I wasn't surprised when we were arrested for picketing The Skillet Cafe. It's what we hoped would happen. It was the sixties, after all. Vietnam. Ban the Bomb. Protests and pickets were the order of the day.
This picketing wasn't planned at all. Half a dozen of us had been lounging around a horseshoe banquette with a window looking out onto Granville Street. We’d been there for most of the afternoon, smoking cigarettes, nursing cold coffees and arguing about how to fix the world. They asked us to leave and, having nothing better to do, we asked why. After some hemming and hawing, the manager said it was because were were unshaven. That was true of some of us. But being 16, I could barely raise peach fuzz, and said so. The owner said never mind, he didn't like my beard-like attitude.
Of course we picketed the place. Eventually some of us were arrested and hauled off in a Black Maria to 312 Main where we were relieved of our valuables, fingerprinted, photographed and jailed. They even took our belts and shoelaces, so we wouldn't hang ourselves in despair.
The court, however, applauded our pre-Charter right to assembly, beard-like attitudes or not. The press feasted on the hippies and beatniks getting one over on the cops. And for a brief shining moment we were heroes of the counter-culture.
Flash forward forty years. I had just turned 56, and decided to stop shaving. At first it was sheer laziness, coinciding with a couple of weeks off work. But after a few days there began to appear a definite blond haze around my face -- not enough to be seen from across the room, but prickly enough to cause my wife to wince when we kissed.
Soon, I started noticing that almost every other guy on the street was raising some sort of facial follicles. And for the most part, it was a pretty poor crop.
Aside from the Miami Vice two-day stubble look, the smallest commitment to facial hair is the soul patch -- that little apostrophe just under the lower lip. Some are wisps; some are thatches. I saw one that was a foot long and braided. All soul patches say cooler than cool. Sadly, growing one doesn't automatically confer cool, and in fact, may be trigger the little-known Uncool Rebound Effect. The guys who do look uber hip with a soul patch are the same guys who actually look good in a beret. That is to say, very few.
Most men try a moustache sooner or later. I did. You've got to, just because you can. If you're going to stop shaving, it seems a logical place to start, being the hardest part to shave. My moustache was a ginger soup-strainer that made me look like I had an overbite. It went the way of the corduroy sports jacket with elbow patches sometime in the early ‘80s.
Sideburns were worn with some panache for a while. And even the sideburn/moustache combo known as Muttonchops were popular for a minute or two in the late sixties, and seem to be enjoying a comeback with baseball players, especially pitchers.
Conversely, the beard without the moustache has always puzzled me. For starters, it looks severe. And if the purpose of growing a beard is to avoid shaving, why shave only the upper lip -- the most difficult part?
My approach was to let it all grow, and see what happened. After three days, my wife was intrigued. Our 19 year old son said I looked rugged. And I was encouraged. After a week, our son said I looked like a sailor. My wife said I looked disreputable. But I persevered.
Only one other person made any comment -– a neighbour gave a non-commital hmmmm and walked on. Perhaps I looked so desperate, people felt sorry for me and didn’t want to make things worse by commenting on my appearance. Still, my resolve was firm. After two weeks, it was looking almost beard-like, so I trimmed the wispier bits and went off to work.
Most colleagues assumed it was a playoff beard. But that year even Tod Bertuzzi couldn’t raise whiskers fast enough for the Canuck’s short post-season. One person asked me if I’d grown the beard in response to our recent move to a place with a rooftop garden. I’m not sure I understood the logic there -- perhaps they thought I would take oils and easel up on the roof, and daub away in a smock.
My wife, the arbiter of style in our house, eventually conceded that I looked, perhaps, like I was rich – perhaps a film director or a captain of industry on holiday – and couldn’t care less what others think of me. That may have been damning with faint praise, or wishful thinking on her part. But the beard stayed, like a sin of ommission.
Now, it seems like every other guy my age has exactly the same kind of beard – a grizzly haze of grey, cropped short. Mine didn’t so much strengthen my weak jawline as draw attention to it. Plus my wife didn’t like kissing me so much because the hairs are short and sharp.
So after nine years, I shaved it off. Took the electric razor to the fuzzy bits, then lathered up and scraped the rest away with a disposable Schick. There was my face – a little more jowly than the last time I saw it without whiskers, but looking in rude good health. And new since last I’d shaved, a slight craggy dimple on the left side of my mouth when I smile.
I have to admit it was kind of sad, seeing the inconsequential pile of hair that was my mask for close to a decade. But my wife says I look years younger. She likes kissing me more. And hey -- I still have my beard-like attitude.