I could never grow a proper beard when I was in my early twenties. Or more accurately I couldn't grow a proper mustache. I looked Amish. I contented myself with a Goatee and flattered myself with Tom Waits comparisons. I also wore an electric blue leather jacket. I am not proud.
Sometime in my forties I began to grow beards once more. Goatee, full beard. Now the mustache was no longer a problem. The beard had that weird reddish tinge that seems to effect any brown haired man that grows a beard. The beard occasionally got long. About two years ago, I got sick of the damned thing and Hipsters had also come along and ruined it for everybody, so I shaved it off. My students were appalled. One - a talented caricaturist, it would turn out - drew a before and after cartoon on the board which with cruel accuracy showed the benefit a beard had on my chinless features. As one 'friend' told me, 'You have the kind of face that doesn't benefit from visibility.'
And so it goes.
I grew the beard back immediately but a couple of weeks ago (two years later) I decided I'd cut it off again. I'm like a really big goldfish with a really good memory, for a goldfish. The reaction was equally loud and rich in unwanted honesty. One student told me she had lost all respect for me, another that he understood me. 'You thought your face had improved in the meantime, but you were wrong,' he said. He has a beard and he consoled me, 'I feel your pain.'
So now I'm back to growing my beard once more. I don't mind the beard. It makes me look older, but I'm 43 - even if I look younger without the beard that's only what? Best case scenario? 41? And no one actually likes the beard. Recently when a study (later shown to be false) showed that there was all manners of shit in a beard - including actual shit - my Facebook page was inundated with links sent by helpful friends (all female), imbued with an unseemly zest to communicate this to me. LOL, I wrote.
But the beard covers facial inadequacy and will remain. I'm determined not to shave it off again. Ever. It's too depressing. I might even grow it to Gandalf length and become, once more, a virgin. The Hipsters have another three to six months and then they'll all be dead from Kale poisoning and I'll have the beard all to myself once more. It is a strange admission of defeat; a retreat from the world one pubic follicle at a time. But I'm pretty sure, two years from now, I'll once more be staring at my naked face in the mirror whispering like Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now: 'The horror! The ... horror!'
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.