The magical, comical and practical powers of the mustache
I am one who believes that a man needs a little facial hair. I’m not talking Amish-style wookie beards or werewolf-like excess, but a few whiskers remind everyone around you that you’re carrying the Y chromosome, that you’re a man, dammit, and that real men have hair on their faces.
I’ve worn a small soul patch under my bottom lip since I was in college, way before it was deemed cool by dot-com hipster nerds, and I continue to maintain one long after the affectation has lost its stylistic cachet. I added sideburns to my look in the early ’90s – though I used to have so much damn hair you could barely see them – and I occasionally grow out a copper-colored goatee on my chin. But even when I wear a little beard I never… never… have worn a mustache.
This is due in part to limitations of my upper lip where a childhood injury produced a deep scar where no hair will grow. It just looks weird. But also it has to do with my own long-held attitudes towards the mustache as a form of expression.
I always believed the mustache to be the least cool of all the facial hair formations, favored by the likes of Ned Flanders, professional bowlers, ’70s porn stars, hardass NFL coaches and legions of NASCAR fans.
But the mustache has made a comeback over the last few years and this past summer it became a favored look for vacuous hipsters in cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago (where, admittedly, it may never have gone out of style).
So after waiting until the trend died down (which in Greensboro, I believe, we are required to do) I grew one of my own.
I was thinking that maybe I could pull it off, like Dennis Hooper in Easy Rider or maybe – just maybe – Magnum PI. But in reality I look like my name is Earl.
And I wasn’t going to keep it. My wife does not like it. Not at all. My oldest son keeps looking at me and laughing to himself. And it’s really uncomfortable and itchy.
But a funny thing happened a couple days into the experiment. On a playoff Sunday, instead of watching TV and farting into my couch like I usually do, I followed an urge to remove a pencil that had been flushed down my toilet weeks ago. After some serious plunger work I actually got the thing out. I also cleared a long-standing clog in a bathtub drain. And then… I still can’t believe it… then I went outside and popped the hood of my car, which has been making a terrible squeaking noise for months. Months. I looked at the motor for a minute, located the source of the squeak and after a few twists of a wrench I had the goddamn thing fixed.
It’s important to note here that I had never even attempted to repair a vehicle before in my life.
Had to be the mustache.
So I decided to keep it for a few days, and in doing so I discovered that a mustache does indeed come with certain powers, at least in my case.
For one, it lends an air of intimidation when I scowl, like retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
And when I’m confused, which happens often and easily, the mustache helps me convey that fact in my facial expression more effectively than I can do without it. Witness:
So I’m beginning to understand why people wear the mustache, and I’m even starting to admire certain individuals who cultivate the look. Cary Grant looked cool with a mustache. Ditto Teddy Roosevelt. I love John Waters’ pencil-thin job and the Fu Manchu Joe Namath used to wear and I think Sam Elliot would look like half a wuss without his. But then I remember Jeff Foxworthy and Ron Jeremy, Salvador Dali and those awful ones the Beatles wore on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. And I vow to shave the nasty little thing off.
Probably after I fix a few more things around the house.
To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.