I had a communication problem with the young barber down the street the other day.
Now I have no beard.
I'd had it for 22 years. So the sudden shearing, well under way before I caught it, took me aback. But it wasn't really that big a deal. In recent months I'd given a good deal of thought to shaving it off, just for the change.
What held me back was that, well, a beard becomes kind of like a pet. And, like a pet, it needs care. Once in place, it grows quickly and unevenly. If you're at all fussy about its configuration and its neatness, you must trim it every few days. It's as much trouble as shaving.
So I was getting a little tired of all this. But do you get rid of your pet just because you're tired of him?
The barber is a nice young man and a good barber and has cut my hair a number of times. But I always did my own beard-trimming. Until that day.
After he'd finished my hair, I pointed to my beard and made what I thought was a trim-like gesture. He smiled, and the next thing I knew, he'd power-clipped the start of a freeway through the middle of my beard's right side. I stopped him and looked in the mirror for a moment. Then I told him it was fine, go ahead. I kept the mustache, though.
I hadn't seen my chin for 22 years. I recognized it right away. My wife, now, she'd never seen my chin. I thought about that on the way home.
I walked in the living room. My wife looked up.
"He cut off my beard," I said.
"What do you think? It grows back quickly."
"I don't know. I never saw your chin before. You look different." She stared at me. "It's like I married a different man."
"But what do you think?"
"I don't know. What happened? Did you fall asleep?"
"No. I thought he was just going to trim it. He went too far before I caught him. So I told him to take it all off. What do you think?"
"I don't know. Keep it off for a while and see how you feel about it."
"I'd been thinking about cutting it off. Remember? I mentioned it a couple of times." She nodded, still staring.
I headed toward the bathroom. She called after me. "You'll get some interesting comments at work tomorrow!"
My wife did a good bit of staring at me as we watched TV that night, but said nothing more.
The next morning, the first co-worker in my office looked at me intently, then said, "I see you got a haircut. Good job."
The second, a fellow I've worked with for three years, commented that my mustache looked different.
The third person, who has known me for nine years, stared at my mustache, too. Then he said: "That mustache looks good on you, Ed. Ever think about growing a beard?"
He was serious.