Thursday, February 16, 2017

My half-stached birthday

On the new driver’s license, the photo looks like a wooly caterpillar is marching up  my left nostril to lay eggs in a cozy cavity.

It’s just one caterpillar.

Yesterday had the happy coincidence of being both my 54th birthday and the forecast-ordained — three consecutive days of plus-50 degrees — annual beard-shaving day. 

So it combined to make it one of the busiest days I’ve had in nearly 25 years. How busy was it?

I barely made it to my bar stool by 3 p.m.

It wasn’t just any birthday either. It was the quadrennial one where the commonwealth’s Department of Motor Vehicles requires I show up and renew my photo ID.

For those who don’t care about bureaucracy, this is routine. For those prone to vanity about their appearance, it stirs anxiety. For me, it’s like opening night on Broadway for a one-man show that’s destined to run for four years.

It’s performance art.

It’s been that way for 30 years ever since a friend lectured me about how stupid it was to grin for the driver’s license photo.

“Man, the only people who are going to see that are cops and you won’t be smiling next time a cop asks to see it.”

This was a surprising blast of wisdom from a guy who’d spend the next eight years mopping the floors at an Orlando strip joint.

It was a revelation and for my next photo I looked like a guy who’d just emerged from a knife fight with a roving band of soccer hooligans.

Blood-shot eyes, scraggly hair, rat's nest beard — my look had real menace. If I was stopped by the police they would no doubt been dumbfounded at the disparity between me and my picture. Because the real me would be polite, smiling, a model citizen, one who’s vehicle just happened to be weaving past midnight.

In theory, he or she would say, “Sir, I suspect you’ve been drinking, but you’ve so clearly turned your life around since this picture was taken I’m going to give you a break. Be careful driving home and thank you for being such a role model to America’s youth.”

That whimsical scenario never played out. Not once.

But over the years I have shown that and similarly roguish pictures to countless tellers, clerks and bored TSA agents. The story would give them a chuckle, a little mental break from their often dreary duties.

It was them I had in mind last month when I hatched the idea to go half-stached.

I waited ’til the girls had gone and I shaved off all but the left side. It’s the side that’s defiantly dark. It’s very odd. My beard and the right side of my stash are salt ’n’ pepper, but the right side looks like it just jumped off Burt Reynold’s “Smokey & The Bandit” face and time-traveled four decades to land on my lip.

It’s very peculiar and I hope it grows back looking like it belongs on the same team as  the rest of my whiskers.

The guy who took the picture wasn’t phased a bit by my stunt. I admire that. He was very pleasant and chatty, but he wasn’t going to play along. I was a bit disappointed because I had rehearsed a response if he asked why I had only half my mustache.

“Well,” I’d planned to say, “sometimes I have a mustache and sometimes I don’t, so I thought I’d strive for an accurate depiction.”

Val and I met at the Sun Dawg Cafe in Greensburg. She noticed right away and burst out laughing in such a delightful way it made me glad I married a woman who appreciates surprise jolts of goofiness.

Lunch — it was wonderful — went without event until the owner came by at the end and said, “I have to ask: what’s with the ‘stache?”

I explained and she laughed and laughed.

Boy, does it feel good to make a friendly stranger laugh like that.

I spent the rest of the afternoon traipsing me and my half-stache around various bars and enjoying just a great birthday with so many friends.

Shaved the whole thing today. It’s the first time I’ve been wholly clean-shaven in 25 years. 

A buddy said I should keep it through the weekend to let more people see it.

I decline. Some stunts are better like shooting stars. Here and gone.

Besides, keeping it any longer would seem like I’m craving attention.

And I wouldn’t ever want what’s on my face to get in yours.

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