I hate shaving. Some say it’s a soothing activity, but I have a number of questions for anyone who derives relaxation from running sharp metal across the surface of one’s skin. My razor has five blades, which I’ve been led to understand helps to improve the smoothness and closeness of the shave, but just makes me feel on edge. The claim is probably true: the people who made it probably know science things, and I myself am not a botanist. To me, it just sounds like five times as many daggers with which I’m attacking my own skin. What can I do, though? I’m a hostage to Gillette, the face-shaving company holding a knife to my throat in this horribly mixed metaphor.
Grudgingly, I shave once a week. I should probably shave more frequently, since I blow past the point of stubble to the scraggly weirdness of a half-grown beard, hair creeping up my cheeks toward my eyes in odd little outshoots. It’s unclear whether anyone notices that irregular growth pattern, thinner than my chin or jawline by the time I slice the hairs away, but certainly noticeable, at least to me. Maybe that’s just a product of years of looking at myself in the mirror, the result being some indirect opposite of narcissism.
My facial hair never used to bother me, not before I recently looked at some disturbing photographs from last winter. Lacking a clear head and common sense, I made a bad decision, the kind of perception-shifting choice one can only identify as such in hindsight. Beginning in January 2013 and ending about five weeks later, I, Joshua Russell Cohen, had a goatee.
It was not grown by accident or under duress, both of which would have been bizarre reasons but would have saved me the embarrassment of knowing I grew it of my own volition and wore it willingly. And I thought it looked good! All the sides connected and I shaped it roughly evenly, so I looked in the mirror and said to myself, yeah, that works. I smiled, and the sides caved in toward the sides of my mouth, but I allowed myself to ignore the shape-shifting my hair was doing. There was nothing abnormal about my beard at all.
My friends and family commented on it, because how could they not? There were jokes made at my expense, mostly relating to Walter White, but nothing was mean-spirited about it. And yet, I realize now that I was missing signs of people being nice. I’m sure some of the compliments were genuine, but at this point, I would question the taste behind the kindness. People said to me, yeah, that works, but their yeahs were not like mine. Instead they all had extra H’s and ellipses: Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhh……………
There is a photograph of me on Facebook to which I will not link and from which I have untagged myself, so you wouldn’t find it even if you had the morbid curiosity to look. Pictured are one of my best friends and me, though she and I were only acquaintances then. I am wearing a dark gray, tweed jacket with a dark blue, button-down shirt, and my goatee is wearing me. My facial hair contorts in an hourglass shape around my smile as my arm wraps around her back. Her expression does not give any indication that she knows how creepy I look in this moment. I shaved a few days later.
Maybe I’m still just stressed from the trauma, because I still like beards on other people. I watched multiple actors in “The Seagull” grow miserable over the course of the semester as they prepared their facial hair for the production, but I was saddened when they all shaved afterwards. I consider Mandy Patinkin to be the grizzled ideal of male appearance, even more so with his face engulfed as Saul Berenson on “Homeland” than with his Spaniard’s moustache adorning his upper lip in “The Princess Bride.” If you’ve seen him clean-shaven, he looks deceitful, as though his smooth skin were concealing his true image.
I would never tell him that, of course. For one, I don’t know Mandy Patinkin. Approaching him on the street to tell him my preferences for his follicular activities would be inappropriate to say the least, just as my loved ones restrained themselves from telling me just how much my goatee dominated my face. It wasn’t big, but it demanded attention, making me appear to be someone different behind it. Now that it’s gone, I look in the mirror and whatever I see, stubble or scraggle or nothing at all, I feel that I see myself.
Cohen is a member of the class of 2014.