In the Time of COVID. Day 88
June 14, 2020.
As a teen I loved Art-House films. Once, I was in the third row, slunk down in my seat. My eyes were fixed on the movie screen. A gentleman fortune-seeker arrived at a remote, storm pounded, ferry terminal. Confused, he entered the waiting room where suspicious eyes glared at him. Women frightfully, men aggressively. No one made room for him. He stood in the middle of the room, sopping wet, a British fancy-dandy. Then, a hand wiped moisture off an outside window, and a disheveled face peered in with bushy mustache. Enter Zorba The Greek, a storm-tossed Greek Demigod. I sat bolt upright.
Thus began a fifty five year relationship between my face and a mustache. At first it was just a wimpy little thing , just a puppy with hardly enough hairs to compete with a girl’s eyebrow, although, it was enough to get me dragged into the office at school. “Shave that off! What do you think this is?” They didn’t expect an answer. They wanted compliance. That became a chronic confrontation. Then came graduation (strike that) liberation.
Wandering Willy said, “Ya, when I first met you, you had a first-class soup strainer.” I recently watched Zorba the Greek again and I realize I exaggerated his mustache. Zorba’s was more like a hairy old man’s eyebrow. I grew a Clydesdale horseshoe. A five pounder.
The only time I ever shaved it off, in all these years, was after I married April. I decided she needed to know what lurked below that ‘stash’. I went into the bathroom, got out a shave kit and went at it. I soon remembered why I hate to shave around my nose and upper lip. Nicks and cuts sting like hell, all day. Well, out I came, and said “here you go, this is who I am under the stash”. Speechless, she drew back in shock. I wasn’t “her” me. I was “strange” me. For two weeks she slept with her back turned away while I grew it back.
Over the years I’ve had variations of this mustache. One Halloween I went as Salvador Dali. My mustache grew down to my jawline and further down my neck and was at least an inch wide. I formed five rows of waxed handlebars and the largest upper set curled into my nostrils.
I am thoughtful of the guys who do the “Movember” thing. It’s a prostate cancer fundraiser. But I mourn their attempts that get erased at month’s end. I mourn the loss of a new generation of hermanos del bogote. Brother’s of the mustache.
At some point I grew a beard and it has varied in length. As I’ve gotten older, I trim and shape much more. But my mustache has been a constant companion.
For years, in the land of the clean shaven, I felt a nagging apartness. But that ended two years ago when we traveled to India. Every older guy from New Delhi to Agra or Jaipur has a stately mustache. It is a prideful act of Indian identity and is patterned after the Rajas of the 18th and 19th Centuries. I noticed these fine mustaches and smiled at the guys while twisting the corner of mine with a twinkling smile. They returned the acknowledgement with smile and a twist of their own. I started having photos taken with the guys. It was great fun. For days across Rajasthan I continued these encounters in cities and villages. I wasn’t just a pledge, I was a brother in the fraternity.
Some people travel to India to visit an ashram, or bathe in the Mother Ganges at Varanasi, others move to Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh. For $7,000 they are welcomed into the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. The money buys a sleeping pallet in a dorm and rice and vegetables for the rest of one’s life. Millions of others visit the Taj Mahal to get a selfie. I found my sense of belonging among the mustaches of Rajasthan.