Of all the mystifying shit that youth is getting up to these days — body-madding, skinny jeans, gender-hopping, emoji poetry, and molecular cuisine being just a few notable examples — I find the proliferation of beards most disturbing. Wet-behind-the-ears whippersnappers, and yes, I am afraid their temerity leaves me no recourse but to resort to curmudgeonly epithets, whose pubes have barely grown in are strutting around with full-on facial shrubbery and no one seems to think anything about it. Let me, then, be the voice of decency and reason: a beard is something you earn. Adopting the mantle of sagacity and gravitas imparted by a a full beard when you're a comically inexperienced callow hipster is not only misleading but offensive.
In that spirit I propose the following guidelines: if you are a college professor, outlaw biker, commercial fisherman, timber-faller, or mountain man, you may freely and at any age allow the follicles to run rampant. Anyone else must wait until they are at least 40 and have something interesting to say. Let the ruddy cheeks of youth be exposed for what they are, foolishly green striplings forever wiping at excavations in the dirt and transplanting houseplants into their bungholes.
This reckless and irresponsible spate of beardings is only indicative of a larger problem, the tendency of today's youth to purchase or assume personalities rather than develop them. Fresh-faced tabula rasae are stepping out into the big wide not as clean canvases upon which the world can daub its unique panorama, but as ready-made Somethings bedecked with all manner of trim and accouterments, expecting beyond reason to be taken seriously as whatever they've chosen to “be.”
People are like oysters, if you'll excuse the metaphor-jumping. Once a little grit finds its way into the system, it is overlaid daily with the lustrous nacre of experience until a unique and precious jewel is formed. Of course, if you subvert the natural process, introduce the seed yourself and foster its growth at an unnatural rate, you wind up with exactingly formed, rigidly uniform cultured pearls devoid of any personality whatever and as indistinguishable from one another as raindrops.
Another handy tool at the disposal of bland youth seeking to define themselves is tattoos. Time was, a tattoo signified something very specific about someone. If you went under the needle you were either a fringe character, some kind of badass, or a combination of the two. Now, all a tattoo represents is a degree of disposable income and a verifiable pain threshold, which I suppose have value in determining marriageability.
Returning to facial hair, there are some offenders who will extend the proposition throughout their personal style, becoming in effect a walking, talking, beard.
I recently read an interview in a music magazine with a band representing the genre "Americana." Americana bands adopt the style, instruments, songs, and apparel of bygone days, which I suppose would be fine if done in the spirit of tribute but seems ridiculous when they try to take themselves too seriously.
This particular band featured three lushly bearded men in waistcoats, collarless button-ups, and thick woolen trousers, two women in lacecollared floor-length print dresses and granny glasses, and more unamplified strings than a discredited unification theory. Their official publicity photo looked like a 19th century tintype of a group of Nebraskan settlers, their grim expressions suggesting the Indians had only just been cleared out and they could finally get down to the business of planting crops and bearing children. When the interviewer asked where they were from, they said, "Laguna Beach," which we all know is the birthplace of bluegrass and an important coal-mining region with many illegal whiskey distilleries.
So, the prevailing model seems to illustrate the following dictum: if you can't be interesting, you can at least look as if you are. Which is fine, but once you've cultivated your chin-mop; lavishly illustrated your dermis, poked a few holes in your face, established your brand, and attracted the sort of person for whom that sort of plumage is intended, and he or she realizes immediately that it's pure pretense overlaying an empty vessel, don't say I didn't warn you.
Being actively engaged in the sort of colorful, catch-as-catch-can adventures that give my own life its piquant flavor and weave such charmingly variegated threads into the tapestry of my own personality, I was filling up at the Speedex in Fort Bragg early one morning when I heard a proposition of the kind one only dreams about, like, "Hi, I'm Scarlett Johanssen, care to join me on this luxury yacht?", or "Would you like to sign a petition banning the Eagles from all public airwaves and jukeboxes?" It came from the gentleman gassing up opposite me, a jobber in recreational pharmaceuticals well-known to me and in fact directly responsible for my condition of spun-ness. What he said was, "I've got some shit that's too good to put on the street and I don't feel like fucking around with cutting it. You wanna come smoke it with me?"
After pinching myself blue and scanning the area for cameras, I allowed as how that might be acceptable to me, and six hours later I had literally and completely lost the power of speech. I had smoked myself into something resembling either a preverbal infant or a senescent stroke victim. Thoughts were still churning away up in the old melon, but when I attempted to articulate them, what came out sounded like a couple of magpies arguing over a rotten persimmon, interspersed with some random pops and clicks such as you might hear in the Xhosa language of the !Kung peoples of the Kalahari.
I may suffer from a chronic failure to grasp the obvious but I know when I've had enough. Through a series of expressive hand gestures and interpretive dance moves, I conveyed my sincere thanks to my benefactor for his largesse and headed back to Albion for some much-needed and well-deserved R&R. After stopping in Little River to pay tribute to the seagulls and chew the fat with them for a little while in their own language, which I didn't even know I knew, it was up to my little cabin in the pygmy forest and to bed.
It took two full weeks, a hundred or so hours of sleep, and a truckload of groceries to restore me to homeostasis, but eventually I arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of my debauchery, tongue as glib and facile as ever, rested and ready for further punishment.
I feared for the condition of the local drug underworld in my absence; it seems every time I go on sabbatical some rash young fool, bereft of my sage counsel, does something stupid and upsets the harmonious equilibrium I work so hard to maintain. This time was no exception. Eager to reclaim my rightful place in the mix, I made a beeline for a locus of the activity so lacking out there in the bucolic wastes, in my eagerness playing fast and loose with pretty much all the polite suggestions of civic authorities regarding motor vehicle operation.
Look, I get it, traffic laws are there for a reason, but when I'm on a mission I answer to a higher authority. His name is Mr. Jones and he cares not for signs nor limitations.
When I arrived at the house I saw all of the usual suspects milling around, and one exceedingly distinguished-looking gentleman bent over a chessboard, sporting a stiffly oiled spade beard and a pair of elegantly curved moustaches twisted at their ends into sharp points.
He looked like a Prussian adjutant circa 1870, and I immediately walked over to pay my respects. "Sir," I said, making a courtly little bow and clicking my heels, "I don't believe I've had the pleasure."
He gaped up at me like a grouper and said, "Dog, it's me! You don't recognize me?"
Will Hawk?!? Of all the sneaky, duplicitous subterfuges, I never…
Mr. Hawk is an unfortunate chap sadly born without much in the brain department beyond a rudimentary lump of tissue at the terminus of his spine, what the neuroscientists call the lizard brain, and acts as my unpaid personal assistant. Facial adornment of this level of sophistication on Will was akin to putting a pig in a tuxedo. Humorous, perhaps, but ultimately a clear violation of all the principles of theology and geometry that we depend on to give order to our lives.
I could feel myself on the verge of sputtering incoherently in indignation and closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, and prepared to address the situation.
"Will," I said in calm, measured tones, "I do not know what in the pluperfect hell you think you are getting up to but this foolishness ends now. What were you thinking? I don't suppose you ever stopped to consider how this behavior reflects on me, did you? No, of course not. Now get in the bathroom and don't come out until your face is as smooth as Shamu's ventral area."
"But dog, it looks good! Don't you think it looks good?" Will protested.
"Looks good? You know what else would look good? Me in a tangerine Speedo and thigh-high wrestling boots. But I don't do it. And you know why? Because it wouldn't be seemly, that's why, and neither is that abomination on your face. Now skedaddle, pup. Less raving, more shaving.”
"Can I keep the mustache? " he pleaded.
"No, you may not keep the mustache. If I wanted to hang out with a 1920s circus strongman I'd'a been born back then. This discussion is over."
Will slunk off to the facilities to clearcut his map and I congratulated myself on ·having restored a small bit of order to the universe. Still, though, I couldn't help dwelling on the no doubt millions of misguided young chuckleheads even now foregoing their razors and embarking on the deceptive and dubious path of the beard. The numbers surely indicate an epidemic, and that means it's time to get the government involved.
I propose not just a beard tax — and trust me, it's been done before — but an entire regulatory agency and licensing board dedicated to monitoring and controlling the growth of beards. If you wanted one and felt yourself worthy, you'd put in an application and submit to a period of extreme vetting and psychological and academic testing to determine your fitness. After being approved, which shouldn't take more than two or three years, new beards would be charged a flat fee and then taxed quarterly at a rate commensurate with growth.
Who's going to pay for all this? The razor and shaving cream companies, naturally. Of course, if you want to sport one of those finely trimmed, fussy little goatees with the pointed side-whiskers, feel free. That's how we identify our douchebags!