A Great Excuse To Grow A Beard

Yesterday I had a video conference call and was startled to see a male participant who was clean-shaven.  In these Shutdown Days of 2020, he is in the decided minority.  In fact, between the guys sporting elaborately coiffed beards even before we first heard of the coronavirus, and the guys who’ve decided to just let their face go to hell during this work-at-home period, I’d wager that the chins of American men are more bewhiskered than they’ve been at any time since the Civil War.

wdlsrx43ordy5k5aie2uyoutb4It’s not surprising that so many men have decided that the COVID-19 pandemic is a pretty good excuse to try their hand at growing a beard.  For one thing, growing a beard is a lot easier and less painful than scraping your face free of stubble every morning.   Why do it unless you really have to?  And if you’ve never actually grown a beard before, the prospect of how you would look with a fully grown out chin can be tantalizing.  You’re naturally curious:  will you look adult and distinguished, like one of the Smith Brothers featured on the cough drop box, or like the poor guy sleeping on the bench down at the park?  And will your beard come in lush and full, or will it look like the patchy, pathetic, ill-tended lawn that makes the neighbors want to call the homeowners association?

And the great thing about growing a beard is that it’s the path of least resistance.  For years, you’ve been fighting a desperate rear-guard action against the hairs that insist on sprouting up from your face overnight, and now you can just give up and let them have their way.  And since most of the coronavirus beard gents have no idea about actually tending a beard, their efforts look as shaggy and snaggle-toothed as an overgrown field.  You wonder how their wives put up with it, and then realize that many of the wives have probably decided to stop wearing makeup during the shutdown period and aren’t likely to raise a fuss — for now, at least — if their husbands have decided to go au naturel, too.

Speaking as somebody who’s had a beard for most of his adult life, I think the acid test will come when the shelter-at-home period ends, and the coronavirus beard barons have to decide whether they’re going to expose their hirsute efforts to the world at large, rather than just their families.  At that point, they’ll be making a declaration:  am I a bearded guy, or not?  I’m guessing that we’ll see a lot of coronavirus cropping at that point, as the pandemic whiskers hit the cutting room floor and male chins are once again exposed to the world.

When You Need To Shave With An Axe . . .

I get all kinds of weird email offers and see strange products on pop-up ads, but I think I’ve just seen something that tops them all.  It’s the “Viking Celtic Nordic style straight razor warrior axe.”

magic-ethnics-warrior-axe-straight-razor-4As the name suggests, the product is a straight razor in the form of a miniature axe, one that some designer apparently thinks looks like the kind of lethal but cool axe that the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys might have used in days gone by.  And it’s not only got the faux ancient axe design — it also comes in a box shaped like a block of wood, with a little carve-out area for the axe.  You know, like the kind of wooden box the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys used to carry their shaving supplies when they went on one of their raids.

It’s as if the simple act of shaving isn’t “manly” enough, so now we’ve got to up the ante by using a fake axe instead of a plain straight razor — or a safety razor with multiple blades, which is what I use.  Presumably after lopping off their facial hairs, the axe shavers are all charged up to go out and loot and pillage and ransack, just like the “Viking Celtic Nordic” studs used to do back when men were axe-shaving men.

It all seems kind of silly and desperate, doesn’t it?  Are there really guys out there who feel the need to buy this kind of stuff?  You can get it on Amazon for only $125.

Women’s Hair, Men’s Hair

I get my hair cut at one of those unisex hair styling salons by the Platinum Stylist.  Kish gets her hair done there by the PS, too.  It’s a nice place with friendly staffers, conveniently located about halfway between the office and our house, and the Platinum Stylist always does a terrific job.

Because I go to a unisex salon, where about two-thirds of the clientele on any given visit are female, my appointments give me a brief exposure to the trends in women’s hair through the big posters that are always advertising women’s hair care products and styles — like this one that was hanging in the front window yesterday.  The posters always feature sultry, heavy-lidded women with vaguely haunted looks whose hair is carefully arranged to look . . . well, unarranged.  It’s as if some women want to go to the stylist and come out looking like they haven’t been there at all.  For most men, though, the goal is the exact opposite.  We want to get a clearly noticeable haircut, whatever style or amount of barbering we might choose, so that the whole process facially justifies the cost.

The words used in the women’s hair care posters inevitably are different than what would be used in male-oriented ads, too.  Sure, “effortless” would appeal to both men and women, but I’m guessing men would define it differently.  For women, an “effortless” coiff might require ten minutes of curling, claying, molding, brushing, shaping and spraying.  For men, an “effortless” style means something that can be toweled off after a shower and put into place with no more than ten seconds of diffident combing.

I’m not sure most men would be attracted by the promise that a certain product would leave their hair looking “touchable” or “tousled,” either.  I’m not particularly keen about anybody touching my hair; in fact, I don’t particularly want to touch it myself.  It’s hair, after all.  My basic hair goal is the opposite of the “tousled,” just rolled out of bed look.  Instead, I want to at least appear to have tried to do something to attack the stupid cowlick that always pops up on the crown of my head.  And whereas women’s hair ads always seem to be talking about “texture,” that seems like a lost cause to me.  When the word that best describes the “texture” of your hair would probably be “grizzled,” no “texture tonic” is going to help.

Into The Clothing Danger Zone

Yesterday I got one of the endless number of emails trying to sell me something that bombard my inbox.  This one was trying to sell me “Barbie PJs.”  The picture showed what looked to me like standard PJs that were pink with a silhouette of a Barbie head on the top.  “Hmmm,” I thought idly, “I wonder if Kish would like those, or hate them.”  And then I hit the delete button.

newthumb_3__3I wish I could effectively communicate to that company, and others that try to sell me women’s clothing, how absolutely unlikely I am to buy anything they’re offering.  I haven’t bought Kish any kind of garment — or footwear, hats, you name it — for more than three decades, because I long ago learned that I have no sense of fashion and really don’t know what she likes and what she doesn’t like on the apparel front.  In short, if an item can be donned or doffed, I’m far out of my depth.

This profound condition of clothing cluelessness became clear when I tried to buy Kish some clothes one long-ago Christmas, and each purchase — boots, a blouse, a winter cap — was a miserable failure that she looked at quizzically.  “How did you happen to buy purple boots?” she asked after opening one of the presents.  “I thought purple was your favorite color,” I stammered in response.  “No, it’s green,” she said.

Fortunately, I had retained all of the receipts for the ill-advised gifts, so she was able to return them and get some things she really liked and wanted — and we moved forward with the implicit understanding that I would never again try to buy clothes for her.  In fact, I’ve always suspected that the “returns” department at stores was created by a department store proprietor who, after totally flubbing some gift for his wife or girlfriend, realized that there was a desperate need for a special area where puzzled women could discreetly return the reckless clothing purchases of misguided males.

So don’t try to sell me “Barbie PJs,” or poofy fashion scarves, or knee-high boots.  Those kinds of purchases fall entirely into the “Kish self-purchase category.”  I’ll happily buy her objects, or even perfume if I receive sufficiently explicit instruction that can be communicated to the helpful saleswoman at the perfume department at Nordstrom’s.  Attire, however, is in the danger zone.

Every Man A Groper (Or Worse)

Every day, it’s getting more embarrassing to be a guy.

Every day, it seems, some new revelation comes out about some guy doing something that is just flat out appalling and inexcusable — if not outright criminal.

623-03695485Every day, it seems, some prominent actor, director, or other entertainment figure, or some well-known liberal or conservative politician, or some high-powered business executive, is alleged or shown to have engaged in activities that could easily be characterized as gross sexual imposition, indecent behavior, sexual assault, or outright rape.  The steady drip, drip, drip of allegations makes you wonder whether there is any widely known male public figure who hasn’t grabbed what they shouldn’t have grabbed, or exposed what they shouldn’t have exposed, or tried to grope a young girl, or engaged in some forced sexual activity with someone who was unwilling.   And it’s to the point now where you wake up each day and ask:  Who’s next?  Who else is going to be shown to have done something that is totally, disgustingly inconsistent with their pure-as-the-driven-snow public reputation?

Once, in the past, there was a sense of chivalry and manners, a pride in self-control and behaving like a gentleman, and a Victorian attitude about treating all people with politeness and decency and respect.  I’d like to think that there are still men out there in positions of power who continue to adhere to those concepts.  But the news we’ve heard over the past several weeks, from the Harvey Weinstein disclosures to whoever is the subject of today’s revelations, really makes you wonder how many of those decent people are left.

Men need to start rethinking what it means to be a man, and how we can teach boys a code of conduct that allows them to be proud, upright members of society, rather than evil predators who ruin people’s lives with their depredations.  The problem here seems to run awfully deep.

Mysteries Of The Opposite Sex

  
Last night I passed this sign on my way to dinner, and it stopped me in my tracks.  What is “eyebrow threading,” I wondered, and how does it produce the promised “unique shape”?  Perhaps, I thought, it involves something like threading a needle.

Alas, the storefront of the business provided no ready answers.  It featured a video of an eye being subjected to a complicated eyebrow-related procedure involving what looked like a rubber band.  It also appeared to be a painful operation for the disembodied eye, frankly.  I hurried on, disturbed by the Daliesque quality of the video, which looked like an outtake from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Why would anyone go through a potentially painful procedure to achieve a unique eyebrow shape?  If the eyebrow had become unacceptably unruly, why not simply trim it?  Beats me, but then I’m a guy who can’t keep straight the difference between eyeliner and mascara.  The realities of eyebrow threading will just have to remain one of the many  curious mysteries of the fairer sex.

Chinny Chin Chins

There’s a popular new trend in the cosmetic surgery world of New York City, according to the New York PostMen are going to plastic surgeons in droves to get treated with a new drug that is supposed to get rid of those dreaded double chins.

Ah, the double chin.  That unsightly, flabby slackness of the upper neck that makes you look old and unfit and weak, all at the same time.  It’s an embarrassing feature for any successful man who wants to radiate virility and good health and ruggedness.

But, what to do if you have those worrisome wobbling wattles?  There aren’t exactly neck crunches or other exercises that precisely target that one, flaccid spot.  But now there’s Kybella, a new drug that is supposed to melt that under-chin flab.  Turkey-necked men can go to an approved Kybella practitioner, get multiple injections into their double-chin neck fat in a series of 2 or 4 or 6 treatments — at a price tag of $800 to $1800 a treatment, depending upon how much of the Kybella is needed — and watch the fat cells dissolve and the saggy necks tighten.  Some people might freak out at having a needle repeatedly jabbed into their throat region, but that doesn’t seem to be discouraging too many patients.  In fact, so many people are having the procedures that NYC plastic surgeons have had to increase their office hours.

These days, it seems like there is an injection or surgery or wonder drug for just about every less than perfect physical feature.  If only cancer could be dispatched as easily as fat cells in the neck!  Of course, the cost of Kybella might be more than some vain but loose-necked men can afford.  For those members of the double-chin brigade, there is always the alternative that I selected:  grow a beard and forget about it.

The Scarf-Tying Test

There are some obvious, time-honored ways by which to distinguish American women from American men.

One group thinks The Three Stooges are hilarious; the other thinks they are appalling.

One group likes “baby showers” so much they invented “couples showers,” and the other thinks “couples showers” is the worst, most dangerous invention since lawn darts.

One group has a set of “functional boots” and another set of “fashion boots,” and the other can’t even grasp the concept.

IMG_4814And one group can tie a scarf so that it looks poofy and kicky and fashionable, and the other is incapable of doing so.

I’ve learned this lesson this cold, miserable, unending winter, when wearing a scarf is a crucial tool in the Midwesterners’ arsenal of survival gear.  My scarf is a long, scarlet and gray piece that I got from the OSU Development Office.  I’ve tried winding it around my neck, bunching it up, and other scarf-tying efforts; now I just double up the scarf, loop it around my neck, and cinch it up to the chin.  It’s warm, solidly functional and keeps the wind off my neck, but it makes no fashion statement whatsoever.

As you walk around downtown Columbus on a cold winter morning — and today the weather app on my phone says it’s 1 degree outside — you see pinch-faced men walking hunched against the wind.  They all have a dull gray look to them.  The women, on the other hand, look colorful and bright in their gay scarves and snazzy boots.

So why don’t they like The Three Stooges?

Beard Behavior

There’s been a lot of chatter about beards lately.  A few days ago Buzzfeed ran a piece about the rise of “lumbersexuals,” men who like wearing flannel, communing with nature, and cultivating long flowing facial locks.  Many modern baseball players, too, look like they could easily pass for one of the Smith Brothers on the cough drops box.

And, as seems to be inevitable in our modern culture, some people are reacting strongly against the nascent “beard culture.”  There have been postings in the Twitterverse that equate beards with testosterone-drenched, toxic masculinity.  To these folks, the hairy chins of modern men uncomfortably appeal to traditional notions of strutting male behavior and the 16th-century hegemony of elaborately bearded, male-dominated European nations that trampled countless peaceful native civilizations.

Speaking as a guy who has had a beard for most of his adult life, I can only suggest that everybody chill out, already.  There isn’t any deep secret to beards, or burning desire on the part of men to channel our inner Yukon Cornelius.  In reality, the impulses that cause men to grow beards are, like men themselves, much less complicated.

Many men grow beards in college because it is the first time we plausibly could.  We wondered how we would look in a beard, and then if it came in without looking like a laughable embarrassment we realized that ratty beards have another advantage:  they allow you to avoid the hassle of shaving every day.  Anyone who knows a college-age male knows they typically aren’t attentive to the imperatives of personal hygiene, and avoiding another step in the morning ablution rituals is a powerful incentive to guys who would rather sleep in a little longer.

Men often leave beards behind when they leave their college years.  But, as middle age approaches, beards can once again become tantalizingly attractive for two reasons:  you’re going bald, or you notice that you’re developing an appallingly saggy neck, or both.  If you’re losing the hair on the top half of your head, why not try to compensate by growing hair on the bottom half of your head?  And if the area directly underneath your chin bears an unfortunate resemblance to the wattles on a Thanksgiving turkey, why not try to mask it with facial hair and hope nobody notices?

So don’t fret about those hirsute men, whether they’re wearing flannel or not.  They’re not trying to return to the glory days of northern European world dominance.  As like as not, they just want to avoid dragging a sharp razor across their faces or to compensate for the unfortunate physical impact of the vicissitudes of age on their self image.

On Labor Day, A Look At “Work”

Most of us will spend decades, and countless thousands of hours, at our jobs — but how often do we think about “work” and how it is changing?  On this Labor Day, it’s worth taking a moment to do so.

In the United States, the concept of “work” and the types of jobs that constitute “work” have changed dramatically over the past 150 years, reflecting changes in the country as a whole.  As this interactive chart of census data shows, farmers and farm laborers constituted more than 50 percent of the jobs held by men in 1850; by 2000, farmers and farm laborers amounted to less than 1 percent of the working male population.  Other jobs that were relatively common in 1850 — like blacksmith, which was 1.79% of the male job market in 1850 — have largely vanished, and new jobs like bartender and insurance agent have taken their places.

The shifts in the jobs have reflected, and in some instances caused, shifts in the culture of America.  Farmers in 1850 worked with family members on land they owned and their work days were self-directed; they lived in rural areas and had little daily interaction with people outside of their village.  Modern white-collar employees typically work in highly structured environments, doing what a complex hierarchy of managers tell them to do, in large cities and buildings where they may interact with hundreds of people each working day.  The demands of the jobs are different — farmers needed to know when to plant and when to harvest, while office workers need to know how to create a decent spreadsheet — and the stresses are different, too.  Who is to say whether preparing an important presentation for a corporate vice president is any more stressful than rising at 4 a.m. to deliver a calf whose successful birth might be crucial to eking out a profit for the year?

The census record of non-household work by women is even more interesting, because it not only shows the ebb and flow of jobs but also the impact of social change and technological change.  At one time household workers (cooks and maids), farm laborers, and dressmakers made up the preponderance of outside-the-home working women, then — as more women entered the workforce — secretaries, clerical workers, and cashiers came to the forefront.  And check out the “manager/owner” category for women, which has gone from less than 1 percent of women in 1970 to more than 3.3 percent in 2000.  Our female friends and family members who own their own businesses and call the shots are part of a significant trend.

The “secretary” job category is particularly worth noting.  The position first shows up in census data in 1900, where about .3% percent of women reported holding that job, and the job category grew to more than 5.3 percent of women by 1970, as white-collar jobs in America exploded.  That number then fell to about 2.9 percent by 2000, and it has likely fallen farther since then.  Why?  It’s not because secretarial work is any less important, but because more and more of that work is now being done by the white collar workers that secretaries used to assist.  As young people who are used to working on personal computers and doing their own keyboarding enter the workforce, there is less need for secretaries who can take shorthand and then type 100 words a minute, without error, on their typewriters for bosses who had, at best, “hunt and peck” proficiency.

How should people prepare for the constantly shifting job market?  We might not be able to predict what types of jobs will be available as social and technological changes occur, but we can predict the characteristics that will make employees successful — because those haven’t changed at all.  Whether you are a blacksmith or an IT specialist, hard work, timeliness, and attention to the quality of your output will always be keys to success.

Who’s The Happiest?

Recently I ran across a relatively old piece about a study in which psychologists tried to determine the happiest people and the unhappiest people.  The study concluded, with remarkable statistical precision, that the happiest people were 39-year-old married men with one child that made a certain income and had a wife who worked part-time, and the unhappiest people were 42-year-old single women who worked in professional jobs and made less than $100,000 per year.

I’m skeptical of studies that purport to broadly determine the emotional state of groups based on various characteristics.  I’m not sure how you could account for all of the factors that go into the happiness mix — wouldn’t individual health, the health of family members, and the conditions in your workplace aside from income, for example, have an awfully important bearing on an individual’s happiness?– and I also think the study overlooks the obvious:  people to their conditions differently based on their own unique temperaments.

IMG_1984I do think, however, that men could well be happier than women because men tend to be less sensitive and often find happiness in things that many women find silly.  Men remind me of the scene in Meet The Parents where Robert DeNiro, explaining why he likes cats more than dogs, said he prefers more emotionally complex animals. One of my male friends once said that he would be happy so long as he had a plate of spaghetti and tickets to a ball game.  It was a valid observation, and all of the other guys in the room  nodded and agreed.

I’d be willing to bet that, if you took a survey of men in cities with NFL or major college football teams near the end of the regular season, you’d find that men in cities with winning teams were happier than men in cities with losing teams.  Should true happiness be tied to the won-loss record of a group of athletes wearing gaudy uniforms?  Philosophers and psychologists would say of course not — but that’s the reality.

By the way, I’m hoping the Buckeyes will be good this year.  As for the Browns . . . .

Men’s Bathrooms, Ladies’ Bathrooms

Women may not realize this, but ladies’ rooms are almost mythical places to many men.

We’ve heard tales of the pink palatial rooms that are kept spotlessly clean and equipped with chaise lounges and other luxurious features. But we haven’t seen them, of course — they’re forbidden territory.

There’s nothing mythical about men’s rooms, however. This photo of the facilities at one of the joints along Frenchmen Street gives you an idea of what to expect.

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The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.

In Defense Of “Movember”

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Movember.”  It’s a charitable effort designed to encourage discussion of men’s health issues, including prostrate and testicular cancer and mental health.

During the month of November, participants begin with clean-shaven faces, then grow and groom their moustaches as the weeks pass.  Their faces become a visible invitation to discuss the Movember concept, they solicit contributions to support men’s health charities, and they endure inevitable ribbing about the quality and bushiness of their facial hair efforts.  In 2012 Movember raised $21.0 million, more than 80 percent of which went to men’s health charities. Movember is not a huge charitable effort — by comparison, the Komen Race for the Cure raises hundreds of millions for breast cancer research and prevention activities — but any attempt to increase awareness of men’s health issues has got to be a good thing, right?

Not so fast!  A recent article in the New Statesman criticizes Movember as “divisive and gender normative,” “racist,” and more about promoting facial hair fetishes than affecting men’s health.  It is “divisive and gender normative,” the article argues, because only men can grow facial hair, because some men (such as those who are trans-gendered) struggle to grow facial hair, because the growth of body hair in women is socially repressed, and because it equates facial hair with being a “real man.”  Movember is purportedly “racist” because it “reinforces the ‘othering’ of ‘foreigners’ by the generally clean-shaven, white majority,” harkens back to the carefully tended moustaches of British imperialists, and supports the conclusion that “there are different rules for white faces.”  Finally, the article contends that Movember isn’t really about men’s health, but rather about making silly comments and having silly parties, because most people who participate don’t report increased awareness of health issues.

The New Statesman article could easily be a parody of the now-prevailing view in some quarters that any male-oriented activity is, by default, racist and sexist and every other “ist” in the book.  What kind of fevered imagination would conclude that efforts by guys to grow moustaches in 2013 to promote men’s health is, in reality, a thinly veiled manifestation of British imperial tendencies, or a slap in the face to men who wear facial hair for religious or cultural reasons?  We’re at the point in our politically correct world where NFL games are awash in pink to show sensitivity to breast cancer issues.  Can’t a guy grow a moustache for a good cause without being vilified as a latent bigot, chauvinist, and xenophobe?

Testosterone Time

On Sunday, as Russell and I watched the Browns first soar then sickeningly crash and burn, I was reminded again of how many men can be, well, assholes.

Detroit is only a few hours away from Cleveland, and there were a lot of Detroit fans at the game.  Many of them came by bus, decked out in their jerseys and headpieces and other Lions finery.  In the municipal lot, where the buses park, there was some good-natured ribbing between the fans, and Browns and Detroit supporters posed for friendly pictures.

IMG_5088But then, a few beers later, the game started, and for some fans the good-natured veneer boiled away.  Some Detroit fans were seated in the row behind us, and the men among them started to get into it with the Browns fans below.  When the Lions grabbed an early lead, the Detroit fans started taunting about the game and the Indians, then when Cleveland grabbed the lead Browns fans responded with insults and celebratory dances calculated to provoke — which they did.  By the time more beers had gone down and the game started to go south for the Browns in the second half, one-finger salutes were exchanged, fists were shaken, and the escalating situation seemed one swing away from a melee.

I looked at the men involved.  Each of them was with his wife, and the women were cringing with embarrassment at their middle-aged husbands acting like stupid adolescents.  No doubt they also worried that they might be trapped in a brawl and then have to worry about their spouse being arrested or injured.  I felt sorry for the women — and also felt sorry for the rest of us who had to witness the absurd, testosterone-laden tableau.  Fortunately for everyone in the vicinity, the situation was defused when the principal Browns fans involved meekly stumbled down the stadium stairs after a bonehead play by Brandon Weeden put the game out of reach.

I was glad no fighting occurred, but I found myself wondering:  do those guys, Lions and Browns fans alike, have any perception of how imbecilic they look?  When they wake up the next morning with a hangover, do they burn with shame at their behavior and apologize to their long-suffering wives?  Or is self-awareness and contrition simply inconsistent with acting like a complete jerk?