I had planned to wait until the weekend, until after my night at the Kennedy Center, to unveil my mustache by shaving my beard. Instead I’m taking the mustache plunge early, certain I’m doing the right thing. I march into my bathroom, fish my electric trimmer from its drawer, and pop off the plastic cover to expose the blade. Then I run it over my skin, working around my upper lip.
It all goes pretty well. The electric trimmer uncovers an appalling layer of flaked detritus, so I briefly look like the unfortunate victim of a skin disease, but with a little shaving cream and a pass with a twin-blade razor, I’m cured.
When it’s time to do the mustache ends, I hesitate unexpectedly. How short to make them? Now that I’m facing my reflection, the trimmer’s blade at the corner of my mouth, I realize I have to be careful. Too long, and I will look like a 70’s porn star. But too short, and I’ll be expressing allegiance to National Socialism. I’d have to shave my entire mustache and traipse all the way back to the Moustache-a-thon starting line.
It’s a tense moment. There’s a lot at stake. With a small thank-you to John Holmes and Adolph Hitler for, in their own ways, making mustache-shaving permanently treacherous, I bring the trimmer down and work cautiously, almost follicle by follicle, until I have the length just right. One quick trim to clear the soft part of my lip and I’ve done it. For the first time in my life, I have a mustache.
How does it look? It’s thin, but too bushy to be a pencil mustache. I’m somewhere between a 1930’s detective and the sideshow host of a burlesque act. It’s a look that demands heavy irony, which begs to be worn with a fedora. I have a beat-up brown one in my closet. I take it down and return to the mirror. Sure enough, it perfectly completes the image.
At the office the next day, colleagues passing in the hall slow down for an extra second and stare, but they don’t say anything. Either they see the mustache and don’t want to ask, or sense a change but can’t tell what it is.
When the subject comes up in conversation, the men approach it like business. They ask why I’m growing it, how long I plan to keep it, and whether I’ve had one before. The women, though, want to linger. They enjoy talking about mustaches, it seems. My mustache, other mustaches, mustaches in general. They want to know how I feel about having one. They wonder if it itches. They tell me stories about other mustachioed men they’ve known, recount times their boyfriends or husbands tried to grow one.
On Friday night I meet Mona for dinner and the ballet. Her dress is beautiful, and she’s done this amazing thing with her hair. It’s darker, streaked with brown, and flows down her shoulders. She cheers my suit and tie. “Man, you look great!” she says. Strangely, though, she doesn’t say anything about my mustache.
We walk to a little Italian place, where we split a walnut salad, pasta, and a bottle of Chianti. Mona tells me about her week − the projects she’s working on, the escapades in her office. I’m enjoying the evening, but I’m also waiting for her to bring up the mustache. Surely she will. But she never does. Maybe she’ll mention it later, during an intermission or on the walk home? I’m a nice guy. I’m not going to press the subject.
We cab it to the Kennedy Center. The ballet is extraordinary. When the curtain rises on the finale, to reveal the company’s ballerinas poised in a line down the length of the stage, all of them bathed in a soft light of Easter egg blue, the audience gasps, then breaks into applause.
The walk home takes forever so we hail a cab. Back at my place, we spread a blanket across the steps up to my building and uncork a bottle of Chablis. It’s a terrific evening, even though it’s a little strange that, throughout it, Mona stays curiously and completely silent about my mustache.
On Saturday afternoon I meet Mona at Dupont Circle, a city park inside a giant roundabout. It’s one of the first warm days of spring and the usual crowd is back outside. Ragged men sit at the park’s stone chessboards, couples hold hands, neighbors walk their dogs. Mona and I browse a nearby CD store, then get pizza slices and a Coke, which we eat on the low wall of the fountain at the circle’s center, under its carved figures of feminine beauty half-dressed in flowing robes.
Throughout the entire afternoon, Mona doesn’t say anything about the mustache. Not a single question or comment. It’s like the mustache is not even there.
Is she toying with me? Daring me to raise the subject? Maybe the mustache blends in so well she can’t see it?
We say goodbye, and as I watch Mona walk to the Metro the reason for her silence comes to me. Of course! It’s because the mustache has her completely floored. She is so awed she is speechless. It’s the only explanation. I wondered how the mustache would look, and now I know. It must be totally and completely amazing.