Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Husband Shaved off his Mustache! (or, "I Kissed a Stranger")

Throughout the thirty years I've known my husband, he's had a mustache. It was his trademark, in fact, crawling across his face as he hosted a long-running television show, and gave thousands of speeches to huge groups across the country. He was one of those people known for his 'stache, almost his defining characteristic, because he clung to it, or it to him, way past the time even the least fashionable media icons decorated with lip fuzz.

Mustachio'd on the Jewish holiday of Purim
We moved on, and he didn't, until yesterday. He called me downstairs to the bathroom and looked me in the face, grinning. Who is this person?

I should've seen it coming. I'd sweetly suggested the clean sweep to eliminate his chore of plucking out invading gray hairs. A few weeks earlier, our fashion-conscious daughter pointed out that his facial adornment had become...slightly crooked. Our son confirmed it was definitely lopsided. No, my man protested, the color of the balancing side had just turned less visible.

The fact my husband's mustache was turning gray was a big factor in his decision. Though he's staked his career on transmitting values and messages, the truth is that in our visual culture, appearance is the first factor on which people are judged. For a long time, he felt quirky or idiosyncratic by having an out-of-style facial signature. And au courant or no, he rationalized, it fit well above his thinnish lips.

He's not one for change, and that hairy strip was a reassuring constant in a dizzy world. Years ago, he reluctantly exchanged his thick eye glasses for contact lenses, at the insistence of his TV producer, who said their reflection interfered with his presentation. But his mustache? That was him.

More than once, for the Jewish holiday of Purim, when celebrants wear costumes, groups had impersonated my husband, mainly by each adding great facial swaths.  The holiday is coming again this weekend, and anyone seeking to emulate him will have to rely on a toothbrush, an accessory for cleaning he often keeps neatly in his cheek.

Or maybe his clothes, known to be less than trendy. His concession to acceptability was buying a couple shirts and jeans at Costco; our daughter's expedition to Nordstrom Rack had yielded some wardrobe candidates, but he wouldn't even try them on. After all, with a closet-ful of ancient outfits (faded and threadbare makes them more comfortable), he didn't "need" any more. This is the man who went for a meeting with the President of the United States in the White House, wearing a pair of black jeans, albeit with a shirt, tie and (well-aged) sport coat. A colleague had to take him aside afterward and gently explain the proper attire for the Oval Office.

The man with a naked lip

However, there's no one more up-to-date on ideas. Ask the man anything about current events, politics, film, or, for that matter, history of anyplace or anyone, and his encyclopedic mind kicks in instantly. How could he stubbornly defend a ridicule-inspiring symbol that is so, well, in-your-face?

At last he caved. And when he called me downstairs to proudly show it off, I was stunned. Between his nose and admittedly thinnish lips was...a football-field of skin. After a few moments of awe, I kissed a stranger. A very different experience, unimpeded by stray coarse hairs and a stiff fringe. With my eyes closed, it was still him. With them open, well, it sounded like him.

I'm still not used to seeing my husband's new countenance. He tends to look in the mirror and smile, frequently, assessing the image. I do think the absence of a gray slug parked over his mouth makes him look younger. Change of this type is a good thing--reminding us that physical appearance is ever-morphing, even if we don't take a scissors and Norelco to the fronts of our faces. My mom used to tell me that "beauty is only skin deep," and in this case, growing from it.

I hope my husband retains his new, sleek look. There's no need to advertise one's maturity with a mustache both wildly-unfashionable and graying. And he's got such important and worthwhile content coming out of his mouth that it hardly matters what facial decor surrounds it.