On our recent three-week trip through Greece, I chose not to bring my electric shaver.
The dirtbag traveler in me, the one that takes pleasure out of proportion in packing as little as necessary as lightly as possible, wanted to ditch the added few ounces and volume the shaver would add to my pack.
The scientist in me wanted to test a hypothesis by conducting an experiment involving the longest period I’ve gone without shaving in my adult life. Namely, to determine if after three weeks I would not still resemble Valdis, the Latvian exchange student who (along with my brother) co-founded the chess club at my high school.
Valdis, daring to be different, cultivated what looked like a permanent milk mustache above his upper lip that my diffident high school self did not understand. I read it to mean either, “Girls in my country find this sexy, like Levi’s and Metallica,” or “Girls in my country do not care, so long as I have successful career, they will love mustache anyway.”
According to my former yearbook teacher who hosted him, Valdis apparently went on to found an incredibly successful tech support company several years after returning to Latvia, selling it for several million Euros.
That brings the score to barely hirsute adolescent Latvian one, smooth-faced Californians beach rat, zero.
Valdis’ facial hair reminded me of a single existing photo of my father I’d seen framed at my maternal grandparents’ house. My father was in his mid-twenties, holding plump one-year-old me on his lap, and sporting an epic failure of a mustache, like Tom Selleck if Magnum P.I. had failure to thrive.
(If I did not know my maternal grandfather to be a kind man, I’d suspect it was his way of publicly shaming my father.)
My father never again tried to grow facial hair. So this experiment was my chance to reclaim the lost honor of my family. To never utter the blatant lie, “Really? I had no idea the guys in LA County Fire, EMS and the ED were all supporting Movember again this year!”
But the best reason came out of a discussion with my wife, who fortunately thinks stubble imbues me with a vaguely roguish charm.
(Caveat: She may have a lower bar for what passes as roguish; “It drives me wild when you part your hair on the opposite side!” I jest, honey, I jest.).
Why not just leave it and grow a full beard when we return home, she asked, after I mentioned my plan to go stubble only when I had my next shift. It was a totally reasonable question.
I realized that my facial hair is actually a personal metric. I deliberately don’t shave on my days off, barring professional meetings and milestone events.
Talking to my wife made me realize I do this because my beard is a measure of how much I feel I’ve gotten away with during a particular stretch of time.
It’s a measure of leisure. If I can structure my life correctly, the guy in the mirror looks more like a vagabond than a corporate Joe. That’s a self-affirmation I look forward to every day.
As a parting gift, I’m linking to a tangentially pertinent video below that’s one of my favorite spoofs of the 1980s Austrian singer Falco, purveyor of Eastern European underground club synthesizer pop back when that was a thing.