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To beard or not to beard.

I have finally figured out why I have been taken advantage of all these years. Especially at home. It's my chin. My chin definitely lacks authority.

Not that I would want one of those Jay Leno jobs, or anything like that. I'm talking about chin enough to allow me at least to hold my own when it comes to human relationships. Especially at home.

I know what you're thinking--and forget it. You're thinking: Hide your milquetoast physiognomy behind a heard, Stupid! Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever looked a beard squarely in the face? I didn't think so.

Well, I have. How often I have stood before the bathroom mirror of late stroking my five o'clock shadow (Eastern Standard Time) and contemplated letting my shadow develop into an authoritative display of foliage. But you know me. Except for my marriage, I have never jumped rashly into a lifestyle switcheroo of this magnitude.

The first question, of course, is would my dear wife, Lois, be tickled with a bearded hubby? A poll revealed that if she had her druthers, she'd druther embrace a camel's hair pillow than a face full of whiskers. Thinking she might be alone in her crude comparison, I took time off to dig into the subject.

I now take you to this newspaper account of the celebrated Billings divorce case:

"Abner Billings appeared in divorce court today, charging his wife, Gertrude, keeps attacking his beard with a spray gun.

"`It's a regular blitzkrieg,' he said. `She thinks beards are unsanitary and should be sprayed with disinfectant. I could stand it if she were a better shot, but she keeps squirting the stuff in my eyes.'

"Judge Hackerby suggested settling the quarrel by mowing the hay, but Mr. Billings was adamant. `It took me eight months to grow this beard,' he said. `If I have to choose between my beard and my wife, I'll take the beard.'"

If you remember your fifth-grade history, it was Alexander the Great who first shot down the beard, ordering his soldiers to knock off with the facial forest to prevent the enemy from using it as a handhold during infighting engagements. If the wives of the baldfaced returning heroes awarded Alex a bronzed olive branch for his decree, we know not. But when it came to infighting we do know that the shaving of the beard of Louis VII of France actually brought about a war with England that lasted 300 years. Behind it was a woman, of course.

Seems that Louis had got himself hitched to Eleanor of Aquitaine who, going against the flow, objected to a beardless husband. After getting a divorce, she became the wife of Henry II of England. Henry, you may remember, had a beard he could tuck into his belt on windy days. With this authority and her dowry, clean-shaven Louis didn't stand a chance.

Alas, Eleanor of Aquitaine proved to be one of a kind. Beards have been causing domestic wars ever since wives discovered that whiskers could be mowed, shaven, or set on fire. The fashion of a beardless face swung so far, in fact, that as early as the reign of Henry I, Serle, the bishop, would compare bearded men of the Norman English Court with "filthy goats and bristly Saracens." Peter the Great did his bit by levying a tax on all Russian beards (a sirtax, you might say. I certainly wouldn't say it, but you might).

So widely had spread the accursed fad of shaving that Shakespeare, in Much Ado About Nothing, had Beatrice get off a couple of lines that could very well have influenced women to this day. "I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face," is what she got off. "I would rather lie in the woolen." Long johns of 100 percent wool, as I interpret it.

There are among the female side of our species a certain number who, either from desperation or nearsightedness, will actually pursue a man flaunting a beard. But by and large women (as well as small women) do not understand a man's mission in letting his whiskers grow rampant.

Mission number one, of course, is to distinguish the he-man from the 40-pound weaklings who get sand kicked in their respective faces. And then there's the pleasure of altering the beard to fit the mood.

As far back as the age of Elizabeth (herself shunning a beard because bearded women, taken for witches, were hanged until quite dead), beards were curled, or clipped into a hundred devices, varying in length from pillow-case rippers to mattress stuffers. The gentlemen would then glamorize their growth by perfuming, starching, dusting with orris powder, or twisting around irons or quills.

With nothing better to do, let's visualize a montage of the mast noted of these gentlemen, focusing on their cherished facial adornments.

In the center, King Charles, "the points of his mustache sweeping upward and his chin beard resembling a downward flame." To his right, Edward II, sporting a beard curled in three ringlets, which not only conceals his chin nicely but could very well have been the inspiration for today's overload spring.

Next to Edward II we see Edward III, naturally, his long, forked beard described as "flowing down his breast in patriarchal style." Richard II, sitting to the right of Eddy 3, is looking enviously at the Edward boys' flowing muffs, as his face shows but a scraggly little tuft on each side of his chin. Not enough to paint a bookend, in other words. To the left of Charles sits

Henry VIII, his beard knotted six ways for Sunday, raising the assumption he has been called to the group photo directly from the quarters of the maids-in-waiting.

With no more than this lineup to serve as a precedent for our forefathers, it does seem that our foremothers could have been a tad more tolerant of hubby's "Piccadilly Weeper" (mustache with long and drooping whiskers) and the less imaginative "Crumb Catcher" (a square, chin beard, made popular by no less a personage than Jefferson Davis).

Getting back to the nitty-gritty (or hairy-kari), wives remain totally ignorant of the practical value of a beard. Besides using the old excuse that a beard lent authority to a weak chin, a chap named Hadrian grew one to cover his warts. My own grandfather Fred, whose beard had been trimmed but once in his life time--the morning he got it confused with his Shredded Wheat--confessed that after the plumage reached the top of his vest, he had never worn a necktie.

More practical yet, physicians tell us that by growing our own mufflers, we are less likely to suffer throat diseases--certainly something worth sticking on the refrigerator door.

Before closing, a word or two to the single girl on the prowl. If a man's beard is dark, dry, hard, and thin, he is likely to be irritable. A man of mild disposition will flourish a light-colored beard, thick and slightly curled. If he has been eating wholesome, nourishing, and digestible food, his beard will also have a softness a prowler can't resist burying her face in.

Though my own dear wife is no longer on the prowl--I'm only guessing, of course--my beard might be colored to the point of gray, as soft as the underside of soap, and yet never get off the ground, so to speak. I can already hear her greeting on the second morning of its inauguration:

"Did you forget to wash your face, for heaven's sake?"

"Of course I washed my face."

"Well, you'd better wash it again; you've left a smudge. And this time try Lava soap."

But let's say, just for the heck of it, that I risk my well-being by doing what other cowards do--in other words, go to Alaska under the pretense of a salmon fishing trip. And let's say I return two weeks later with my face in full bloom, my weak chin nicely concealed beneath a healthy growth of soft, light-colored whiskers that any single girl would give her eyeteeth to bury her face in. So what happens?

You talk about infighting engagements. You talk about the wisdom of Alex the Great. You talk about cowards. Before dear wife could get a handhold on my two-week effort to assume authority, I'd clip the thing down to at least a smudge.

I am now considering a tattoo. But on the chin? I don't know. One thing in its favor--she'd have a hard time getting a grip on it.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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