Friday, April 4, 2008

Mustache Essay: A few words from First Time Grower Matt Lewis

On the last day of March in 2008, supported by only a week's growth of facial hair, I shaved myself a mustache. I attempted nothing fancy—just a face shaved clean everywhere except above the top lip. I had never done this before, and in those first moments, staring back at my new face in the bathroom mirror, it was hard to imagine how it might affect my life.

I asked my wife if she liked it, and she said I looked like a Duke of Hazard, which I of course took as a compliment.

By way of a second opinion, I asked my two-year-old daughter if she liked "Dad's new 'stache". She said nothing, but handed me a light beer.

The reception at the Mustache weigh-in was warmer by far. Beer and camaraderie (but especially beer) go a long way to making you realize that, far from having made an appalling personal hygiene decision, growing a mustache is possibly the coolest and smartest thing you have done with your life up to this point. Not only do you not look like a Duke of Hazard, but your handsomeness is indeed amplified. You are Errol Flynn; you are Tom Selleck; you are Ernest Hemingway. You are your own man, a man of substance, wit, duty, and honor. If only such evenings were endless.

But the next morning, when I happened to catch myself in the mirror, I was alarmed. It was not Papa Hemingway who stared back, but my own father, from that brief period in the 1970s when my mother permitted his mustache, as he looks in the few photographs that survive of those, as my mother still describes them, "sad, dark months of our marriage."

Fortunately this genuinely unsettling feeling, this sense of being suddenly displaced in time or profession—I am (full disclosure) neither a state trooper, nor an antebellum gentleman of leisure—is quickly replaced by an overwhelming sense of power.

Because you see them look. As I walked around the halls at work that morning (April 1st, by the way—oh what cruel joke they must have thought I was playing!), I started to realize that people were noticing. No matter how they tried to hide it, you could detect recognition twitch across their faces: "Hey, something is new with Matt, did he get a hair—OMG, he has a mustache." And if you work as I do in a towering, repressive bastion of corporate American values, no one says anything, possibly because HR has a rule about how you can't comment on 'staches. So you feel the tension in their eyes as they struggle not to look at the 'stache, and the anxiety in their voice as they force themselves not to ask something like, "why… why, I just want to know why would you do that?"

But all this is really beside the point, or, rather, below it. My mustache is a commitment, a courageous stance against prevailing trends of fashion and good sense, and for me personally, evidently also a commitment to six weeks of celibacy. But importantly, this mustache growing is not some pointless, unavailing effort. It is in support of the noble causes championed by 826Michigan and writers everywhere. So when my smug colleagues smirk or comment, however wordlessly, on my 'stache, I calmly ask them why they hate children. Because ultimately that is what this mustache stands for: children. And thereby the future of our species.


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