Every man should, at least once in his life, grow a full beard, if for no other reason than to just see if it fits his personality and improves his look (or fits his look and improves his personality). It takes tiger-like patience and the fortitude of a Saharan monkey to weather that abominable in-between stage that's about as comfortable as a partially-immolated monk's hair shirt. But the end result is worth the effort, paying heavenly riches to those who endure the commitment and more so to those who commit to a yeard (that's a year-long beard, for those not in the know).
I had made such a commitment and was about eleven months into the endeavor when I accepted that the goal of bringing neither blade nor shear to it for the duration was not to last. Despite the ample attention I doted upon my facial adornment with special oils, waxes, and combs, it remained as unruly as a catamaran of teenage kittens set adrift. So came the decree (from both myself and the missus) that to keep the beard would require trimming it to thrive fully and evenly.
With great consternation, I called my local chain business ensconced in the retro trend of facial hair and barber services and declared my concerns: that a long beard was not something any stylist encounters frequently, so the barber might be perplexed about how to tidy and titivate it, effectively. The representative attempted to assuage my fears, stating their artists have extensive training, experience, etc. While I could not be fully mollified, I knew the event must transpire. So, with enduring uneasiness, I booked an appointment for Thursday.
When I arrived, I was greeted by a short, smarmy, young man -- well-kempt, to be sure, in his pressed slacks, crisp white shirt, and tweed waistcoat -- oozing unwarranted self-importance. His hair, short and prematurely receding, tapered from the neck into a longer cut on top that was combed firmly to one side. He wore sideburns a full inch longer than they needed to be and a pencil-thin moustache. From one waistcoat pocket to the next, he strung a pocket watch. It was not a precious antique, family heirloom, or glamorous timepiece found in high-end shops purveying such gems, but rather, a faux fashion accessory surely acquired for no more than $12.95 from any Marshall's in America.
Despite his sartorial resplendence, he came across as a slithering imp, undeserving of such a successful presentation of haberdashery and Brylcreem. Stoking his flame of annoyance was his odd insistence on repeatedly referring to himself as the Easter Bunny. He was the sort of fellow that heterosexuals bereft of homosexual friends would respectfully, albeit incorrectly, consider to be gay. While I'd describe him as neat, well-groomed, and trendy, he presented himself in a way so sickeningly contemptible, I had a strong urge to about-face and try another shop. But despite my disdain, I did not so easily abandon the vital appointment.
While I awaited my turn in the barber's chair, the detestable young man persisted in forcing small talk and attempting to sell me on shaving oils, creams, razors, brushes, lotions, waxes, and more, despite my repeated emphasis that I had all the product and products I needed. My only respite was in his occasional visits to the back room to check the barber's readiness. I waited in anticipation and the continued reluctance of entrusting a yeard's growth to anyone who might not be intimately well-versed in works of the hirsute arts.
Pondering the barber I was about to meet, I hoped for a septuagenarian East Coast Hasidic fellow with 50+ years of experience and hands that shook enough to see that experience, but not so much as to make me nervous. Yet, I accepted I'd likely face defining my desired look to a handsome millennial hipster with an enviable beard, shoes, suspenders, and Brooks Brothers button-up.
Finally, all was ready, and I was invited back to meet the fine artist upon whom I'd pile my personal aesthetic trust for the day, the result of which would extend many months. With a swirling emotion of assuredness and trepidation I walked back to meet the fellow. As I turned the corner, I felt my color drain. Feeling suddenly flush and a bit dizzy, I stared at the shop-proclaimed "master barber." It was neither my desired aged Hebrew nor the expected trendsetter, but rather ... a woman. A fucking woman.
Understand that misogyny is not in my DNA. I align myself with much feminist thought and theory, I philosophically and financially support equality organizations, and I opine openly in support of same-pay-for-same-work efforts. I genuinely believe most jobs and activities can be performed just as well by either gender, albeit perhaps differently. But a woman can't grow a beard, so she cannot fully appreciate the experience, the agonies, the triumphs or be intimately experienced in how to care for such imperial whiskers.
To example with stereotypical roles, a woman is not necessarily better at raising a child, a man is not necessarily better at fixing a car. To make such blanket value statements about gender, comparing how men and women do something differently, is just as ridiculous as pondering how black men do it, or elderly women, or gay men, or paraplegic women, or men with Tourette's, or redheaded women. There's nothing to be said about any of these groups that suggests all individuals within them have anything in common otherwise. For an accurate comparison, one must compare a specific man with his own experiences and beliefs with a specific woman who brings her own bundle of them.
A male gynecologist may have 100% equal training and experience as that of a female OBGYN, but he has no way to have experienced any of the procedures, vulnerability, and humiliation that a woman experiences in her annual check-up. The female doctor would have a leg-up, to whatever degree, having been in the stirrups staring at ceiling tiles. Similarly, I prefer my sinus surgeon to have experienced the sci-fi probe inserted 4.37 inches up each nostril poking around inflamed frontal sinus cavities and eye sockets before such Phillip K. Dickian procedures are forced on me. It's not about gender, it's about the performer having a clear idea of the experience.
Therefore, to entrust my beard, my grown appendage, to a man who has never had a beard would be disconcerting, at best. To entrust it to a young woman who is unable to grow a beard? Inconceivable! Granted, a certain amount of training could partially prepare her to tidy, shape, and trim such an artwork gone disheveled, but could she appreciate it, understand it, respect it? Like the woman tentatively entering her male gynecologist's exam room, I was unsure, panicked, exposed. I was not favoring foreign fingers fondling my follicles and forever changing my appearance, since -- were things to go horribly awry -- trying to regrow a beard to a previous state is like trying to step in the same river twice.
I stood, slightly agape, in mute stupor, staring as this portly young woman in her emerald green button-up shirt a full neck size too tight, grey-on-black necktie, and men's pinstripe slacks and vest. What the hell was I to make of this? What course of action should I, could I, pursue? To exit now would be effortless, leaving behind nothing save a slightly confused, offended woman and her unjustifiably vainglorious self-proclaimed distributor of colored eggs.
She beckoned for me to take a seat in the chair. Had she already asked, maybe more than once? Lost in my mental concern excursion, I could not know. Motivated largely by the desire to end an awkwardness whose duration could have been anywhere between seven seconds and seven minutes, I proceeded slowly like a death-row inmate to the vinyl-covered mechanical chair. That, unlike such an inmate, my procedure was elective, explained why she didn't strap my wrists to the chair arms.
She inquired what I wanted for the day. Feeling the proverbial sitting duck, I tried to explain -- through a parched throat and in as much detail as possible -- my haircut and beard trim design objective. I removed my glasses, rendering me completely blind, and she went to it, while I lay there accepting my fate like a fish atop a classic, pristine, stainless steel cleaning table.
Over the next 90 minutes, she combed, clipped, trimmed, lathered, shaved, shaped, moisturized, hydrated, soothed, relaxed, and indulged me with hot towels, cold towels, oils, creams, pre-shave, after-shave, masks, toners, spritzes, sprays, and balms. When all was complete, she propped me up, and I donned my glasses to see the final outcome.
I looked good. I looked damned good. The haircut chiseled to perfection. The beard full, rich, kempt, glistening, obedient, and with virtually no lost length. This master barber had done a genuinely excellent job, to be sure. I thanked her with adequate praise and left the chair. After I settled my bill with the young fellow and a grand gratuity, she came out to the front room to offer a parting handshake. As I shook her well-moisturized hand, I saw her in new light. Seven long blonde hairs emerged unabashedly from under her chin. I promptly booked my next appointment.