I needed a change. A small one. Nothing too extreme. I didn’t want to disappear into the Witness Protection Program and then reappear in a new city with a new name and a new job. I am reasonably happy with my life. There are good days and bad days and “meh” days and days when I whisper “yes!” to myself. I have always been slightly distrustful of the terminally cheerful, though. What are they so happy about? Haven’t those people ever been on Twitter?
I needed a change, so I decided to grow a mustache. This is something I was able to do with very little effort. I just wanted, for a short time, to feel like a new person. In romantic comedies aimed at female audiences there is often a scene, usually halfway through, when the main character gets a “makeover” — a sassy and flamboyant friend is sometimes there to help with the minor transformation. Movies marketed to men don’t have makeover scenes unless you count action-movie montages where the hero sews up his own bullet wounds.
That’s what I wanted. A sort of makeover for me, a nearly middle-aged man, that didn’t require a sassy and flamboyant friend. The closest I got to that was my girlfriend staring at my face for a minute and then saying “yeah, okay, you can keep it.”
This is an essay about a man and his mustache, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing more makeover scenes in movies that also feature big explosions.
Men have few options when it comes to making a superficial change. Women can go out and buy a new tube of lipstick to make the pucker pop. But the best thing men can do to freshen up their look is buy a hat? The world is too full of slightly dissatisfied men wearing fedoras.
I briefly considered botox. I have friends who have gotten botox. They look the same as they did before the botox, but they feel new and improved, like the freshest produce in the produce section. Botox is not permanent and neither is facial hair.
So, I grew a mustache. I watched a YouTube video about grooming mustaches. Then I trimmed my mustache. I looked in the mirror and there I was, same old me, but with a curtain of hair pulled across my upper lip.
When I turned 25, I announced I was having a “quarter-life crisis” to my father, who was just exiting his own crisis. He dealt with the turmoil of being in his 50s by buying all the new video game consoles and playing games in his underwear. This is not a terrible way to manage the feelings of dread that come with saying goodbye to old dreams and hello to newer, more attainable ones.
I didn’t really know at the time that my “quarter-life crisis” was just “life.” Twenty-five is the age when you learn that life is both longer and shorter than you thought and that the hard-and-fast rules you were taught about the adult world were more like suggestions. My dad told me not to think of 25 as a “quarter-life crisis” but rather as “halfway to my mid-life crisis.”
Well, dad, I’m almost there. I hope you’re looking down from wherever you are and chuckling the way you did when you told me that my mid-20s were just a preview of what would be coming very soon.
I don’t think I’m having a mid-life crisis. I’m not quite there. Fifty looms, but at a distance. Boy, we all get there (if we’re lucky). But I grew a mustache just in case. It’s a fine mustache. It gave me the change I wanted. The patch of hair amused and horrified my friends. To their eternal credit, most of my coworkers did not comment on my appearance. Except for one guy, in analytics, a full decade or so younger than me, who also wears a mustache. We nodded at each other approvingly. My mother examined my facial hair, as though she was surprised I had finally gone through puberty.
I would like to mention that I didn’t grow my mustache for “Movember,” the popular charity that raises awareness of men’s health issues by asking men to grow mustaches during the month of November. It’s an important cause that everyone should support. But, no, I grew my mustache a few weeks after Movember because I am a self-centered person who wanted to shake things up a little bit.
Which I did.
I love my mustache. I’m still me, but just a little bit different. I am not wearing a disguise. When I catch a glimpse of my ‘stash in a car window or a bathroom mirror, I get to briefly play in an alternate reality. I can pretend to have a mustache-appropriate profession, like an astronaut or undercover cop or Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts. My mustache makes me feel a bit more confident, too, like I’m a union boss or one of those old-school newspaper editors who is always screaming. I’m even considering growing out my ‘stash so it looks more cowboy, more Wyatt Earp. If I grow it out, even more, I could learn to twirl it, like a cartoon villain.
One of the great things about a mustache is that, if you’re slurping lentil soup, for instance, you will be happy to discover a bonus lentil or two caught in the hairs a few hours later!
I feel more confident with the ‘stash. I think I get more smiles from strangers than I used to? Or maybe I just feel friendlier? Maybe strangers smile at me all the time but I’m only now noticing. I don’t want to suggest that my mustache has suddenly made me more attractive or approachable. I do not think I have an enchanted mustache. But, I suppose, small changes can work small wonders.
I don’t know if I’ll keep my sweet ‘stash. It has done its job. That’ll do, small strip of hair under my nose, that’ll do. I’ve loved the makeover so far, but, I think, men who are really suited for lip rugs are born with them. Like four-star generals or Village People impersonators. Another type of man who looks natural wearing a face ferret is a bare-knuckle action hero who are very good at self-surgery.
But I have no regrets: I needed a small change and I got one. For the past few weeks, I’ve just felt a little different. Not better, necessarily. There is an old saying that goes “the only constant in life is change.” That is one of those old saws that is best never said out loud. Yes, we all know life is a stream of never-ending, slow-motion change. It was nice to get ahead of the inevitable for a few weeks, though. Take control. I recommend it. If you can grow a mustache, do it. Or get Botox. Or a makeover. Buy that new blush. Shave your head bald. Own your own change and give the universe the briefest of breaks.
Just, whatever you do, don’t grow a goatee. Those are cries for help.