02 June, 2017

Letters from Trumplandia 11: The story of a beard (or, as socialized as I get)

I was a dog on a short chain /and now there’s no chain. - from "Barking" by Jim Harrison

The two most extreme changes in personal grooming I've ever made were precipitated by the need for a job.

20 years ago, I had long hair. I had really long hair. I was determined that I would always have long hair. At one point, in spite of the protests of an exceedingly attractive woman working in a temp agency office in Lexington, Kentucky, I refused to cut my hair to take a job in that office.

A few years later, living in New Orleans, I'd managed to find a job -- again through a temp agency -- as a dental office receptionist. Everyone there liked me and wanted to hire me on full time, but the big boss man wanted me to (at least) cut my hair.

Now, back in Lexington, it was a little easier to find work. Lexington, at the time, was ripe with monkey work* and it never took me long to find work after losing a job. In New Orleans at the turn of the Century, however -- prior to 9/11 and a few years before Hurricane Katrina -- it was much more difficult to find work. New Orleans is a glorious city to be in if you're poor... not because of the availability of work, but because it's easy to live cheap if you're a little savvy and pay attention. But I was down there to be close to my daughter**, who was five and entering her third Kindergarten in one year because her mother couldn't figure out where to go. I needed the job, and didn't have much of a margin to live if I lost the job. I also thought that maybe being a regular employee, while it paid a dollar less than I was making as a temp (true story) would provide long term stability and maybe allow me to save money and move out of the cock roach infested rooming house I was living in at the time.***

So it was, on one Sunday morning, I went down to Mr. Jack's Barber Shop and told old guy, who could only have been Jack, to cut my hair off. And he did.

And so it was, when I started working catering here in Louisville last October, I was told that I needed to trim my beard. So I did. But that wasn't enough. It came down from on high that I needed to trim it OFF, since the rich folks we typically served food to didn't like it. And there was some other nonsense about food and health standards, but mostly, I think, it was all about getting the monkey man to shave.

And so I did. Mostly. I've worn a goatee in the past, so it was nothing new. But it did not happen without some consternation. I liked my beard. I liked my beard in spite of the fact that there was a whole fashion scene that made having a beard damn near impossible. Ironic mustaches be damned. I just liked having facial hair.

An apple a day keeps the fascists away.
But I shaved because I needed the job. And even though I no longer have that job, I've refrained from growing it back. I find it helps with some of the freelance work I'm doing. But also, I realized after I shaved... just like I figured out after I cut off my hair... that having a beard or not did not actually change who I was. I'm still the same contrary baboon I was before.

But now, sometimes people don't see me coming. This, I think, could have some advantages.

*monkey job, n. Any hourly paying job that does not require specialized training... or one that the boss could simply get done by replacing a disgruntled human with a monkey at a cheaper rate (depending on the market price of bananas). - from The Parsons Dictionary of Oft Used Words and Phrases, Desk Edition
** I was not the custodial parent.  I could have, legally, prevented my ex from leaving the state with The Kid, and I got no end of grief because I didn't. But I was, in a rare turn, trying to be nice. I got smarter later.
*** Never happened. I ended up moving back to Kentucky before I could move to better accommodations. 

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