Facial hair, and body hair, for that matter, mean different things to different genders.
Men want it – on their faces and especially atop their heads.
A lot of men will tell you they like body hair as well, but usually those are men with body hair. “He’s my big wooly bear,” their wives say. Good for them.
Those of us without it are quite happy, thank you, though a little curly black chest hair to go with the gold chains is never a bad thing.
It’s one of the oddities of life that although men are hairier than women, men lose their head hair at a much more frequent rate. You rarely see a bald woman — that’s not to say they don’t exist. They are like Big Foot, occasionally running through the forest or a shoe store.
A whole industry has evolved to keep men from losing their hair. There are creams and gels, weaves and rugs, glue and linoleum. Men who wear toupees are convinced no one knows it, but they are always wrong.
Some folks think facial hair on men is a virility symbol. Women will tell you it’s sexy. Men will tell you it’s sexy — but only men who have it. I personally don’t find it attractive but hey, that’s just me. To me, facial hair is a thing where barbecue sauce accumulates and little more.
Still, as puberty sets in, a young man’s thoughts turn to one thing and one thing only — hair. Specifically: When am I getting mine and how much will I get?
By the time we are 13, we have already suffered the ignominy of watching some of the other guys shave regularly. When I was in fifth grade, Tommy Raffinello had a five o’clock shadow by 10 AM — although he was 17 at the time.
The same was true in the locker room, if you get my drift . . . in the Brillo triangle, for lack of a better description, where there was either pubic hair, or not. You couldn’t help but take a peek.
Me? I had what was charitably known as peach fuzz on my face. What was really depressing is Annette Buonicotti and several of the other girls had black whiskers hanging prominently above their lips and on their chins.
On occasion I would slip into the bathroom and gingerly apply my mom’s eyebrow pencil to my fuzz until it was visible to the naked eye.
Once, my father walked in the bathroom (no, there was no lock) and caught me coloring my fuzz. Thinking I was putting on make-up he asked, “What are you doing wearing make-up? Are you gay?”
“I’m coloring in my beard,” I replied.
“Men who have beards have something to hide,” he asserted.
“I know,” I said. “I’m gay!”
He just left, befuddled. (The next time he walked in on me in the bathroom I was with my constant companion, an old Playboy I had stolen from my Uncle Tom’s apartment, and he breathed a sigh of relief and shut the door behind him, never to bring the matter up again.)
I finally got the nerve to go to school with my augmented mustache, which I convinced myself looked real. I was ridiculed.
Finally, Sister James Marion asked me politely to wash my face — by politely, I mean she dragged me into the boys’ room by the hair at the nape of my neck and informed me if my face wasn’t clean when I came back to class, she would put my head in the toilet bowl. That did the trick.
In our Sag Harbor house, there were sometimes as many as 10 people, and only one bathroom. In fact, there was no bathroom until the mid-1930s. The outhouse, 200 years old, was located at the back of the garden, as far way as it could possibly be. My mom was in charge of emptying bedpans and would have to walk out there in the dead of winter, sometimes through eight feet of snow (or at least she says). Finally, Papa reluctantly carved a bathroom out of a small pantry off the kitchen. My Uncle Tom caught me “shaving” and ridiculed me until I pointed out at least the hair on my head that I combed was real.
The outhouse? It’s still there. It went from a bathroom to a tool shed to an artist’s studio. The owner told me he petitioned Sag Harbor Village to allow him to put a bathroom in it, but his request was denied.