Like It's Going Out of Style
By Wayne Alan Brenner
AUGUST 30, 1999: "I'm thinking of shaving all this off," I tell my friend Sylvia, as I stroke my minor array of facial hairs. We're sitting at the bar of a divey little coffeehouse on the fringe of downtown; we've been chatting for about three hours and by now we're both so heavily caffeinated that it's not, as they say, funny. I can't tell if her hands are suffering from the coffee shakes, for instance, because maybe it's my own head that's jittering.
"I thought goatees were cool," says Sylvia. "Like, retro-beat or something."
"They're beat, alright," I tell her. "The way a dead horse is beat." I shake my head, tsking, and take another swallow of sugar-laced espresso. "Goatees are passé. Soul patches are passé. Facial hair of any kind is passé, Sylvia. The time has come and gone -- where've you been?"
"Yeah?" She sips her latte. "So you're just following fashion, then?"
"I'm tired of this stuff, is what I am." I tug at the nadir of my meager beard. "It's such a pain in the ass. Or, at least, it's a pain in the immediate nose and mouth area. Always have to be careful to shave it symmetrically, always have to touch up the ragged edges, always some stray bit of it invading my pie-hole when I'm trying to eat. Forget it, I'm gonna totally deep-six this shit. Get a starker look. You know, like Samuel Beckett, like those Apple ads of him, right? God, he looks so badass."
Sylvia shakes her head. "Beckett looks like a fucking eagle. He looks stark. You'll look like somebody's baby."
"Syl," I say, rolling my eyes. "Gimme a break."
She looks at me over the rim of her raised cup. "Baaaay-bee," she says.
"Anyway," I say. "I'm just thinking about it."
"Sure," says Sylvia. "What the hell, why don't you keep just the mustache?"
I frown. "No way, man."
"Just the mustache?" I smirk: She's said something really stupid, here. "What do you think I am? A Burger King manager? That's what they have, Burger King managers. And McDonald's managers, too. Wendy's, Jack-in-the-Box, Sonic. You ever notice that? All of those guys have mustaches, but no beards or anything. Little corporate hamburger mustaches. All of them."
"Okay," says Sylvia. "Okay, so just a mustache won't do."
"Sylvia. Christ. I might as well grow a mullet, too, while I'm at it. Is that what you want? You think I'd look good that way? You think Molly's gonna wanna come home to a just-a-mustache, mullet-wearing husband every day of the week?"
"Okay, okay," says Sylvia, shaking with laughter. Or maybe she's just laughing lightly, and it's the coffee that's shaking her.
"Besides," I continue, "the mustache itself is the worst part, even now. Because your nose hairs are always trying to sneak into its upper reaches, you know? Like they wanna be part of the mustache, like it's some big party they don't wanna miss out on. Which is just plain obnoxious, if you ask me. So you've got to shave a little border there, see? Which is not easy at all. And also, like when I'm eating soup? Or drinking a milkshake or something? A mustache sops shit up, Syl. Like a sponge. Don't even talk to me about barbecue sauce! And you can try to sort of, you know, wring it out or whatever. You can sort of wipe it clean. But unless you go for the soap and water every time? The shit builds up, Syl. It builds up until, by the end of the day, you've got a kind of crust going up there."
"Blechhh," says Sylvia, grimacing. "Too much information."
"By the end of the day it's not even a mustache anymore. By the end of the day it's a goddamn crustache."
"Crustache," says Sylvia, gleefully. "Ha!"
"Oh sure," says I, nodding. "Go ahead -- laugh about it. You can afford to laugh about it, all you women going around without having to scrape bristles off your face every single day of your life. You don't know what it's like. You think it's fun, taking some cold steel edge to the delicate epidermis of the only mug you'll ever have? You think it's a ritual that men invariably look forward to? With the nicks and cuts and the ingrown hairs?" I swig the last of my espresso. "Don't even get me started on the ingrown hairs."
Sylvia grins at me. "Crustache," she says, and falls out again.
"Yeah, whatever," I say.
"So, Brenner," she says, reining herself in but affecting the voice of El Guapo's Mexican henchman from The Three Amigos. "Could it be that you've forgotten all the other times you've said this, about shaving it off?"
"No," I say. "No, I haven't forgotten that."
"Could it be that, once again, you're gonna decide to not shave anything off? That you're just ranting about this, as usual, and won't take any action at all?"
I glare at her over the rim of my coffee vessel. "So?" I say. "What's your point"
"Like the way we always swear we're gonna cut back on the caffeine, too, right?"
"You're gonna cut back on caffeine?" I ask her. "Really?"
"Are you?" she counters.
"Sure," I tell her. "What the hell. And I am gonna shave this stuff off, too. Coffee, facial hair, all of it -- it's all way out of style. It's time to do something new."
"Yeah?" says Sylvia. "No more, huh?" She regards me coolly, raises an eyebrow, tries to still her shaky hands against her cup's pale porcelain. "When?"
"Right after the next drink," I tell her. I gesture over the counter, catch the eye of the barrista waiting, bored, against a bright brass espresso machine. He pauses his methodical goatee-stroking, raises one ring-pierced eyebrow. "Another double," I tell him.
"Same here," says Sylvia. "And two biscotti," she says. "One for my friend with the crustache."
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