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occam's aftershave
when the simplest solution is just to cut it all away
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

Happy Birthday to me! I live in a tree! I smell like fresh cupcakes and I don't look like Smee.

That's right, boys and girls. This week is my birthday (10/10, for those who can only remember one double-digit number at a time). I'm turning the big three-seven (for those of you who are quadri-digited).

Yeah. Not really a landmark birthday. It's not like 25, when people stop saying, "Oh, you're still a baby." Or 30, when people stop saying, "I remember when I turned 25." Or 35, when people stop saying, "Why are you dating that 40-year-old?"

Actually, the truth is, I'm not feeling old, but I find myself doing things that I never pictured myself doing. I'm occasionally making "my father's noise" when I get up from sitting for a while. Last weekend, I opted for taking a nap over staying at a block party. And I've started coloring my beard.


Now, for those of you haven't seen me in a while or who have never met me (I think I have 2 readers who don't know me; you know who you are; I don't), my hair is still pretty much brown. A couple of gray strands here and there, but only in the right light can you even tell. Except my beard. Currently, I have a goatee. It's also pretty much brown, except for two very gray areas more or less directly below the corners of my mouth. Essentially, if I had a soul patch or a mustache, you'd never see the gray. You'd make fun of me mercilessly, but you'd be making fun of a younger-looking me, at least.

So I've been coloring my beard for the last three months. It sort of started in tandem with my weight loss (see my Weight Watchers column or the one after it). I figured, "Hey, I'm getting thinner; maybe I should try looking a little younger." So after a seriously flawed experiment with infantilism, I decided that dyeing the beard was the best way to go.

So once a week, I trim the beard down, comb in the coloring agent, wait 5 minutes, and wash it out. But I've been having issues with the process. To be fair, the Just for Men stuff totally works. It blends well, it colors the gray, it's ridiculously simple. However, it's not cheap, and, as it's a weekly process, I go through a tube pretty quickly. In addition, the aspect of trimming it really brings out the gray every time. So essentially, I get to pay Combe Incorporated $10 a month to feel old.

Admittedly, I just checked their corporate site, and there are plenty of products I could be buying from them that would make me feel really old: Sea-Bond, Aqua Velva, or Vagisil, to name three. Though if I'm buying that last one, I apparently have bigger problems than just looking my age.

Regardless, I'm tired of the process, as easy as it is. And, thanks to Weight Watchers (and pharmaceutical-grade methamphetamine), I no longer have the triple-chin that inspired the beard growth in the first place. So I'm shaving. It's been a while since I saw my chin. I kind of missed it.

I've actually had facial hair on and off for years. The first time I ever grew a beard, or at least attempted to, was my sophomore year of college. I hadn't planned on it. It was the day before I was headed back to school after Thanksgiving and we were waiting for my dad to pick us up at the house to head to dinner. I had a bit of a five o'clock shadow, so I told my mom that I was running upstairs to shave.

"Don't worry about it," she said, surprisingly.

"But we're going out to a restaurant. In public."

"I'll just tell your dad that you're growing a beard."

What an odd story to make up. "Ummm...okay...."

Thing is, when I got back up to school, the germ of the idea had been planted. So I stopped shaving. And discovered soon after that the trick to growing a beard, or at least one that doesn't make you look like you should be sitting on a horse, commanding your men to cross the Rappahannock and drive Lee's army back to Richmond, is that you can't just let it grow. You have to trim it, shape it, make sure your cheekbones are still visible, that kind of thing.

I shaved it off some time later in the year. Phish wasn't yet ubiquitous on college campuses and "have you ever kissed a guy with a beard?" only worked as a pickup line once.

It was during that shave that I paused with just a mustache and took a photo of myself with glasses on. Not surprisingly, I look just like my dad, if my dad had been, to quote my brother looking at the photo earlier this year, "a 1980s Mexican porn star."

Which we're pretty certain he was not.

The second time I grew the beard was my junior year in college. I can't actually remember why, though it might just have been sheer laziness. Even with the trimming and shaping I mentioned earlier, it's still easier to maintain a beard than shave an entire face.

I discovered a couple things that second time around. First, it turns out that with a full beard, I look like Al Borland from "Home Improvement." I know some of you are laughing, but that's not funny, Tim.

The second thing I discovered is that I was suddenly not being carded for alcohol. I honestly don't remember the first time I got up the courage to walk into a liquor store for a six-pack ("make a packy run," in Boston parlance), but I think I was inspired by my friends telling me I looked 25. I guess the liquor store guy felt the same way, because he didn't even ask me for the i.d. I didn't actually have. The same thing happened that summer at the beach. That's right. I'm responsible for my younger brother's first taste of ... Zima.

Sorry, Brett.

The third time I grew a beard, it was just the goatee. This was some time in my early 20s after not having one for a few years. This was also the first time I grew one to hide my double chin. Again, it made me look older, a fact that really annoyed my friend Niko, for some reason.

"Dude, you look 28 or 29. You're only 23."

Looking back from age 37, I'm not honestly sure why that came close to making a difference, but at the time it really was a thing.

"Well, I don't want to shave it all off. I have this chin line, here, see?"

"So just shave off the mustache."

It's probably important to mention that this conversation - or at least the last iteration of this conversation - occurred at around 3:30 a.m. during some sort of adrenaline (and other) inspired round of the board game Cranium at my friend Jon's sister's apartment. This takes on a greater importance when you know that 5 minutes later, I was, in fact, shaving off just the mustache with a Lady Bic, the only razor I could find. Yes, it still hurts when the wind blows just right.

So I rocked the chin thing for a while. My father told me that I looked like an Amish man searching for a barn raising. I'm told that "chin only" is the actual definition of a goatee - "goat-like," one might speculate - and that what I'm currently wearing as I write this is actually a variation on a Van Dyke - I'm not going there. I'm also pretty sure I don't care. Honestly, having a beard on just my chin was probably the most dangerous I'll ever look (which really isn't saying much). I was edgy. I was hip. I was a dead ringer for the lead singer of Smashmouth.

So maybe not that hip. If you don't believe me, I think it might still be my profile photo on this site. One of them, anyway.

That lasted until sometime in my early 30s, when I decided that maybe I should look like an adult. This coincided with my decision to take the earrings out of my ear. Both of those decisions coincided with my needing to find a new job. Probably not coincidence.

And then a couple years ago I grew the look I currently wear. Again, this had a lot to do with unmitigated weight gain. I think it was a photo taken at a friend's wedding that made me go, "Oh, Jeez. No wonder that drunk bridesmaid didn't want to come back to my room." (On a side note, this is not generally a good reason to do or not do anything. However, if you're going to base a life decision on the opinion of a drunk bridesmaid, growing a beard is probably a safe experiment. Unless you're a woman.)

But that's all going to change. As of today, I will again be clean shaven. Baby-faced. Non-hirsute. You get the idea.

I only hope for two things:

1) Not cutting the crap out of my chin as I remove the thing. The human chin is decidedly less flat than the average razor blade. I'm going to have to be careful.

2) No tan line.

Or maybe everyone at Yom Kippur services will just have to wonder in awe at the guy with the pale, bloody chin. At least it'll keep their minds off of fasting.

And that's really what I'm here for. Have a nice October.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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