The morning after I promise to grow a mustache as part of a fundraiser for Capitol Letters, a Washington, D.C., non-profit writing center, the full reality of my commitment dawns on me. It arrives the moment after I fall back into consciousness from sleep. It comes as an awakening to a fundamental aspect of my being:
I am not a mustache guy.
It would be different if I had ever, in my life, wanted a mustache. If I had, even once, entertained the notion of growing one. But whether out of vanity, or some deeper incompatibility between my personality and what a mustache would signify, it’s always been completely out of the question.
OK, let’s be honest, it’s vanity. I have always known I would not look good with a mustache, and I know I will not look good with one now. I’ll look cheesy if I’m lucky. Creepy is not out of the question. The cultural icon I’m most likely to resemble − and it pains me to say this, but I have promised myself I will be honest in this journal − is Simpsons-neighbor, Ned Flanders.
Ned Flanders. I have promised a group of strangers − nice people, well intentioned and clever, but strangers nonetheless − that I will transform myself into Ned Flanders.
An entire month. Jesus. What have I done?
The more I contemplate the problem, the more complicated it becomes.
First, there are my friends at work. Some will ask, but their questions will let me tell them about the fundraiser. Raising money for causes isn’t allowed in the office, but there’s no rule against explaining sudden changes in your appearance. This, I realize, is part of the genius of the Moustache-a-thon: In theory, you don’t have to attract donors. They come to you.
It’s the friends who won’t ask questions that I worry about. What are they going to think? They’re going to think I’ve lost it, that’s what. If your personal appearance is the visual means by which you communicate your identity, what will it mean that I’m trying to make myself resemble Ned Flanders?
Then there is the ballet. Earlier in the week, my friend Monaliza invited me to see the New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center. Mona and I met at a volunteer project about a year ago. She’s funny, sophisticated, and grew up in California. “Listen,” her e-mail said, “the New York City Ballet is coming to the Kennedy Center. Do you want to go?” We have tickets for the Friday evening performance.
That Friday is exactly one week away. On that day, it now occurs to me, as I lay in bed, the victim of a growing pre-workday paralysis, my mustache will be one-week-old.
You’ve seen the Kennedy Center. It’s made of marble, and decked out in red carpet and elaborate chandeliers. The ballet is always a special occasion. Mona will be dressed to kill. Naturally, I want everything to be perfect. My effort to work a half-formed, possibly smarmy mustache into the scene makes me queasy. It upsets my stomach.
But shaving off the mustache for the ballet seems even worse than leaving it on. I would be surrendering my idealism to insecurity. Let’s remember: I’m doing this for the kids, and because I see myself as someone who is big enough to make personal sacrifices for a larger cause. I need to be brave about this. And anyway, Mona is the last person who would care about something as trivial as whether I go to the ballet with a starter-mustache. Right?
I mean, right?
There is, also, a broader problem. There are weekly mustache check-ups, with photographs. If I shave off my mustache, the Capitol Letters crowd will know. How will I face them if I’ve shaved my face clean in the middle of their contest? They’ll see me as someone who abandons wacky projects as eagerly as he volunteers for them − not a helpful first impression to create with any organization, but this one especially. The Moustache-a-thon may be a wacky project, but beneath its frivolity lies a serious educational purpose to which these people are obviously committed.
Luckily, I don’t have to make any decisions right away. It’s Friday morning, and the Moustache-a-thon doesn’t begin until Saturday afternoon, when the 21 of us who have signed up will meet at a barbershop in Columbia Heights and have our pictures taken after receiving straight razor shaves.
I have a little more than a day to sort things out.