I always wanted to grow a mustache. Fearsome pimp whiskers. To me, the mustache is to masculinity what long, flowing tresses are to femininity. Aphrodite’s long hair was the source of her sexual authority, which she’d comb while sitting inside her pet oyster “Chester.” Aries, God of the pointy phallus and the shield, wore a ‘stache no doubt soaked in the blood of a minotaur. This ideal was implanted in me at a young age. Growing up, there were three men who defined manliness. To a little kid, being manly was being a hero. Not that a woman or a girl couldn’t be a hero, but it was more likely that I grew up to be a man who helped those in need than a woman who would help those in need.In fourth grade, my heroes were my big brother, Hulk Hogan, and Magnum PI. My older brother is 14 years older than me. I have a sister who is 10 years older and a baby brother five years younger. I don’t see myself as the middle child. I was a “blessed miracle.” Which is the nice way of saying “broken condom.” I adore my sister and little bro — they are the Faceman and BA Baracus of my heart’s A-Team. But my older brother was my hero. He’s a former Marine, but back then, he was full-time Semper Fi. Quiet, loyal, coiled.
I was always picked on in elementary school because I was fat or weird or because I read books. But my brother, and my mother, taught me to fight back by any means necessary. Usually, I engaged in heavy-duty psy-ops: playground smear campaigns; strategic, anonymous tattling; the distribution of propaganda … namely, doodles of my tormentor’s mothers in sexual congress with an amorous Godzilla. If the situation warranted, a quick, defensive kick in the pearl onions was deployed.
Standing up for oneself can be lonely and exhausting, though. A relentless war of attrition. I’ll never forget Arthur, on leave, walking into the cafeteria one day to take me to lunch. I was eating alone, and in strode a Marine. Bomber jacket, aviator sunglasses, hair high and tight. A short, trimmed mustache. What a hell of a surprise. To be rescued, if for a moment, from a grade school prison of Lincoln logs and vicious taunts. An emergency airlift. I jumped into his arms and hung off his neck, leaving the battle far below. We went and ate Chicken McNuggets, which are what I imagined the Turkish Delights were in the fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I would later find out that the tribunal of popular kids who were my sworn enemies deemed me “cool” because I knew a real-life “GI Joe.” That goodwill would last until a week or so later, when I decided to start wearing bedsheet capes to school.
My other two heroes were fictional, but no less important. My old man met my mother in the early 1960s at a professional wrestling match in Texas. He was the ringside announcer. So wrestling was a big part of my youth. I don’t really remember the day my dad told me Santa didn’t exist, but I remember when he told me that wrestling wasn’t real. I thought he was joking. Wrestling is just “Redneck Broadway,” a sweaty, heavily choreographed morality play. But to a boy, it was the eternal struggle between “faces” and “heels,” wrestling parlance for heroes and villains, writ large, slathered in face paint and festooned with bicep tassels. Wrestling was utterly captivating, macho wish-fulfillment.
Hulk Hogan is the greatest “face” in all of wrestling. I was a committed “Hulkamaniac.” The guy was a cross between Santa Claus and Hercules; he dressed like an extra in “Flashdance” and wore a handlebar mustache that was the color of the golden fleece. His wrestling matches always reached their narrative climax with Hulk on his knees, some dastardly heel twisting his arm and about to deliver what was clearly going to be a death blow. Hogan’s face would be twisted in hopeless agony. Like every time, this time, surely, Hogan would be defeated. Then, as if by magic, Hulkamaniacs would begin cheering for their very lives. In the stadium. In their living rooms. I’d be jumping up and down, beaming Hulk my heart light. This energy would then fill Hogan with magical powers. He’d get more and more pumped up. Break the heel’s hold. He’d inflate with sudden, unbelievable energy! Hulk Hogan had the strength of one million 9-year-old boys! He’d then easily dispatch the heel. During one particularly important Wrestlemania, I took a magic marker and drew a handlebar mustache on my face in support of the character. During the high water mark of the title bout, I swear I helped him lift Andre the Giant up off the mat and into history. The man really deserves a Tony Award.
“Magnum PI” was an hour-long, prime-time action show in the ’80s, for those who don’t recognize the name. I don’t really remember what it was about, but it starred Tom Selleck as a … private investigator? A private investigator who lived in Hawaii, drove a red sports car, and punched bad guys. All I know is that I used to get down and boogie to its funky theme song in front of the television, and that Tom Selleck was the man because A) he always got the girl and B) his upper-lip was finely upholstered. Check the opening out, and tell me it doesn’t make you want to karate kick, especially during the sweet breakdown. Oh, and apparently, Magnum PI also had a pet Englishman. I don’t know why Magnum PI was so important to me. Throughout history, hair has been a symbol of power and social status. Great men have almost all worn facial hair, and especially mustaches. Granted, the mustache has been preferred by more than one epically fascist madman. But Einstein? Ghandi? Freddie Mercury? Tom Selleck seemed powerful, and his mustache was his central battery. If I were to have stolen it, I too would have radiated musky waves of testosterone.
I’m kind of hoping our current Attorney General, Eric Holder, can single-handedly bring the mustache back to the halls of influence. Until then, I can only dream of growing one. But nature and popular fashion have conspired against me. For whatever reason, maybe it’s glandular, I can’t grow a proper mustache. The best I can manage is about five hairs that make me look like I’m part mutant fly. What I wish I could grow would be a mighty lip carpet that is a happy compromise between space rogue Lando Calrissian and gun-slinging souse Doc Holiday. Maybe then I’ll bring back the cape.
I can’t get a straight answer from women about facial hair on men. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it is split down the middle, 50/50. Some women find the Musketeer-look sexy. But one woman’s hunky ’70s New York cop is another’s scratchy hobo. Does profession matter? Is a mustache on a crab fisherman a turn-off? What about nostril curtains on a hipster dude whose main job is spending his parents’ money? And what about beards? Are there any allowances? What is the verdict?
Follow John DeVore’s preening narcissism on Twitter.