An unkempt beard exists, entirely, as one seriously itchy, overwhelmingly hairy magnet. Or better yet: a quiet patch of one way Velcro, so powerful it’ll drive you to the edge of self-mutilation. Anything and everything nearby — whether it be floating lint, a wrapping strand of your girlfriend’s hair, honey mustard, or $13 bread crumbs serving as decoration for spicy crab sushi (all four have spent at least 20 undisturbed minutes fastened to my face) — ain’t leaving if contact is made.
The events that led to the birth of my newfound facial hair are simple: after kicking some serious butt in the months of March and April, my favorite basketball team in the world entered the playoffs with some serious dark horse vibes. I responded by losing control of both my mind and my emotions. Every Sunday I shave, but on the day of their first playoff game, I did not. I did not shave on Monday either, giving myself a full eight days of facial maturation. Seriously dangerous territory.
On Day 10, my mom asked me when it was that I planned on cutting it all off, being that my little brother’s graduation was to take place in the very near future. The inference here being that I’d be posing for about 23,497 pictures — some candid, some incoherently intense, most posed, all forced — and it’d be in my (her) best interest to look as clean as possible. I mechanically responded to this question by coldly announcing there would be no clean shaven Michael at any upcoming graduations: I was growing a playoff beard.
Every since the age of 13, I’ve always had the ability to grow thick facial hair very quickly. At first, when I was in the 8th grade, it was a gift. Now, as I masquerade as a man in my early-20s, it’s the worst kind of curse. Hopefully, someday it’ll return as a bodily feature I’m honestly appreciative of possessing, but until then it remains a terrible inconvenience.
Normally I shave at least once a week. Any longer and use of my electric razor — the one I adopted from the bathroom cabinet’s previous tenant — would be 20 minutes of merciless torture. My decision to grow it out will actually cause real life suffering to my face, making it feel like it actually matters in some physiological world where superstitions are on the same playing field as laborious practice. When they win, the beard makes me feel like it’s making a difference, which truly helps me sleep better at night. When they lose, I spend the night clawing at my neck.
There have been several instances in the past 20 days where on the feeling of something crawling from my upper lip to my cheek, I’ve slapped myself in the head, thinking it was a small spider. Nope, it’s just the beard; living, breathing, and laughing at me. A couple nights ago I tried eating a peach. It was the single most miserable experience of my life. A couple weeks ago it reached the point where every time I step in the shower, I’m left wondering whether the beard needs its own separate, special shampoo, or whether the one I use on my hair will do just fine. (Do beards have a thickness threshold, where a more powerful shampoo is necessary?)
Two days before my parents and I were scheduled to take a 6 a.m. Acela train from Boston’s South Station to Washington D.C.’s Union Station, I went to a Super Cuts to get my head buzzed. My barber (?) asked approximately five times whether I’d allow him to “do something!” with my beard. After many polite protests were repeatedly met with his stubborn persistence to keep asking the same question, we finally came to the agreement that he could slightly trim the bristly outline running ragged through the center of my cheeks. (He gave up about 30 seconds in, saying unless he let me shave it all off, his clippers stood no match for such a “relentless wool coat.”)
The night my brother graduated, he and his roommates threw a small party in their D.C. apartment. Not knowing anybody but him, I spent the night in and out of several conversations, asking boring questions (Sooo, an English major, huh? Good luck with that) and mostly responding to equally boring answers with a polite smile and chug of beer. In almost all interactions, the beard came up in conversation, and when it did, I’d slink away with a lame yet honest response: it was grown in support of my favorite basketball team, the Boston Celtics. People looked at me like I was David Puddy (yeah, that’s right).
Right now my neck resembles a black patch of wild weeds. But every time I run my hands through it, I’m hit with a small feeling of pride. This beard is a symbol of dedication. Once it’s severed from my life, so too will yet another year enjoying my beloved team. As much as I hate this thing, the day I shave it off is a day I truly dread.