Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Year of the Goat - 2012

I don’t grow it very often. When I do, it makes some folks nervous. In every instance, it becomes irritating.

But still, I think I look good when I grow out my facial hair.

I’m not talking full-on Grizzly Adams beard here. Something moderate, manageable and above all, meaningful.

All good modes of expression carry weight; so if you’re going to accessorize your face it damn well better mean something.

Facial hair at its roots carries significance in the world of Man, harkening back to ancient times when a boy was not grown until his whiskers grew in. Philosophers stroked their beards while pondering Earth’s mysteries; Salty sea breeze flecked those of pirates set sail to plunder. Every mountain man, wild west cowboy and National Hockey League playoff team for the past hundred years has rocked a shaggy beard, a 'stache or a goatee.

Somewhere along the way, facial hair became a symbol of adventure. From the crusading knight to the unkempt explorer, each was too ingrained in discovery to bother with manscaping. Darwin's beard was an evolution in itself. Indiana Jones wore the stubble well. Because when faced with a challenge, the manly man needs something upon his chin to scratch introspectively.

Perhaps it is a nod to the great bearded adventurers of yore, or perhaps I'm just lazy and have sensitive skin, but either way, when traveling, I've grown accustomed to growing it out.

The sense of adventure just calls for it. My wife's insistence to the contrary be damned, when I'm away there is nobody around to impress. I say embrace the inner explorer by looking like one on the outside.

Growing a goatee has grown into a tradition of sorts. It only occurs when I travel (and during the Boston Bruins playoff run to a Stanley Cup Championship - that was founded in pure superstition and luck and I fully believe that by not shaving for a couple months I contributed in some small part to their victory. Go ahead, prove me otherwise).

The practice began in Switzerland, partially because it shielded my face from the brisk Alpine air and partially because I ran out of shaving cream. Ever since, from the Tower of London to the top of Yosemite Falls, my vacation photos are peppered with me sporting the Goat.

True, the process requires a few days of itching at stubble and hearing the requisite, "oh you're doing that again?"

But shaving time is cut in half. My face is partially prevented from chapping during mountain hikes. If I'm ever picked out of a lineup with the threat of being locked up abroad, I can claim I'm not Mike Hartigan, just his evil twin.

And dammit, I think I the look suits me. But only when traveling (or if the Bruins make the playoffs again). Because then it means something. It has purpose; it represents the clichéd freedom that sprouts from adventure; it suggests autonomy from the person not traveling.

There is Me and there is Travel Me. Me works clean-shaven to make money so Travel Me can exist. And when Travel Me stumbles upon hidden tea shops or discusses the meaning of life with two fishermen in Key West, he scratches his goatee introspectively in thanks to Me. When I travel, there's just a little something extra.

In the end it's just facial hair, itchy and irritating. It comes and goes with the swipe of a blade. And yet, thousands of years of grizzly faces holds some significance.

I plan to grow my goatee more often this year. Which only means I have to travel more.

And that is an exciting proposition for 2012, the Year of the Goat. I can feel the follicles tingling already.

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