My mother, who was raised in poverty and deprivation, didn't see a doctor until she was fifteen years old. She was determined that her children would suffer no such hardship. This steely resolve to maintain the health care standards of her hard won middle class status was supported by Dad's exceptionally good health insurance, and a station wagon gassed up and ready to roll. Any cough or sniffle, any warm forehead or vague abdominal discomfort would be immediately addressed by a trip down Franklin street to see Dr. Fuscaro. Each time we arrived at the pea green painted office, we were made to wait and wait, the minutes often turning into an hour or more. I made use of the time in a still favorite diversion; leafing through magazines.
Once when I was six or seven years old, sitting on one of the orange vinyl sofas with my Buster Browns dangling above the green and blue carpeting, I leafed through"Boy's Life" or "Highlights" or dog eared issues of "McCalls", "Good Housekeeping" or "Golf Digest" while waiting for our turn. In one of those long ago issues I came upon an illustration reprinted in an advertisement. I know now that it was a seventeenth century engraving of Hercules, drawn from an ancient classical source. I own several such engravings, I like the collision of lusty baroque effusiveness and cool classical reserve and the resulting tension. That though is not what drew me to the image. It was the figure of the man himself: broad back and shoulders, powerful arms and legs, all displaying an anatomical landscape of thick rolling muscles; and the beard.
Beards were seldom seen in small Southern New England towns in the seventies. The same well scrubbed clean cut-ness of the cast of "American Graffiti" was the norm throughout the decade. In fact, excepting slight variations in hem length and the width of collars ties and lapels, the town moved stylistically from Camelot directly into the Reagan Era, skipping the intervening decades almost entirely. The beard in the advertisement was rendered in tight short waves of parallel lines, sweeping down and forward from a point high on the cheeks. It rolled over the mouth in twin nolls on either side of a prominent nose, and banked over the jaws, extending and amplifying the square profile before meeting again in a slight flourish at the chin. A similar graphic device spread across the slabs of chest around prominent nipples, and cascaded down the cobblestone texture of a protruding belly before disappearing behind a curliecued fig leaf, straining to maintain it's concealment.
I looked away from my fascination and scanned the room. The other moms and kids dully sat through their purgatories, focused on their own magazines or staring off into infinity. Proceeding furtively and deliberately, masking the sound of crisp glossy paper ripping with carefully interjected sniffles and stage coughs, I carefully tore the page from the magazine, surreptitiously folded it, and secreted it in my back pocket. Even at that tender age I knew on some instinctual level that my greater crime was not the vandalism, but rather my interest in the image, in the man himself now folded tightly and concealed in the pocket of my Toughskins. I kept That page 'till it disintegrated from unfolding and refolding. Sometimes when I looked at it, briefly alone in the room I shared with one brother, I imagined my hairless face superimposed on the burly figure.
One of the chief disadvantages of being my friend, is that one must listen to a series of lengthy whining litanies of the injustices of this world, which though varied in subject and intensity all essentially boil down to either "why aren't things the way I want them to be." or "how can you possibly understand my absolutely unique and singular place in this world and the suffering I endure." These performances are staged most particularly for a small cadre of older, seasoned gay men who've taken on an advisory role in my life. They reveal the Mysteries of Homosexuality to me, in increments.
Though I suffer from no lack of amorous attention, I do have difficulty securing the affections of the sorts of thick hairy men I favor, and my pained soliloquies have lately reflected my dissatisfaction. After one such long winded exposition, accompanied by lots of hand waving for emphasis and shuffling pacing, I sought some sort of guidance or approbation:
My audience, a particular advisor known for his wit and brevity as much as for constantly making fun of how short I am and other serial cruelties, has absolute faith in his infallibility regarding The Way of The Gay. Even as much as I depend on his opinions in these matters, it's still annoying that he has never been wrong. Even once. Yet. His previous counsel on the matter has been to suggest that I might have better luck if I tried casting my net in places other than bear bars, since the large furry patrons there are likely seeking OTHER large furry patrons. As an after thought, he suggested I get him a Budweiser.
This time he didn't look up from his laptop;
"I can always tell when you've been in here, the rugs are all bunched up."
"Have you listened to one SINGLE word I've said?" I demanded.
He sighed, and peered pityingly over his reading glasses, astonished even still by my unremitting cluelessness, and delivered his sage assessment:
"Grow a beard."
"Join a gym."
As an after thought he suggested:
"Bring me the remote."
Which in a round about way brings us to my current facial hair experiment.