Peer pressure is a horrible thing. I got pressured into joining the facial hair challenge at work. I drew the Hulk Hogan.
I wasn’t too happy about joining, but everyone seemed to think that I was one of the instigators of the whole mess. No, I just like to support my friends in their shenanigans. I am a fan of the absurd, but I try to control my own image so that I choose when I am being silly or not. With a rat on my chin I was living in constant fear that some PETA protester would throw red paint on my face.
“FUR IS MURDER!”
In the weeks leading up to the big shave various entrants (male) and onlookers (female) filed through the web office.
“Are ya gonna wear a bandanna on your head?” they would ask.
“Maybe, I suppose so,” I would answer. I really didn’t want to dress up like Hulk Hogan. I had been hoping to draw a less horrific facial hair style, like being clean shaven. I even picked up a beard trimming set, but couldn’t quite get myself on board.
“Are ya gonna bleach it? You should bleach it and get a wig!” they would suggest. I tried to play along, but my relationship with Hulk Hogan is tenuous. I can pick him out of a crowd, but I don’t think that I’ve ever watched more than thirty consecutive seconds of his persona — even when he was on that fantastic boat tv show with a boat. No, it was terrible, and the mere whiff of its execrable commercials was enough to stain my television brown. I locked out whole ranges of channels to avoid seeing that horror.
But, team building is team building, and Zach was so excited to essentially prank the whole office, so I conceded that it could be fun and steeled my resolve. No matter how many times I chewed my mustache or scratched my face I did not shave. I joked about it and tried to spin the experience into a series of amusing anecdotes, but it kept veering towards the sort of complaining that one does about a shrewish wife. You married her, you made your bed, and now you have to lie in it, even though your beloved doused it in kerosene.
“GET IT OFF OF MY FACE!” I would scream mid-nightmare. Sarah would sit up, shocked and confused.
“Are you okay?” she would ask. “Why are you on the floor?”
It’s like alien hand syndrome: the beard just does what it wants. If it wants you to wake up on the floor, drenched in sweat, that’s what it gets. Some mornings I would wake up in tears.
“It hurts! It hurts! O! The beard it is killing me!”
Eventually, Sarah started sleeping out on the couch by the fish. One night she awoke to find me standing over her with a chef’s knife laced into my mustache. She didn’t wake me, preferring to draw the knife and sleepwalk me back to bed. I believe that she watched me until morning as I snored. My beard pretended to have done nothing.
The clippers droned in my hand. The red plastic was slick. The mirror swam. My beard was fighting the cut — straining against each jab. Thursday evening had arrived, and it was time for the Hogan to emerge. I cut away everything that did not look like Michaelangelo’s David, then cut further, stripping away my own dignity. Blood oozed from a nick under my chin as evil coalesced on my face.
“I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds,” I moaned. Sarah froze, unable to operate the camera shutter.
“Oh my God,” she whimpered. “You aren’t showing up in the images!”
I checked a mirror, where I confirmed that I was fading. The strip of hair crawling from chin to nose to chin was solid, but I was ghostlike behind it. It floated. It was a grimace painted mid-air.
“Please… no…” I cried.
The next morning I awoke as usual.
“Good morning, Sarah,” I said, springing from bed.
“Ugh,” she grumbled into the bed. “Five more minutes?”
“Yes, my dear, take your time,” I responded. I strode to the living room and flexed graciously for the benefit of my fish. They cowered uncharacteristically in a corner of the tank, rejecting the food that I had sprinkled for them.
“You’ll be hungry. You will,” I said coldly, my eyes narrowing to slits. The live plants floating near the surface of the water seemed to brown before my eyes.
At work the mood was jovial. My boss’s boss’s boss came in wearing a curly fake mustache. She laughed at Kamran’s stovepipe hat and kidded Zach about his impressive but incomplete interpretation of Friedrich Engels’ mustache and beard. I turned to greet her and show off my Hulk Hogan mustache, but she simply blanched and went silent. The mustache fell from her face like a bird struck dead mid-flight. I shot an eyebrow upwards in confusion and she rocked backwards a step, nearly tripping over her own feet.
“That’s… great…” she stammered as she turned and nearly ran. Her footsteps thudded heavily. I blinked, and the world seemed wrapped in cotton. Faint lights twinkled at the corners of my vision and a whispered voice slipped into my hearing:
“You’ve got to shave it! Fight it! Do not let it take you, Jesse!”
The official name for Zach’s style was the “Huge Commie,” but he was drawing inspiration from Friedrich Engels.
Trent had shaved down a successful beard growth into an exacting “Dread Pirate Roberts,” complete with mask. Interestingly, Trent was not impersonating Westley or Inigo’s Dread Pirate Roberts, but a later, more indie Dread Pirate Roberts.
I ignored the calls to dress up as Hulk Hogan, preferring to let my inner ex-convict shine through.
Ed rocked the Balbo.
Jason traded twice to get the Burt Reynolds. I don’t think that he came out ahead.
Kamran’s pensive Abe Lincoln should have won, but we had no judging or prizes. There were no winners in the challenge, only losers.
Erich is too friendly and happy to make a scary Klingon.
Chris and I went into a bank to make a deposit, but we were asked to leave by a SWAT team.
Erik traded with Jason and Erich to get the soul patch because he was incapable of growing anything else. Even this is a little shady, but at least he tried. Out of sixteen interested parties, only nine toughed it out.
I went home, then to Sarah’s for her birthday party. I begged to shave, but she refused.
“Did my mustache… touch you?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Your mustache came nowhere near me, I swear.” She had a glassy look in her eyes.
At her party, Chandler was also bemoustached.
“What happened?” I yelped.
“Nothing…” she said, her eyes drifting away. “I’m fine.”
I heard the whisper again. It was a warning. The razor was in my hands again. First Chandler lost her growth, then I forced it towards my own face. The clippers twisted in my hands and fought. The corners of my mouth were cleared of brush.
“The beard was trying to protect you!” I heard the voice and instantly understood. Only the beard could balance the dark force of the mustache. I fought again, wishing that I had the beard’s help to beat the ’stache.
“GOT! TO! SHAVE!” I screamed. The clippers were a hive of bees swarming over my face. Hair rained blackly into Sarah’s sink.
Later, Sarah drew a slim finger along my smooth chin.
“I’ve got my boyfriend back,” she cooed. I grinned at her.
I could already feel new whiskers sprouting.