The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 20, 2011

RALPH COUEY | Life without wife soon grows into hairy experience

Ralph Couey
For The Tribune-Democrat

— For most of a man’s married life, he exists in a happy state of domestication. He may at times wax nostalgic about those early years when he was led around by his hormones and a nose for mischief, and there might be one or two attempts to re-enact those years.

But for the most part, men willingly accept the structures and limits of matrimony because we realize that the “other” reason we get married is that we need someone around to keep us out of trouble.

There are times, however, when we might stage a minor revolution, for no other reason than impulse.

One of those revolts involves facial hair.

Two things spawned my little insurrection. My wife was out of town on a job search expedition and I had entertained the idea going shaveless.

But the decision point was reached when I stood in the shaving aisle at the store and saw that my blades would cost more than $30.

I could have just bought disposables but I have a bad combination of sensitive skin and tough whiskers.

The wrong blade can leave me looking like the scarred victim of a shattered window in the morning or a swarthy underworld thug by 3 in the afternoon.

So squeezed by economics and lacking anyone to say “no,” I decided to grow a beard.

My wife was not thrilled by this decision, but as she put it, “As long as I don’t have to look at it, I guess it’s OK.”

Growing a beard is a gradual process. You simply can’t go from bare-faced to Santa Claus overnight.

The first few days, it looks like you were too lazy to shave.

It’s not uniform and the bristles stick out at weird angles.

After about a week, you don’t look lazy anymore. Something’s definitely happening.

Unfortunately it’s during this phase that people at work start with the snide comments, like, “How long were you lost up in the mountains?”

At some point, bristle evolves into whiskers. I’m not sure when that happens, but I think it’s when the whiskers stop sticking out perpendicular to the face and begin to lay flat.

Usually it’s about that time when you start to trim around the edges, giving what’s there at least the proper shape.

Now, for a young man, the beard usually comes in as a rich, dark, uniform color.

But as one gets older, it will blossom in a film noir mélange of black, gray and pure white.

At this point, you not only look like a thug, but a serial killer as well. You begin to notice that in public people you don’t know begin to act distinctly wary around you.

Meanwhile, the people you do know are regarding you with barely-repressed mirth.

Still, there are benefits.

It used to take me 15 to 20 minutes each morning to scrape off the night’s accumulation of stubble, and wait for the bleeding to stop. Now, I can sleep in a little more.

But every man is different, and hair grows at different rates.

Some men can have a stylish beard in a few weeks. Others…well, it just takes time.

Patience is the key. But eventually, we hope that we will join the ranks of distinguished bearded men of history, such as Socrates, a certain Nazarene carpenter, Charles Darwin, Steven Spielberg, Chuck Norris, Abraham Lincoln and the members of the rock band ZZ Top.

(I admit that last one is a bit of a stretch for “distinguished,” but those guys do have magnificent beards.)

The hope, of course, is that this new facial hair will make me look distinguished, when (and if) it finally fills out. In the meantime, I just have to put up with people’s sense of humor.

But I’m on a clock, after all. I took a nine-day motorcycle trip out west a few years ago and stopped shaving during the trip. When I returned, I

couldn’t help notice that my wife didn’t kiss me until I shaved.

So, when she gets back, hopefully with good news on her job search, I’m sure one

of the first things she’ll say when she sees my face will be, “Nice! Now shave it off.”

And like a good husband, I will comply, and my little insurrection will end quietly.

Life can get routine, so you need to shake things up once in a while, even if it’s only temporary.

After all, as a beardless Tom Jefferson once wrote, “A little revolution now and then is a good thing.”



Ralph Couey is a freelance writer living in Somerset.