Growing on them

By A.J. Calabrese

n the course of history, those with facial hair have been ascribed various attributes such as wisdom and knowledge, sexual virility, or high social status; and, conversely, filthiness, crudeness, or an eccentric disposition, such as in the case of a tramp, hobo or vagrant. At Harvard-Westlake, motives for those with beards and/or mustaches range from personal pleasure to languid indifference, from possible profit to incriminating disguise. Nevertheless, the handful of students who sport facial hair have found the generalizations about them less polarizing, yet all the same, fuzzy.

Liam Allman ’09 remembers the first day of ninth grade like it was yesterday. Perhaps more importantly, anyone who caught a glimpse of him on that day remembers Allman’s first day of ninth grade just as well. Allman came to school sporting a full beard, the first able to do so in the entire class.

Since, the prologue to that fateful day has been told in several different variations, some less accurate than others, none quite as straightforward or sensible as the real story.

“I was already growing one of those annoying, teenage ‘my first mustache’s’ by seventh grade,” Allman said. “But Spencer [Friedman ’09] bet me 15 or 20 bucks that I couldn’t grow a full beard by the time ninth grade rolled around.”

So it goes; the beard did not manifest itself out of thin air, but got there all the same, naturally, just as real as Allman himself.

“Back then I thought it was godly,” he said. “Then I realized it made me look somewhere between a troll and a German backpacker. So that was not desirable.”

According to Allman, his attitude toward his beard since ninth grade has matured.

He has experimented with different styles, trimming his original “full blown mountain man” down to varying phases of goatee. But he still remembers initial reactions to the groundbreaking look he created for himself over three years ago.

“I think Genevieve [Dash ’09] was scared of me – she cowered in corners when I was around,” he said. “Spencer screamed something like ‘awesome, yes!’ when he saw me. I don’t think he ever paid me.”

Nick Merrill ’09 started an everyday shaving routine while in Middle School, around the same time as Allman, but did not grow out his beard until senior year.

“It dawned on me earlier this year that I could increase my getting-ready-for-the-day efficiency by cutting shaving out of my routine,” he said.

Like Allman, Merrill definitely noticed a change in those around him once he started bringing his beard to school.

“I feel like I give off different vibes now that I have facial hair,” he said. “If people have adverse feelings, they’ve been too polite to say anything.”

Recently, Merrill maximized on his genetic ability to enhance his character’s appearance in the winter play Summer Brave, which takes place in small-town Kansas in the 1950s. Merrill groomed his facial hair accordingly to the style of the era, sporting a thin mustache.

Though it was the first time he’d ever incorporated his facial hair into costume onstage, Merrill plans to take advantage of it in the future, the next time as recent as the upcoming Playwrights Festival.

“Graham [Parkes ’10, director] wants me to have another moustache for our one act,” he said. “I agree it’s a good idea for the part. I’m just opposed because moustaches make me look like a pedophile.”

One thing that all students with beards have learned is to embrace the possibility that their new look may not be accepted with open arms. Ben Goldstein ’09 was an active (or passive) participant in the infamous “No-shave November,” in which he cut shaving completely from his daily routine for the span of 30 autumn days.

The result was a scruffy, yet dignified beard, his first, save for a couple small smooth patches in the cheek area.

It was generally admired as an endearing and courageous leap toward manhood, drawing mostly positive responses from friends and complete strangers: he was even approached at school by people he’d never met, who gave him passing encouragement at the most unexpected of times, notably once in the bathroom, as the person at the next urinal turned to him and said “sick beard dude.”

At the same time, Goldstein’s beard drew a few agape looks from people who were not yet accustomed to it. But he did not take it personally.

“I’d definitely still be friends with someone if they disapproved,” he said. “If not, I’d have a lot less friends.”

Often times the affinity between beard and owner can be reminiscent to that of a friendship, according to Joey Friedrich ’09, who adopted the “chinstrap” look for semiformal last year.

“You have to work with it if you want things to work out alright,” he said. “If things get out of hand, it could definitely become your enemy, very quickly.”

But a common fear among the beard crowd is being deprived of their whiskers.

The love-hate relationship, according to Friedrich and others, is still better than a non-relationship.

“Sometimes, I go too far on one side, and I have to shave everything else as far as that side – if I mess up I end up with no beard.” Friedrich said. “My mom made me shave for all my college interviews, and I did so very grudgingly. I felt really bare, like something was missing. The beard really becomes part of your identity.”

Merrill considered the hypothetical situation of having his girlfriend ask him to shave, but took no time in reaffirming his strong pro-beard stance.

“I would do no such thing. I’m quite confident she’d love me even if she hated the facial hair,” he said. “But she’s made it clear she’d like me less without it, so it’s staying.”

Allman too grooms his beard unselfishly, with a significant other in mind.

“I’ve got a bit of a sweetheart who likes it this way,” he said.

The future is bright for the young and bearded, as basic genetics points out, their beards will only grow thicker and faster as time goes on. The approaching end of school seems to be a catalyst for new ideas.

Friedrich tentatively plans to grow a mustache, goatee, and possibly a Zappa-style handlebar and soul patch over the summer.

Allman is considering whether or not to heed the requests of his friends and shave a smiley face or cash sign in his beard.

Goldstein has already sampled sideburns and a Hitler mustache, but has not yet made these styles open to the public, crafting them for a short time en route to shaving his face completely. For Merrill and his beard, the world is their oyster.

“It’s like having your best friend with you all the time, except for that your friend is on your face and it doesn’t talk as much as most friends,” he said. “Sometimes not talking is nice in a friend, though. Sometimes we say the most in our silences.”