What’s Your Problem?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

I am trying to grow a soul patch. But even though I can grow a beard and a mustache, the area from my chin to my bottom lip is stubbornly hairless. Would Rogaine or some similar product stimulate facial-hair growth?

D. M., Chicago, Ill.

Dear D. M.,

Rogaine is not approved by the FDA for use anywhere other than the top of your head. That said, it could indeed work on your bare patch, but be warned: Rogaine (which is the brand name for Minoxidil) could cause acne, or cause un-beard-like hair to grow where coarser beard hair normally would. And the Minoxidil might spread to other parts of your face, causing hair to grow where no man wants hair to grow, including just beneath the eyes. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying Rogaine. Numerous fake studies suggest it will cause hair to grow on your palms, leading your family and friends to believe you suffer from another male-specific syndrome. Your deeper problem, if I may be so bold, is that you desire a soul patch. Unless you are a John Coltrane–quality saxophonist, a soul patch will telegraph to the public not that you are “hip,” but that you might be the sort of man who would contemplate wearing a thumb ring.

I’m a typical liberal, but I have a soft spot for patriotic songs. In particular, I love “Proud to Be an American,” by Lee Greenwood, even though portions of it are grammatically incorrect. I am definitely proud to be an American. So why am I so self-conscious about enjoying this song?

G. B., New York, N.Y.

Dear G. B.,

You should not be abashed at all; patriotism belongs to no political party. I, too, very much like this song (its actual title is “God Bless the U.S.A.”). But I agree that grammatically it is a disaster: “I’m proud to be an American,” the chorus begins, “where at least I know I’m free.” I called up Greenwood to ask if he meant for his anthem to be enjoyed by liberals, and also where he learned to construct sentences. “The Lee Greenwood point of view is that we shouldn’t be a divided country,” he told me, in the LeBron James style. “The song is for everyone. The song is bigger than Lee Greenwood, the author of the song. The Lee Greenwood personal point of view is to make everyone conservative, but that’s not Lee Greenwood speaking as the author of the song. That Lee Greenwood is in the middle.”

So many Lee Greenwoods! I asked the Lee Greenwood on the phone to describe his politics. “If America changes to the point that it is no longer a Christian nation, and no longer protects itself from aliens who come and go, then it won’t be America anymore,” he said. Feeling somewhat abashed, I changed the subject to grammar: why not make the lyric “I’m proud to live in America”? He said: “I’m writing it in first person. I am an American.” I asked again, and he answered again, in roughly the same manner. All of this invites another question, G. B.: have you considered embracing “God Bless America” as your patriotic anthem? It is, among other things, grammatically impeccable.

How do you keep safe when you travel? Is a fanny pack a necessity?

T. T., St. Louis, Mo.

Dear T. T.,

I would sooner be caught wearing Birkenstocks with brown socks than a fanny pack. I would sooner be caught at the Mall of America than be caught wearing a fanny pack. I would sooner be caught by the Turkish police for the crime of wearing Birkenstocks with brown socks and spend a night in the Metris high-security prison in Istanbul than wear a fanny pack. I would sooner be caught wearing a thumb ring than a fanny pack. However, a fanny pack might be the right choice for you.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/10/whats-your-problem/308209/