It was another mundane Wednesday morning at Starbucks. At least, that was what I thought as I waited patiently in the same line filled with the mostly same people, waiting to get my coffee before heading to work. That was when I felt the tap on my shoulder from the middle-aged woman behind me. I turned around, and groggily asked what I could do for her. “Oh” she said hesitating for a moment, “I thought I could help you, since you looked lost.” I wanted to laugh at her; and tell her that it was impossible to be lost at any Starbucks on Planet Earth, as each one always had a straight line that went from front door to coffee, but that seemed rude, so I said nothing. While I searched for my early morning words, she helpfully told me that I looked like I was from out of town. This comment puzzled me even further. Despite my confusion, I managed to get out that I was not lost, and that I was not from out of town. This caused her to narrow her eyes at me, and look at me searchingly with a “I-know-you’re-lying-gaze”. She then told me that she knew my car had out of state plates, because she had seen it. I denied this assertion, since it was patently false, and also, somewhat creepy. She then commented on my appearance, and noted that I was potentially paler than the average Southern Californian.
At this point, the line had moved two inches, and I was annoyed. Not awake. Annoyed. I categorically told her that I was not lost, that I came to this Starbucks once, if not twice a week, that I lived in the area, that I worked in the area, and I just wanted my coffee, and a side order of enlightenment. I wanted to know why she was badgering me out of all the customers in the line. After I had finished my exhausted – but firm list of residency qualifications, her gaze had shifted from “I-know-you’re-lying” to flat out awkward. It was only then that she cleared her throat and said somewhat defiantly, “Well, it’s your beard. Most men around here would know not to grow something like that, because, well, it just doesn’t look good.” At that moment, 8:41 a.m. on a Wednesday, I had no words to speak whatsoever. Then, they came. I wanted quip to her, “Ah, I get it. You’re a beard racist.” I wanted to let loose a diatribe about how her wrinkles were showing, or snidely remark that she should be embarrassed to go out in public dressed in last season’s trendy clothes, or just be flat out mean. Instead, I took a deep breath, and took the high road. “Thank you for letting me know”, I forced out through my clenched unsmiling smile, and stepped forward to order my coffee. At the end of the transaction, the barista gave me a wink and said, “Nice beard”. That was Day Eight of Project Grizzly, and my beard wasn’t even that long.
I couldn’t tell you, exactly how Project Grizzly a/k/a. “the Beardpocalypse” had come about. Perhaps it was because I had subconscious, burning beard envy, because the One OG had been sporting a quality “Gordon’s Fisherman” beard for a while; or that Lumonox had rambled about with a good “Charlie Whitehurst” with his flowing locks to accompany him afterwards. Maybe it was because I wanted to live up to my radio name of “Grizzly”; or maybe it was to win a bet with my group of Whitney climbers; or maybe it was to draw attention away from the effects of global warming on the deforested areas of my scalp. Or maybe, just maybe, it was for the ladies, because one night, at the local, one of them had said to me, “I’ve never seen you with a beard; have you ever had a beard?”. The answer to that question was a firm yes, but I didn’t have pictures of it, because the last time I had had a beard was when I had come out of the wilderness after nearly three weeks, looking, and smelling like Sasquatch, and the last thing I wanted was photographic proof of that stench. Based on all, some, or none of those reasons, I set out to grow a beard. Also, I didn’t really want to have a reason, because having a reason implies that I didn’t really have anything going on except being focused on my facial hair, which is a total lie. I had some things going on over those weeks. Really. I swear.
On the first day, I resolved that I would take a picture every day in total obsessive compulsive style, because that would prove that I totally had a lot of other things going on, and that I was not narcissistic whatsoever, because other people would totally want to look at documentary style proof of this project because it was that interesting. Other than shaving that morning, nothing of note happened. Slightly around 3 p.m., my five o’clock shadow appeared, which was not noteworthy at all. By Days Two and Three, the beard had grown out to my normal, comfortable everyday adventure sandpaper stubble length. No one batted an eye or made any comments about this, as they had seen it before. On Day Four, atop Mt. Rodgers, Cash caught me taking a picture of myself and asked what the bloody hell I was doing. When I explained, he roundly mocked me, and told me that he could grow a longer beard than me by the end of the trip, and that we could measure our beards together at the end. This made me slightly uncomfortable, so I sidled away from him, and told him that we would not be measuring anything together whatsoever, and made a mental note to lock my tent that night when I slept.
On Day Five, the beard was itchy. I wanted to shave. Fortunately, while mountaineering, that was not an option. As the sun was setting on Day Six, and I was lurching around the parking lot at the Whitney Portal after summiting, looking for Chef Jaime, I ran into some total strangers, who told me that I was the first mountaineer they had seen with a champion beard, to which I thanked them, and then sat down and wheezed in exhaustion, which probably took away some of my manly points. On Day Eight – well, you know what happened on Day Eight. After that, I went to work, where nearly everyone was enthused to see my beard. The one person who was not so enthused to see my beard: my boss. After pithily looking at me when I came in, and noting “you have a beard” with mild regret, he came in my office on two separate times to note that “you have a beard”, and on the second time he said, “So, how long do you think that’ll last?”. It was at this point that I knew that the Beardpocalypse in full effect and it was good.
Not much happened over the next week – after all, I wasn’t sitting at the mirror staring at myself watching the beard grow. But, as the days went by, I noticed that the beard was wreaking subtle changes on my persona. I found myself sitting in my office, stroking my beard thoughtfully as I talked to clients, which made me feel completely absurd. My response to this was to concentrate on keeping my hands on my desk, which made me lose my train of thought at times regarding what I was supposed to be talking about. But at least I wasn’t stroking my beard. There also was all the beard maintenance time, which was a serious pain. I had thought growing a beard would be easier on my appearance, since I could just roll with it. This was not the case, as the beard required trimming to prevent the dreaded appearance of “neck beard” or “high face” beard which would make me look like a Yeti. After a while I just wanted to shave the whole thing off rather than fool around like some ridiculous manscaper, but I dug deep and exercised some mental toughness, and ultimately perservered.
Then, on Day Thirteen things became interesting again. While jogging at my usual spot at the beach, one of the girls who ran at the same time flagged me down as I passed her car. I tried to act suave, and spontaneously stop sweating and gasping for air, but failed at all three. After the pleasantries about the weather, running, and the day were out of the way, she asked me where my brother was – my brother who was younger, who ran at the same time usually, and wore almost the same clothes and looked almost exactly like me, except that he was clean shaven. I then spent the next ten minutes trying to convince her that I didn’t have a brother, and that there was a 99% chance that she was talking about clean shaven me. Just when I was about to get exasperated about her not being able to differentiate clean shaven me from bearded me, I realized that the last girl I had met while running had thought there were sixty-three states, not fifty. With that in mind, I told her my brother would be back sometime, and that I’d pass along the message to him for when he returned. As I jogged off, I made a mental note to run in a different area when I did shave.
On Day Fifteen, I looked at my old 3G iPhone, and saw that for some inexplicable reason, the OS Four Update had taken out five days of beard pictures. For a split second, I was really bothered by this, because that had totally ruined my documentary. I was mad. I was going to e-mail Steve Jobs, and complain vigorously about this blatant and harsh injustice. Then, I took a deep breath, and realized that the beard had made me go something-something crazy. I didn’t need that many days of beard pictures; indeed, the idea of taking daily pictures seemed totally out of control ridiculous. Even scarier, I realized that that kind of e-mail was probably exactly the type of e-mail Jobs would respond to. I could hear it now: “Dear LA. Have you tried syncing your phone, you bearded maniac? Also, do note that iTunes, the iPhone, and Apple do not discriminate against beards, because I have a beard. I also like to say beard. Don’t you? Beard, beard, beard! Also, do not go Unabomber on our company. Steve Jobs”. I almost shaved right then and there, even though I was at work, and even though I would have had to use plastic forks, hand soap, and used coffee grounds to complete the mission.
Then, on Day Sixteen, I went back to my local to meet my friends. The girl who bartended took one look at me, and said, “You look like an idiot”, which was how small talk sometimes went with her, so even though I had a beard, I thought that not much had changed. On Day Seventeen, I was picking up champaign for my friend’s birthday at the grocery story, when I was asked for identification from the checker. I handed over my driver’s license. He looked at the license. He looked at me. He looked at my beard. He looked back at the license. Then, he looked back at me and said, “You don’t have a beard in this picture”. I commended him on his powers of observation, and tried to laugh it off, and asked for my license back. He held on to it, and kept staring at me, and repeating, “You don’t have a beard in this picture”. At a certain point, I wanted to rage on him and say, “Look here, you don’t have to be goddam Sherlock Holmes to realize that people can grow beards that do not retroactively travel through time and appear in their photos on their driver’s licenses”, but again, I took the high road, and said something lame like, “Yeah, well, I have a beard now”, which, after five more minutes of staring, seemed to do the trick, because he let me complete my purchase. I should have called him a beard racist too. While driving back from the party, I realized that I was ready to be done with the beard. All that I had promised was that I would grow a beard. I hadn’t promised to maintain, cherish, love it, and keep it for the rest of my days. I was going to shave it off first thing on Day Eighteen. At least that was what I thought, but that’s the thing about the Beardpocalypse – it doesn’t end that easily.