18 November, 2013

Now Hear This: My Podcast Interview with John Darlington About the Pariah’s Syntax Book

September saw the publication of The Pariah’s Syntax: Notes from an Innocent Man, and now podcaster John Darlington has invited me to a second appearance on John Talk Radio. We’ll be doing the show from 5:00 to 6:00 PM Central Standard Time, Wednesday, 20 November 2013. Listeners are encouraged to phone in with questions and comments about the book while the show airs live. If you miss that chance, though, it’ll be indefinitely archived at the above URL.

08 November, 2013

Against Beards: An Uncalled-for Rant

A man of sincerity and occasional profundity, my father used to caution me, “Never trust a man with just a mustache.”

His theory was that men whose cultivation of facial hair is relegated to the upper-lip region had something to hide. No satisfying answer was provided when I asked why the warning shouldn’t extend to him, who by then sported an impeccable, full goatee but had worn a dense Darryl Hall-style mustache all through my childhood. Ever skeptical, I put his mustaches-as-existential-concealment-tactic idea on par with the time Pops stressed to me the time-saving benefit of never driving behind any man wearing a hat. (Men in caps, however — trucker caps, baseball caps, skullcaps, beanies — supposedly stayed at, or exceeded, posted speed limits and were okay to pilot a vehicle behind. I neglected to ask about drivers in novelty wigs.) The brand of fatherly wisdom Pops provided was, in the way of most slanted advice, at times helpful but generally not.

I’ve since read about studies showing that people are prone to find bearded men less trustworthy. This effect may be due to the layer of hair limiting visibility of their facial expressions, inclining others, uncomfortable with the unknown, to be wary. Mustaches went unmentioned in the studies, but Pops’s theory won a smidgen of posthumous legitimacy in my eyes — if only as a window into the average person’s thoughts vis-à-vis face fuzz. He himself eventually confessed that his reason for shunning shaving was a “funny-looking” upper lip. (If you say so, Pops. The only thing I thought was funny about the fifth-grade school photo your mother showed me was your crew cut.) Still, my father was hip to facial hair being a signifier of concealment.

For reasons I like to think stem from my keen observations of human behavior and not to Pops’s iffy advice, I have a severe aversion to facial hair now, whether it be in the form of pencil mustaches, Vandyke beards, Fu Manchus, muttonchops, pudding stabbers, you name it. (And while I’m denouncing stylistic atrocities, allow me to veer momentarily off topic to also mention: tank tops on women, skinny jeans on men, and shorts on anyone.)

Hipsters deserve much of the blame. Their ironic appropriation of some of the most abominable mustaches and beards somehow crossed into the mainstream by mistake, proof that irony is too powerful a tool to be entrusted to just anyone. All it probably took was a couple of red-carpet appearances by meticulously unshaven A-listers, then John Q. Public tossed his Mach 3 in the trash. Now I can’t open a magazine or turn on the TV without being assailed by shameless full-frontal whisker imagery.

A minority of men of advancing years, as well as some very special ladies get a pass. Others, young men with perfectly presentable cheeks and chins, in particular, don’t. Since when is the hobo/caveman aesthetic one worth striving for? It doesn’t make you look cool, it doesn’t make you look more masculine, it only makes you look like you were too cheap to buy replacement blades the last time you were at the supermarket.

Consider this a formal complaint. Have some self-respect, guys; cut down that thicket.

And pull up your pants.