To beard or not to beard

This beard was black, which he suffered to grow to an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes...

So our hero, Captain Teach, assumed the Cognomen of Black-beard, from that large Quantity of Hair, which, like a frightful meteor, covered his whole face, and frightened America more than any comet that has appeared there in a long time. This beard was black, which he suffered to grow to an extravagant length; as to breadth, it came up to his eyes; he was accustomed to twist it with ribbons, in small tails…and turn them about his Ears.”

Captain Charles Johnson wrote that description in a book called A General History of the Most Notorious Murderers and Pyrates in the early 18th century. His subject, a terrifying sea bandit named Edward Teach, was better known — and feared — by his nickname, Blackbeard.

He gave facial hair a bad name for the next 300 years.

Only Santa Claus and Jesus have been forgiven for their beards. The rest of us still get our share of put-downs, sneers and wary side glances. Until now.

I see from an article in Vanity Fair that full beards for men are suddenly in vogue. Ho hum.  I am not usually au courant with the latest fashion but I’m ahead of the pack on this one. I’ve had fur on my face for the past 40 years.

Not exactly the same beard, you understand.  I experimented. I let the borderlines of my jaw embroidery wax and wane and ebb and flow up and down my face. Sometimes I looked like a lumberjack, other times I favoured a goatee or a Zapata moustache or mutton chops or a Van Dyke or any mix-and-match combination thereof.

It was never, a particularly stylish coup, having a beard. Older folks generally disapproved, a majority of maidens were stubbornly unsmitten and most of my male contemporaries opted for sleek cheeks but I didn’t care. I was happy to be free of the quotidian tyranny of the shaving brush — or worse, the dispiriting drone of an electric razor. I opted for the unshorn look.

It took 40 years, but finally the world has caught up with me.

Doctor Jeffrey Epstein, a New York plastic surgeon, says full beards have become “an important male identifier” and as a professional he would be only too pleased to assist those males who have trouble sprouting facial hair.  Just ring him up and he’ll book you in for a full-beard transplant. For a mere $8,000 US. Somebody who’s better with numbers than I am reckoned that works out to about $4.50 per whisker.

That’s not too pricey for a lot of baby-faced wannabes. In Britain more than 4,500 men signed up for beard implants in 2013. That’s three times the number of men who opted for nose jobs. Not surprising. A good beard can hide a bad nose. Think of wrens in hedges. I’m guessing that guys who pony up the eight grand for a beard transplant won’t regret it. In my experience most men who opt for a beard never go back to the clean-shaven look. Once you’ve experienced life without it, the prospect of shaving daily is just too much of a hassle. Besides, beards are no longer the badge of infamy that they were in, say, Blackbeard’s time. Who went to his grave unshorn, I might add. Not that he had much choice. Edward Teach was killed in a sea-battle in 1718 off the coast of North Carolina. Mind you, he did make it ashore. At least his head did.  It was last seen dangling from a pole over the Hampton River in Chesapeake Bay. Decapitation. That’s what I call a close shave.

— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears every Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: arblack43@shaw.ca

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