I don’t know. Maybe I was going for an Old Man of the Mountain thing. My father and grandfather both sported mustaches late in life. Well, my grandfather always had a mustache. And snow white hair from the age of 21. Try to compete with that.
My dad spent his life living up to him. My rebellion was that I didn’t try to live up to either of them. Couldn’t be done. So I went my own highly individualistic way. Freedom!
Until, like all stupid young men who get older and smarter only gradually, I realized I was always, obsessively, trying to live up to both of them. The consequence of being the son and grandson of men.
Strike that. The son and grandson of gentlemen. My father was critical of me, but he also criticized himself to me when he (rarely) transgressed his own code. He was in many ways opaque, but his courage was to tell me when he had been deliberately rude to a man who, in retrospect, didn’t deserve it.
This is, ultimately, a sad story. What all the young men will ultimately find life insists on. Nothing rational about it. Life is finally poetry, and justice is not measured in official outcomes but splinters of insight.
Do you want to hear? Probably not. It’s a mere anecdote that spans half a century. But maybe it will explain why, in my musings, I succumbed briefly to a desire to hide, which is always the function of beards.
In the early 1960s, we lived here and my parents socialized with all the local social lions, some of them fabulously rich. As I’ve also explained. One night, one party, shortly after the election of JFK, whom my father despised as a shanty Irish, drug addicted hood. (No idea to this day where he got that idea.) After a few drinks at a ritzy party, he announced “I hate all Democrats.” Just as a local unrich Democrat state senator entered the room. My dad was too embarrassed to apologize. So he didn’t.
Subsequent to that, I was, well, coerced into becoming a Cub Scout. Good for my socialization, I suppose, since I spent so much time reading and exploring by myself in Little Egypt.
The pack was located in the colonial village on whose outskirts we lived. They had their own history and tribal customs. While the Bostonians dumped tea into a harbor, these folk burned tea in the public square. The residents were mostly descendants of the tea burners. They didn’t like the wealthy outlanders. I discovered too late that I was one of those. They beat me up at every meeting, once punching me so severely in the groin that a doctor had to be called. The ringleader of the bullying was the son of the man my father had inadvertently insulted.
Pressured by the doctor and my parents, I told who had done it. My dad called the parents of the kids involved. All but one blew him off. One night I was called downstairs to see someone at the door. It was that man with his son, whom he brought expressly to apologize to me. I accepted his apology. There were no recriminations. From then on, he was my friend.
My father told me afterwards, “I’m in his debt. He proved to me he was a gentleman. I’ve never proved to him that I am.” But I think he did. There were no fisticuffs. Both were gracious, honorable men.
I’m more aggrieved at myself for what happened many years later. By an accident I was living in that very village not 15 years ago. I remembered the man and his wife. She was lovely, with a windswept hairstyle I wish would come back. But the story in the village was that they had both come to grief. She was incapacitated and nearly catatonic, I don’t know why, and he was physically debilitated, confined to a wheelchair. People described the two of them sitting in what should have been their perfect retirement home, staring listlessly at one another. He’d been a realtor, an earnest local politician, and she had been the mother of three. And their inheritance was unimaginable ruin.
Then, one day, I saw a sight I will never forget. A man in a motorized wheelchair wheeling down the exact center of the wide road called Ye Greate Street. He looked neither left nor right. I think, just once, he wanted to see the Cohansey River again. I’ve had that feeling myself. I told myself I know that man, know who he is, that proud jaw, that stolid substance. I should run into the street and introduce myself and tell him about the example of fatherhood, manhood, he had shown me.
But I didn’t. He whizzed slowly by. Now I know how my Dad felt.
Why people grow beards and hide behind them.
Forgive me, Mr. Robert Webber. I coulda, shoulda, didna.
But I’m older now. Hope to see you later on. Clean shaven.
Float me on a wooden boat on that river. I’ll be content.
P.S. No intent to deceive. Best pic I can offer. Just can’t take the flash of the camera. Sorry.
I am everyone’s nightmare. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I have spent all day avoiding two terrible posts I knew I had to do. Sorry for the eye slits. Can’t keep them open when the flash goes off. I chose to do this egotistical post instead of the harder ones. Sometimes two posts are too many. Sometimes five are not enough. Why I’m just treading water.
But look. If I’m not St. Nuke, I’m Johnny Dodge. Still everyone’s nightmare. Count on it.
And, yes, I do have eyes.
Seventh decade of watching. That’s worse than the NSA. Because it involves actual insight.