The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, October 04, 2010

BEARDING, A LESSON IN NO PARTS: To begin, we must first point out that the existence of the beard is, before it is anything else, a philosophical question, at least in the West, whereas in other cultures the beard is not merely simply a matter of philosophy, but one of theology. Orthodox Jews, for example, refrain from shaving, obeying Leviticus’ command that the Children of Israel, or at least the male portion thereof, shall not mar the corners of their beards; whether the bearded ladies at the circus must comply with this commandment is a subject of debate. Devout Muslims do not shave either, but, following the example of the Prophet (peas be upon him), they will clip their mustaches away from their upper lip. Sikhs are the champions of theological hirsuteness here, however, as the tenets of that faith not only forbid the devout to cut their beards, but any other bodily hair as well, which taboo goes a long way towards explaining why there are so few photographs of devout Sikh girls in bikinis. In contrast, Christians, at least here in this our Great Republic, represent a clear-cut victory for Saint Jerome.

In the fourth century, a group of Christian theology students in Alexandria came to blows, a common enough event for Christian theology students then and for centuries afterwards, over the question of how long a beard should be in order to demonstrate the wearer’s personal sanctity. After a night of exhaustive theological and pugilistic investigation of this admittedly arcane bit of dogma, someone hit upon the bright idea of asking the great scholar and Biblical translator Jerome for a ruling on the matter. So the collected students hied themselves and their black eyes down to the great library of Alexandria to pose the question to the saint.

Our seekers after knowledge found Jerome (or Hieronymous, if you people prefer the original with all this Bosch) standing at the circulation desk arguing with one of the clerks about his overdue copy of Valley of the Dolls. The students, in a burst of youthful enthusiasm, which is always the most annoying kind, breathlessly asked their tonsorial question of Jerome, an irascible man in the best of times—he once called someone who disagreed with him an ignorant calumniator, stuffed with Irish porridge (clearly, a man who knew how to vent and to vent well)—and now a man driven to new heights of irascibility because of the clerk’s obstinate refusal to let him keep the book out a little longer so he could translate the good bits into Latin. Jerome told the students, with perhaps more heat than charity, that if sanctity depended on the length of one’s beard, nothing in the Lord’s creation would be holier than a goat. Then, driven to distraction and left there without a return ticket, the great saint hurled anathemas at the students, as well as volume I of the Oxford Latin Dictionary (Aardvarkus to Aggravatedus), and the chastened students fled for their lives from the saint’s onslaught, returning to their usual haunts to discuss the theological significance of the goat. As per usual, the conversation grew heated and the neighbors then called the police to suppress the rioting. In the end, only three people were killed and 27 goats reported missing, although the police later found five of them tied up behind Jamaican restaurants on Alexandria’s west side. The owners declared that they had no idea how the goats got there.

I bring up all this aggressive hirsute shilly-shallying because I now have a beard and I am under some very substantial pressure from a number of people to get rid of the thing. My mother, for one, has never liked beards and finds the prospect of looking at mine for any prolonged length of time a prospect to horrifying to contemplate. Mom does not like anything that reminds her that she is, as she puts it, getting on a bit, although I should point out here that at 82 she is not getting on, she’s got on, and no, that is not something I would say to her face, thank you very much, and therefore having to look at her eldest son’s impression of Robert E. Lee is as grim a memento mori as you can find here in our happy little burg. The kid next door, an obnoxious munchkin as viciously noxious as she is relentlessly ob, takes my mother’s side of the argument and does so with no end of sonic gusto, usually in as close a proximity to my ears as she can manage. Scarcely a day goes by hereabouts that I do not hear that annoying little cockroach bellowing her incessant demand that I shave the ugly gray ferret off my face, and scarcely a day goes by that I do not wonder why I didn’t smother the rotten brat with a pillow when I had the chance. Ah well, it’s too late for regrets now, I suppose.

On the other hand, a good many people like the new look, something that I find very heartening. I look, depending on whom you talk to, like a professor, which is what I started out to be all those years ago, or Ernest Hemingway, a comparison I simultaneously love and loathe—I admire Hemingway the writer a great deal and I dislike Hemingway the man about as much; the type of person who could write the kind of nasty hatchet jobs that appear in A Moveable Feast is not the sort of person I would want to know personally. And, apparently, I look like Santa Claus, a resemblance that has led more than one youngster to sidle up to me and mutter, “I wanna Playstation.” I must admit that since growing the beard I am taking a good deal of pleasure in playing the Anti-Claus and telling them that they can’t have one unless they beat up their little sisters two days before Christmas, and that they may get nothing at all this year because the cookies they left out for me last year were so stale that the reindeer wouldn’t eat the damn things, and let’s face it, reindeer are neither the pickiest of eaters nor are they the brightest bulbs in the box; if the reindeer won’t eat the cookies, no one else will. I may not stop Christmas from coming this year, but I managed to take some of the shine off of the holiday, especially if you happen to be a little sister hereabouts just a couple days before Christmas, and before you start calling me names, let me reiterate my long held position that Ebenezer Scrooge was a deeply misunderstood man and that the Grinch was a equally unappreciated…well, whatever grinches are, with or without the tight shoes, they are unappreciated.

But the best opinion of all came from my brother, who agrees with my mother, thinks that the beard should go sooner rather than later, and says that the damn beard makes me look like a refugee from the ZZ Top Fan Club. This is fine by me; I’ve been a fan of the Texas rockers for years now, so if I’m going to look like I’m with the band, I might as well keep the beard. Like the boys say, every girl’s crazy about a sharp-dressed man. Of course, ZZ Top is not the sharpest looking band around—I think they look like the miner ‘49 and his daughter, Clementine, especially the latter—but then again, they don’t have to look sharp. Unlike me, they’re actually with the band.

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  • At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I, for one, support your beard!
    Just don't go near toddlers - they are an unappreciative bunch where beards are concerned, just like 82yo ladies of strong opinions.

    However, much more important question is - what would Roberta Vasquez say?

  • At 12:06 PM, Blogger Akaky said…

    I'm sure she doesnt give a rat's ass one way or the other. And there's something new in the works; I'm sure you'd want to know that

  • At 5:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


  • At 11:14 AM, Blogger Akaky said…

    The thing is, I dont like the original ending of the next post, so I am rewriting it. It'll be up just as soon as it's done, which will be shortly, I hope

  • At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I hope, too.
    As it's just so happened that I'm in an urgent need of some comfort fare, as I've been made suddenly free from employer/employee tie in a fashion akin to the Poet's bird who as it is known to all and sundry,
    knows nor strife nor care,
    Of trouble and turmoil he is unaware

    except that my brow is burdened with strife and care (yes, you can say that again! being the Bard, his words bear repetition) and even though I am at the moment availed myself with a weighty tome The Best of Wodehouse, courtesy of Mr. Alfred A. Knopf and his Everyman's Library, I suspect the Battle between Care and Unaware will be lost without your worthy participation.


  • At 10:51 AM, Blogger Akaky said…

    Tat, I'm sorry to hear your bad news; this is not the best time for anyone except a Democratic politician to lose their job. If it's any comfort to you, the long promised new piece is finally online. Best of luck (God, how pathetic that sounds)

  • At 8:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I somehow doubt Democratic politicians will stay long in the state of joblessness, not in this State, anyway. To the endless chagrin of the rest of us.

    Thank you, dearest Akaky Akakievich. I am used to whims and passing fancies of that feckless lady, and try to rely for my mood on something more gift of chocolate from a faraway friend!


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