What’s Your Problem?

By Jeffrey Goldberg

As hard as I try, I cannot get my beard (which I have had for 44 years) to look as perfect as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s. Does he have a stylist work on his every morning, or is it fake?

W.B., Seattle, Wash.

Dear W.B.,

It is not well known that Ben Bernanke’s doctoral thesis, “Long-Term Commitments, Dynamic Optimization, and the Business Cycle,” contained a separate appendix titled “Caring for Your Luscious Chin Curtain.” You are right that Bernanke has an ostentatiously silky and highly civilized beard. In fact, the chairman’s personality finds fullest expression in his beard. Also in his many gang tattoos. I did not know much about his beard, however, so I assigned the research-and-analysis division of “What’s Your Problem?” to learn more.

Bernanke’s grooming needs are met by a barber named Lenny Gilleo, whose shop is located at Federal Reserve headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Gilleo tells us that he shapes and trims Bernanke’s beard every three or four weeks, but he did not mention any secret techniques or the use of any particular grooming products. Of possibly greater interest to the nonbearded public: Gilleo, who has cut the hair of the past five Fed chairmen, says there is no fixed price at his barbershop. Payment is a “whatever-you-choose type of thing.” If this principle were applied broadly across the American economy, chaos would ensue. Actually, this principle was put into practice already, during the years leading up to the subprime-mortgage crisis.

Where I live, it is becoming very popular for teenage girls to have breast-augmentation surgery, as well as other plastic surgeries. I know of one case in which a 14-year-old has had breast implants. An argument can be made that operations like this can improve girls’ self-esteem, but I also think this might be a sign that society has become too narcissistic.

C.C., Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear C.C.,

I’m afraid that by the age of 14—let alone, say, 16 or 17—it may be too late to build a young woman’s self-esteem through elective surgery. My recommendation for parents is to preempt the possibility of insufficient breastiness by implanting silicone in the undeveloped chests of their prepubescent daughters. Parents who are especially concerned about the effect of their kids’ looks might want to consider in utero nose jobs. Babies inevitably look like Benito Mussolini upon delivery, and that can inflict terrible damage to their self-esteem. Why not spare them this pain, and allow parents to avoid the terrible disappointment of having aesthetically imperfect children?

I will soon reach the end of a series of dental procedures that have cost me much time and tens of thousands of dollars. The dentist sold me on this process by telling me that if I didn’t get replacement teeth, I’d risk ending up without any teeth at all. But now I’m thinking I would have been better off taking my chances with my old teeth. What price is too high for long-term oral health?

S.S., Washington, D.C.

Dear S.S.,

No price is too high for long-term oral health. Many Americans cannot afford adequate dental care, and this helps keep them locked in poverty. It is much more difficult for a person to make his way through the job-interview process if his appearance triggers a negative impression, and rotting teeth are a uniquely powerful trigger. This is not an area in which you can afford to skimp. Especially as you age, vigorous oral hygiene, as well as a comprehensive campaign of ear-hair containment, are two of the few ways you can convince outsiders that you are not disintegrating at a fast rate.

Is having sex for fun instead of procreation actually necessary for some reason? My husband and I are having a huge argument about this.

T.W., Athens, Ga.

Dear T.W.,

It is apparently quite necessary for your husband. And all other husbands.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/whats-your-problem/308941/