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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

GETTING MY GOAT(EE)
12/4/2010 7:25:28 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

WRITER’S CRAMP: No Op-Ed Blog will be posted on Saturday, Christmas Day, December 25. As I am entitled to a much-deserved vacation, I may (or may not) also skip New Year’s Day, Saturday January 1. You will be notified, as usual — stay tuned.

GETTING MY GOAT(EE)

I grew my current beard — a cultured white goatee and manicured moustache — more than two years ago because I wanted to be a shopping mall Santa Claus. It had nothing to do with my literary career. I duly applied for the Christmas assignment but was turned down; perhaps I was too svelte and athletic and not obese enough to be endearing to myopic children.

The beard, however, has remained and become, to most, a permanent fixture on a countenance of stern and purposeful demeanor. One misled relative even suggested I enter politics, employing the chin whiskers as my certain entrée to high and meaningful office.

It got me thinking . . . If Abraham Lincoln had not grown a beard, would he have become our 16th president? Would the North have won the Civil War? Would slavery still be a natural tenet of American life? Would John Wilkes Booth have assassinated somebody else?

The irony, of course, is that Lincoln was clean-shaven and entertained not even the notion of a beard prior to his candidacy. According to historian Adam Goodheart, Lincoln responded to a letter by an 11 year old who said her brothers would vote for him if he grew some facial hair. Just before his run for office, Honest Abe (a sucker for impressionable children) told his barber to leave the 5 o’clock shadow alone and “let it grow.”

Lincoln, like me, was well aware of his indecorous appearance. In a famous debate Stephen Douglas once called him two-faced. Lincoln, appealing to the audience, said, “If I indeed had two faces, do you really believe I’d wear this one?”

Mr. Goodheart goes on to report that only one photograph of Lincoln exists showing him in his initial state of trying to grow a beard, a 3-second lens cap “bulb” exposure taken on Nov. 25, l860 by an obscure photographer, Samuel G. Alschuler, the sole copy of which was found in a forgotten file in Chicago.

It is interesting to note that beards of any sort were not uncommon in America prior to the Civil War, notwithstanding they were actually banned by the Austrian and Napoleonic monarchies. In Great Britain, however, you were not considered a patriotic supporter of the Crimean War if you didn’t sport whiskers, and later on even Pablo Picasso was reported to have said of Lincoln and his beard, “There is the real American elegance!”

Most intriguing is a comment made by Marilyn Monroe and reported by essayist Allan Gurganus: “Abraham Lincoln was the sexiest man in American history. That’s why I married Arthur Miller, because of his Lincolnly length and rawboned face.” Based on that, she might have married Hugh Heffner had he been 6 feet 4½ inches tall.

Be that as it may, I more strongly identify with Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, each considered (with justification) the handsomest men of their time — although neither had a shadow of a beard or goatee and were often called “doughface.”

If I were to run for high office, I would undoubtedly shave off my goatee and moustache and grow them back as a full-fledged beard. After all, no man during the half-century after Lincoln, save William McKinley, was elected president sans a facial brush!

Speaking of “William,” it was at my sister-in-law’s Thanksgiving table that one of the nephews tapped his glass and said, “I have an announcement to make.” Expecting he was going to tell us they were moving to Utah, he informed us instead that his father, William Salminen, had shaved off his moustache.

Wow. Bill Salminen, a longtime pediatric dentist from Webster NY, had sported his Geraldo lip-cover for over 40 years, and I wondered if he’d shaven it off in honor of Gene Shalit’s retirement.

The chatty nephew passed around his cell phone on which was a headshot of ol’ Bill shorn of the thick whiskbroom, explaining his dad had “just grown tired of it.” The flesh beneath, deprived of sunlight for more than four decades, was the bloated white puffiness of a dead trout. We would not have been more shocked if we’d been shown a NBA point guard with an Afro. “Grow it back, Billy!” the guests cried.

It was then I decided two things: First, I was not going to run for public office; Second, I would keep my goatee at least another few years — maybe forever. Even if my unborn grandson — Hutson Mills Faucette — didn’t like it, and considering I have shrunk, plagued with arthritis, from 6’2” to 5’10”, Ms. Monroe, now long gone, would never have sung at my birthday party, anyway.


Copyright©2010 by Robert A. Mills


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