When you’re young, all you ever want is to look older. You just want to be able to at least pass for an adult so that you can get a taste of what it feels like to do whatever you want. But when you look back as a grownup who actually looks their age, you can’t help but wonder what you were thinking. You were sure that wearing your mother’s lipstick and eye shadow made you look like a distinguished woman at High Tea, when really, all it did was make you look like six year old tramp.
When I came across pictures of John with a mustache, naturally I was curious. Was that a real mustache or had he glued on a fake one for a costume party? If it wasn’t real, then why was he wearing it in this photo of him at the the 1994 New York City Marathon finish line? Surely it would have started to slip off with all that running and sweating. But when asked about it, John confirmed that it was in fact real.
I wanted to know more. How did it come to be, the mustache, that is? Why did he have one? How long did he have it? More importantly, how and when he decided that he was a mustache man? Those men are few and far between. You don’t see a lot of them nowadays. My dad was and is still a mustache man. It’s his trademark. You’d think he was born with one, he’s had one for so long that seeing pictures of a younger version of him without one is startling.
Beards indicate that a man's a roughneck, a trucker, a biker, a tough-looking hippy, a hunter, a hard worker. It could also mean he’s a Hassidic Jew, marooned on a deserted island without a razor, or extremely depressed and has lost the will to shave. A goatee is most popular with outcasts, nonconformists, and beatnick poets who wear turtlenecks and berets. A mustache is a different kind of facial hair that takes a certain amount of gumption to carry off. They have been seen on distinguished actors and actors not so famous except to those who frequent adult movie theatres. They can be worn by comedians or even New Age Musicians who date Linda Evans. Although the mustache can be worn on many different men, the one thing they all seem to have in common is a need for the warm glow of a spotlight. But John’s not the type of guy who wants to be noticed, stand-out, or even remembered for that matter.
At a social event with people he doesn’t know, John makes himself scarce and leaves his coat on always prepared for a quick getaway. So finding out he’d been a man who had a mustache shook everything I thought I knew about him right to the core. What was lurking beneath the surface of this so-called quiet, nice guy? I needed answers.
So not wanting to wait one minute longer, one day I just asked him. "So what’s up with the mustache?" I said pointing to a picture of his past. He was visibly uncomfortable with the question, "Uh, I had one, once?"
That wasn’t an answer.
"Well, for how long? When did you have it? Did you just recently shave it off? I mean I don’t know what I would have thought if you had a mustache when I first met you," and I pictured the awkwardness of that moment if things had gone that way. "Weird."
"I used to have one a few years ago, okay?" He sounded sort of pissed off that I asked him about it.
"Well, I mean why did you have it? Did you think it was a good
look for you? They’re kind of dated and it looks a little creepy on younger guys." Maybe it was my tone of voice or the continuous pestering, but he’d had enough and walked away.
I followed him.
What’s wrong? I just want to know." He kept moving around his apartment trying to look too busy to answer and I continued behind him, asking more questions. Maybe this ignoring tactic worked with other people in the past, but not with me. When I need to know something I turn into one of those investigative reporters, the kind that starts chasing down the guy who sells meat out of the trunk of his car, yelling questions out while he shoves a defiant hand into the lens of the tv camera.
When he stopped answering, I started to do it myself, with my own conclusions. Maybe he was that guy who starting sprouting fine hairs above his lip during puberty and then never bothered to shave it off. I came up with that one after seeing his high school graduation picture in his parent’s house. He looked so sad in it, like he was so dissatisfied with his life. But then again, who wasn’t miserable in high school? It’s the single worst time in your life. A confused and sometimes teenager with complexion that reads like a mood ring you get from one of those gumball machines they have by the front door at Denny’s. His hair looked like a Dorothy Hamill haircut and wore the tell-tale puberty mustache. And below that was a bored mouth. His eyebrows gave more of a questioning expression, but not one rooted from curiosity, more like inside his head he’d been asking himself why, why me?
John was hoping that I’d just drop the whole thing and leave him alone. He was not so lucky.
Over the following weeks I would find a way to drop the word "mustache" into everyday conversation. "You know some people say my father looks like Groucho Marx, I guess because he’s a short Jewish guy who wears glasses and...has a mustache
We’d be out to lunch, "Hey, that guy over there has some food on his face. I wonder how long it’ll take before his girlfriend tells him to wipe the egg salad off his mustache
Flipping channels I’d say, "Look! Magnum PI! I used to love this show. Remember how much everyone was so into Tom Selleck? I don’t know, he never did anything for me, maybe it was because of the mustache
I imagined that everytime I said the word he get all fired up and yell out, "Alright! You wanna know why I had a mustache, is that it
?! I’ll tell you why!!!" But my passive-aggressive prying wasn't getting me anywhere. It was as though he had know idea the painstakingly lengths I would go through to work something so offbeat as a mustache into a conversation.
After a month of playing this psychological game of roundabout questioning and avoidance, I asked him directly. "John, I need to know why you had a mustache. Don’t be embarassed, I just want to know. I won’t laugh, I promise." He just rolled his eyes and became defensive, "What is the big deal? I had a mustache, so what? Who cares?"
"You act like it's so friggin' personal, it's just a mustache. It can't be that sore of a subject! Just tell me and I promise I’ll never mention it again!" I pleaded. After plenty of time for my overactive imagination left it’s own without some much as a hint why he had it, he gave me a boring answer. "I grew it because I wanted to look older. I was sick of getting carded at bars. Okay? Are you satisfied?" Hardly.
That was it? That was his whole reason for wearing the mustache? It wasn’t even an entertaining enough story to tell people at a dinner party. What about all the colorful scenarios I came up with?
So, no, I was not satisfied. I had more questions. "So how long did you keep it?"
"I don’t know, a while."
"Well, did you ever get carded again?" I was grasping at straws.
"No, I don’t think so."
Mystery solved, I guess.