|La Perouse, Sydney, August 2010|
The most interesting aspect of growing a beard is in witnessing other people's perceptions of me, of which I'm equally amazed, and appalled. All of a sudden, as my beard becomes decisively furry and the whites become prominently pointed from my chin, I start to receive strange looks from people on the street. As if my beard is a signal for some strange sort of attention. There are a lot of sharp glances cast my way. Sometimes there are subtle, though awful, leers that will stay in my memory a lifetime. A leer that suggests something along the lines of "I'm greater than you, you are lesser than me..". Worst of all are the old curmudgeon pricks who cackle, shake their heads, and look at me like I'm some kind of scum, or asswipe. (I'm holding up a mirror to you, mate..)
There I was in Coles supermarket one Saturday morning dressed in grey jeans and a light-blue pullover, and wearing the beard that was, by now, nicely settled in. Some tall, 60-year-old-plus turtle-headed, Yugoslav or East European-looking man, shakes his head at me as he walks past, cackling to himself hatefully whilst muttering curses and other such indeciperables, fixing me with an ugly stare all the while. I held my gaze firmly at this creature, finally bringing up finger toward him, sideways. The 'sideways' action mediates the affrontedness of an erect finger-salute; it's a way of telling someone to get the fuck away without the overt rudeness. He turned away and his cackling subsided, though his face remained contorted like a bad crusty smell, and a psychic dark shadow flung over his hairless crown like a burka.
This incident prompted me to have a shave. I was going to anyway, now that the days were getting longer and the feeling of spring was in the air. I kept my sideburns. Now I look like a Neil Young fan, or a Clash fan, or a Marxist, or some funky-filmy 70s dude. No one's giving me strange sharp looks anymore, no-one's leering at me, and no-one is looking at me like I'm the scum of the Earth.
I should have been an actor. I have a most adaptable face. In turns I can look Italian, Irish or English, like a 60s dude, like a 70s dude, and even like an 80s dude (or used to, with my mullet). And with my emerging beard I begin to look perhaps Jewish, or Islamic. The white tufts of beard that point out from my chin begin to depict the looks of a certain anti-hero accused of inciting major terrorist acts on NYC in 2001. Is this why people leer and sharp-stare and growl at me when I'm wearing a beard? I'll never really know until I grow a beard again, next winter, and ask the silly prick on the spot why the fuck they're staring at me. It'll be like Robert De Niro and Taxi Driver and a Black Beard all rolled into one.
People are fucked. People are stupid. I shall speak for myself here from a seemingly higher plateau of sanctity that I never judge people for their looks or their manner of dress, or facial hair. Think about this: the nature of terrorism is such for its element of surprise. As soon as you depict a certain creed or group of people as being "all terrorists", then you've lost the plot. Because as sure as the fire in Hades some next-door neighbour you always deemed as harmless is going to do something extremely distressing to the community, and communities at large. That's how it works. But no, we seem to have a cultural enemy now. This subtle and sometimes not-so subtle new-enemy vibe has permeated into our culture, ie, our westernised "way-of-life" since the beginning of this millennium. And as I've discovered, it comes out in spades. With my beard as my psychology-hypothesis attache, I am, inadvertently, a test guinea-pig for these stupid pricks who envelop themselves in hateful, cultural prejudices and project these seeming and randomly onto innocent people.
I was singled out at the airport when I returned from Cairns last year. I was body-scanned for metals for a procedure I was assured was "random". I told the lady waving this beam all over me to notice the ukulele I was carrying. Ukuleles are the most peaceful things on Earth, I assured her. She seemed pleasantly perplexed, but unmoved.
John Howard Griffin's Black like me is a great book. Excerpts were read to us in high school by a very good English teacher (one of the very few good English teachers we had; one of two, actually).
And to all the leerers and cacklers and sharp-starers, here's the finger - Fuck you! No I'm not planning to bomb your house you supremo el-fuckwit. But someone else might be, and it may be the person or group of people you least expect to...