While going through my normal Tuesday afternoon routine of looking at pictures of myself, I realized that it has been almost exactly one year since I began growing the beard. In fact, loyal followers of this blog know that regular updates on the progress of my unsightly (n. displeasing to the eye) beard were once a staple of the Journal. As I have grown more self-important, I shifted the focus to subjects that would make me sound like I knew something about international development, when, in fact, I do not. But, like the prodigal son, I will return to the low-brow self-criticism that was a hallmark of this blog one year ago.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. Below is a picture taken last December on a trip down the Mekong River in Vietnam. I’ve highlighted the problems I faced then:
As you can see from the picture above, I could have a rockin’ beard were it not for the bald spot right in the middle of my chin. I suppose that, by that logic, bald people assume that they could have a rockin’ mane were it not for the fact that their scalp contains a circular area upon which no hair grows. Sometimes life gives you lemons, so you make lemonade, except that lemonade has salmonella and you become sick. This is what happened when I grew my beard. I went to my father’s office yesterday to use the fax machine. His office manager, who I hadn’t seen in a few years, pointed to my face and said “What’s that?” “A beard,” I said. “It’s a bit misshapen, I know.” “Well, you know, it takes some time to grow. How long have you had it for?” she asked. “A year.” Awkward silence. Onto the next subject.
In an ironic twist, while I enjoy none of the benefits of having a sweet beard, I am forced to cope with all of the downsides. For a month before I left the Philippines, I lived as a certifiable beach bum, taking the bus from town to town and logging forty dives in my SCUBA book. I thought it would be interesting to let myself go, and let the beard chips fall where they may, Brian Wilson-style. Unbeknownst to me, I looked like a terrorist (maybe I was just in denial). This fact was not lost on the customs officials who greeted me at the Detroit airport on returning to the country.
In a classic case of anti-Muslim racial profiling, I was pulled aside by customs officials to be searched. A tall and lanky National Guard dropout leafed through my passport. “What were you doing in Cambodia?” he asked. “Sex tourism,” I replied. Of course I didn’t say that. I told him I’d visited the beaches, but I suspect he thought the Kingdom of Cambodia, as it says on my visa, was somewhere near Yemen. If they had only turned to the actual identification page that displayed my name, they might have realized that my people and the people he was purposefully singling out have been in conflict for centuries. My last name contains too syllables – “Wein” and “stein.” Either is sufficient to prove Jewishness. But both together? It is a mathematical impossibility for the bearer not to be one of the chosen people.
So they went through my first bag and didn’t find anything. Then came my backpacker’s bag. The woman doing the searching looked at the bag, then looked at me. Then she looked back at the bag, and back at me. “Anything in here?” “Just clothes.” “You can go.” And it was a good thing too, since I had a DVD titled “Animal Sex” (videos of different animals having sex) that I bought from a street vendor in Myanmar for fifty cents, which may have brought on a line of questioning I was happy to avoid. Now I know how Arnold felt in Total Recall when he dressed as a woman and almost got to go to Mars. Unlike Arnold, I got away without a strip search. The Iranian gentleman next to me was not so lucky, though I’m sure it isn’t the first time he’s been through this ordeal.
As you can see from this picture, I’m as American as apple pie. No one loves this country more than me. And that’s why I grew a beard. In this picture, I look strong, not because of the American flag tank top I’m wearing. It’s because of the beard. Here is what Prince Philip said about soul patches:
Shut the fuck up, Prince Philip. In any case, the beard is not going anywhere. It is here to stay, at least until I have to appear as though I am a serious person. And the beard grows on…