Red Beard in the Morning

ROBERT FONTAINE has served a varied apprenticeship; he wrote radio scripts for Joe Cook, worked on the staff of WLW and the Mutual network, was a Washington correspondent, and then started to free-lance, He lives in Springfield, Massachusetts.


WHEN I was about six, a picture of Presidential aspirant Charles Evans Hughes made a deep impression on me. I think I got the strange notion that if I should grow a beard I might run for President. The fact that Hughes lost by a whisker did not deter me. I would grow a beard.

At six there is nothing very constructive one can do about beard-growing. So I went about my business of growing up, playing marbles, pulling little girls’ braids, and throwing spitballs at teachers, and emerged one day from my freshman year in high school with a light down on my upper lip.

This down, I’m afraid, was invisible to any naked eye except mine. I would point it out often to persons who were interested in my welfare, but their reply was invariably some variation of “I don’t see anything.” Even when I took one of their fingers and rubbed it carefully along the patch, they merely shrugged and said, “Fuzz.”

By the time I had reached my senior year, and by dint of applications of hair tonic, rabbits’ feet, goose grease, and my sister’s eyebrow pencil, my mustache was clearly defined and could not be denied by even my worst enemy.

The pleasant warmth of having at long last asserted myself as a male was chilled by the sudden assault of my female friends and relatives, who all urged me to shave off my mustache because “It makes you look too old.”

I promised them all faithfully that I would appear clean-shaven on some sunny tomorrow. But I didn’t. I left home.

I didn’t leave home just to protect my mustache. I left home to go to work. Living in seclusion in a furnished room, I had ample scope, and my mustache, in the years that followed, flourished and waved. There was a week even, in 1934 or thereabouts, when the ends became long enough to wax, and I happily twisted and twirled and applied the warm wax with a rare joy. I was happy then, for about a year.

The next year I met a girl named Kay, who detested mustaches in any form. She hated little ones, she despised long, thin ones, and waxed ones made her positively ill. Strong though my love for Kav was, my yearning lor whiskers was stronger and I said good-bye to my love one fateful spring day and left her standing on her front stoop a hair’s breadth from matrimony.

“By the beard of the Prophet,” I exclaimed one day, “now I will grow a goatee just to spite these tasteless females.”

A goatee is simple to grow: you don’t shave beneath your lower lip and in a few weeks you look like a French count on his way to steal 50,000 francs from his mistress. It is a very satisfying feeling.

I could grow my goatee in safety, for I was now working as a free-lance and had no one to account to for my appearance except myself and the police.

At this point I met a lovely lady with red hair whose name was Jeanne and who felt that the goatee clashed with her red hair, it being a somewhat different shade. I offered to dye the whiskers, but she was adamant. In shame, I confess I shaved my beloved chin adornment. Not, however, without a solemn secret promise to acquire a full beard some day.

Jeanne, in time, went the way of all silk-clad flesh, and I found myself free to expand in my soul and on my face. I grew, in a very brief time, a fierce round Russian mustache-beard. This strange circle of hair must have a name, but I do not know it. I know only that it begins as a mustache, then the mustache dips down on either side and runs to meet the sides of the chin, and then the two ends of the mustache join each other at the point of the chin. The effect is awesome. Little boys point and jeer. Little girls scream and run at the sight of it. Grown people shudder and edge away.

I was pleased with my Russian mustache-beard — so pleased that I went out to Hollywood hoping it would give me the courage to make an impression on the smooth-shaven bigwigs of the tin mines of Cinemaland. Alas, the best offer I had, in a town where every prospect pleases and not even mustaches are vile, was to play an extra in a remake of a remake of something to do with the Russian Revolution. 1 was to play a dead extra — not even a live extra, where my beard might have been a momentary point of attention.

I declined the offer and sought peace in a rustic cabin in Massachusetts where I settled down to write a book, study the psychology of whiskers, and grow a beard.

Days of quiet loveliness followed. Birds sang, trees rustled, buds burst, and my typewriter clattered. My beard slowly took shape. It was, when it was time for me to leave my Walden, a long, red, scraggly bush of shining silkiness which I stroked with glee and refused to trim. I was hoping to get it down at least to my waist.

On my return to civilization, overcome perhaps by the clatter and roar of the great city and certainly suffering from a high fever due to a head cold, I discovered myself engaged to an enchanting lovely who not only revolted at beards, mustaches, and sideburns, but even had a faint yearning to have me bald! In a simple ceremony, accompanied only by a pair of shears, a razor, and a bottle of dry sherry, I parted with my hairy dream, a sadder and a barer man.

We shall be married, I know, this lovely and I; but the conflict will be forever there. I love her, it’s true; but there will be rainy Sundays when I shall remind her that if I hadn’t married her I could have had a long, red beard and been completely happy with it. Already, in fact, she has adapted a jingle which she quotes at the first sign of my needing a shave: —

“Red beard in the morning
Fiancee’s warning.”

She thinks it’s cute, I suppose; but she knows nothing of that deep, primitive urge in the male to let his whiskers grow every which way without ever taking thought for the morrow’s sharp razor blade.

She must realize, too, in her heart, that I will not be tricked out of my heritage by female wiles calculated to keep me from asserting myself as a man in the one way left in this single-standardized world.

It will be a bitter battle, but I know there are great men behind me in my fight for emancipation from the dismal daily ritual of shaving and the restoration to male superiority — the Smith Brothers, Robert E. Lee, General Ambrose Burnside, G.B.S., Buffalo Bill, stout Cortes, Sir Walter Raleigh, Ponce de Leon, and Walt Whitman, to name a few. And there are, too, the nameless ghosts of those who lived and died bravely and manfully in Vandykes, Dundrearys, Imperials, Muttonchops, and Wreaths.

The day will come, I promise myself, when my beard will be white and will flow down around my heels so thickly that I shall need to kick it to one side as a woman does the train of her evening gown. The day I trip over it and almost sprain an ankle, I shall be completely happy.

I stand, I believe firmly, on solid ground. It was good enough for Moses and my grandfather. It is good enough for me.