Of all the great things I’ve got going for me physically — flawless jaw structure, perfect-size ears, a set of abdominal muscles you could wash your clothes on — the one thing I don’t have, that I’ve never had, is a great beard.
No matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve just never been able to grow one.
For a long time, this posed little problem. But then came the hipsters and the Movembers and the No-Shave Novembers, and suddenly, before anyone really knew what happened, you couldn’t walk outside without bumping into six dozen guys in flannel shirts and beanies, talking about Bon Iver and the flavor profile of Paraguayan coffee beans.
Nor could you crack a magazine without stumbling upon yet another headline about how beards made men look healthier and higher-status. Consider this headline from Maxim Magazine, arguably the country’s leading news source for males ages 13 to 15: “Beards Make You More Attractive to Women, According to Science.”
And so with another No-Shave November quickly approaching, I decided to give it one last try. For the entire month of October, I’d stop shaving. See what happened.
Admittedly, it took a little while to get things going. Nobody seemed to notice on my first full day of growth. Nor did they notice on Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 — even though I spent a lot of time dropping hints such as, “Wow, is it hot in here today, or is it just this beard that I’m growing?”
Before long, though, it started to really come in thick, and folks couldn’t help but notice. My new beard gave me confidence. Suddenly, without even realizing it, I found myself doing all kinds of really cool and suave stuff. I started using the word “b*tchin’” a lot and doing a lot of finger-pistols.
I could barely leave the house, meanwhile, without being showered with the kind of preferential treatment that a beardless guy could only dream about. There was the stewardess on my flight to Montreal who — apparently blown away by how good my beard was — told me I could have any kind of soda I wanted during the flight, free of charge. And the day at the coffee shop, when I picked up my latte to discover that the barista had left a secret, flirtatious message scrawled into the foam — a leaf — which was a little forward, if you ask me, but I guess that's the price you pay for having a really terrific beard.
At work, there was some natural jealousy. Feeling threatened, some of the guys started razzing me a little, making jokes like, “Dude, that’s a terrible beard.” And: “Seriously, we’re not just razzing you. That’s not a good beard. There’s barely anything there.”
But I’d just chuckle and tell them that I guess my mom must be a liar, then, because she told me it looked — and here I’m using a direct quote — “very handsome.”
By the end of Week 2, I was on top of the world. And by Week 3, a sense of invincibility had come over me.
The old Dugan might have been a polite Midwesterner, a boy-next-door-type. But the new Dugan, the bearded Dugan? He was a hotshot, a “bad boy.” The new Dugan left an extra button unfastened on his work shirts. He walked up to guys without beards, patted them on the shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry, bro — you’ll get there one day.”
The old Dugan spent most nights eating ice cream and watching “13 Going on 30,” The new Dugan lived on the edge, staying out till all hours of the night — 10:45, sometimes — and experimenting with alcohol.
“Give me an alcohol,” the new Dugan might say, falling onto a barstool and slamming a $5 bill down.
Concerned friends, noticing the change, did their best to intervene. “What’s your deal?” my friend Steve asked one day at work, while I was busy staring at my reflection in a window. “You’ve been even more obnoxious than usual since you started growing that bad beard.”
I told him that if he had a problem, I’d love to step outside and introduce him to my two pals Milo and Otis — which is what I’d begun calling my fists.
But even as I watched Steve scurry away, looking scared, I knew deep down that he was right. The truth was, I was out of control.
On the outside, sure, I looked fantastic. But inside, I was a mess.
Things came to a head one morning in late-October, after yet another raucous night. I woke up on my couch, and taking a bleary-eyed look around my apartment, I realized for the first time just how far I’d fallen. The place looked like a rockstar’s hotel room after a week-long bender: Two empty beer bottles. A greasy pizza box. A package of Double-Stuf Oreos with two full sleeves missing.
Rising from the couch and staggering to the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of the bearded stranger staring back at me in the mirror.
And then I reached for my electric razor and did something I should have done a long time ago.
As a month’s work floated into the sink, I thought about everything I’d been through. How I’d lost sight of what was important. Flown too close to the sun.
Maybe, I thought, I just wasn’t a beard guy. Maybe I never was.
It might sound cheesy to say, but in that moment, standing there in my underpants staring into the bathroom mirror, I realized something I’d always known, but that — in the madness of the past month — I’d somehow managed to forget:
I’m actually really pretty fantastic looking without a beard.Dugan Arnett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @duganarnett.