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Getting My Goatee

By Barry Dougherty

            I am usually quite adept at spotting new trends, fads, and overnight sensations, but I must have been hanging out with Rip Van Winkle when the latest phenomenon rolled into town: the goatee. It seems that overnight some men started sporting the ersatz ‘60s look (albeit with shorter hair to bring it into the 90s) and poof! –a new fashion trend was born.
            Now, I’m not just talking “those crazy kids,” I mean everyone from Wall Street mavens to bankers to public relations gurus. Even my forays to Long Island through Penn Station slammed me head-on into suited-up, jeaned-down, and tie-dyed representatives of the latest hair-raising craze. What gives? I didn’t see Seinfeld sporting one. Chandler from “Friends” doesn’t have one. David Letterman remains clean-shaven (although I do owe my new cigar habit to Dave). Admittedly, if I watched more MTV this might be moot. My reference for following the mainstream is non-existent–the simple fact is that a new follicle style has been introduced and I wasn’t there for the introductions.
            Since I have no frame of reference except for those already in place on the faces I spot on buses, at Barnes & Noble, and at the Wantagh train station, I don’t even know enough goatee protocol to attempt growing one myself. Do I start with a full beard and shave it down? Or do I shave around my chin and upper lip every day in the hopes that I can stop the razor at the same point every time? A miss could result in one of those Ethan Hawke “well-I-kind-of-have-a-goatee” looks.
            And just what constitutes goatee-correctness? The stubble effect that Generation Xers seem proficient at donning? Or a bushier look akin to Sigmund Freud? How much space do I leave under my bottom lip before the goatee begins? Is it okay to just have hair on the chin and forego the mustache? Should bald people refrain from growing one because they might look like Bruce Willis? It’s obviously not as easy as you may have thought (were you to give it an ounce of thought at all.)
            My obsession reached its pinnacle recently when I conducted a spontaneous survey in the men’s department at Macy’s. I happened to be shopping for socks when it hit me that I was the only male over puberty not sporting a goatee. I stared at sales clerks in jackets and ties; stock boys in overalls; college students without socks; elderly men searching for black hose to wear with sandals; corporate types walking around with ties to match up with the latest in argyles. I was awash in a sea of goatees. I was stunned. I accosted all of them with my questions, “How long did it take you to grow?” “Did you get it right the first time?” “How long before you shave it off?”
            Thousands of questions posed to elicit the minutest details of this fad ricocheted off my brain cells. Even the security guard who was summoned to escort me out of the store had to endure my interrogation. “Does the goatee hinder your job in any way? “Does your razor blade last longer now that you don’t shave your entire face?” I considered bringing it up to my therapist to help me deal with this ludicrous preoccupation, but I gave up on the idea when I realized he would want to know my personal feelings about his goatee.
            Even a trip down memory lane put my anxiety into overload. I was looking at some old family photos and spotted my great-grandfather decked out in spats, derby, wide collar and goatee. Is it a gene that I have and am not utilizing to its fullest potential? Or has it just skipped a generation like that twins gene, which would explain my college-bound nephew’s decision to leap into the goatee fray. He lost patience with my queries when I asked if it hindered his balance while roller blading.
            Now, I realize there are so many other pressing issues in life other than my worrying about catching up with the whiskers of the week, but if today’s man is to be bombarded with a passing goatee every time he sets foot outside, steps at least need to be taken to insure a certain facial comfort level. I don’t want anyone to think I’m scoffing the latest fad just because I wasn’t in town when the goatee instruction manual was handed out. After all, I was there for the buzz cut!