely convinced that I was the Uyghur owner of this lamb stand and that the woman behind the barbecue was my lovely Uyghur bride. After a few seconds, I said, “uh, what?” And she squinted at me, looked back at the woman and said, “oh, I’m so embarrassed.”

So I’m a pedophile, an indie rocker, or a vaguely ethnic barbecue peddler. No matter what you think, I’m a man who can’t grow a mustache, and as soon as the surgery rolls around, this thing’s going ASAP. I realize that this means that my mom’s kidney donating act of generosity is deeper and longer lasting than my mustache growing act of generosity, but I think we knew that going in.

By the way, if you’re wondering, trying to grow a mustache hasn’t given me any new insight into the phrase “mustache ride”. I still have no idea what that refers to. Obviously I know what it’s supposed to mean, but honestly I find the whole image sort of unclear.

Maybe that’s for the best.

(Oh, and Justin Bieber? Thanks a ton for stealing my thunder.)