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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTravel Writers' Resources | December 2009 

The Beard
email this pageprint this pageemail usJan Baumgartner - PVNN
December 01, 2009

A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a freelance writer dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico.
The Beard (1979-2009) The Beard expired at home with his beloved Face at his side. He is survived by His Face. They had no Sideburns.

I had heard rumors that men were from Mars, women from Venus, but never truly felt there was so vast a divide that we could be born from opposing planets. To me the differences were far more subtle; say, men from the Big Bend region of Texas or Spunky Puddle, Ohio, whereas women might hail from Heavenly Valley, California or Sweet Lips, Tennessee. Well, that was until yesterday:

I was surprised to find my Old Lover (who shall be referred to as Ol) and his Newish Girlfriend (Ng) at my front door. She was bearing a brown paper bag smelling of warm pastries and a spreading grease stain, which is always a good sign.

Normally, friends would not indulge themselves in the "pop in" knowing that I work from home and Ol and I had had this understanding: In the past, he would call first so not to disrupt my writing schedule, I would not pop into his art studio knowing he might be at work on a canvas. But there they were, just back in town after a few days in Seattle for his art show, of which I had heard, he had done quite well and sold a few ridiculously large canvases.

"Sorry to disturb," he apologized, "but we were in the neighborhood and thought we’d drop off some chocolate filled croissants." We laughed good-naturedly and I figured they had read my latest piece.

We sat down at the wrought iron table in the overgrown patio garden, shaded by the rubber tree. It wasn’t until I looked up from the contents of the goodie bag that I noticed Ol was no longer sporting a cascade of whiskers and in fact, was clean shaven. "Oh my God! You shaved your beard!" I laughed, as if he might not realize he was missing a face once covered with what appeared to be a small, unidentifiable mammal, much like the specie which hitches a ride atop Donald Trump’s scalp.

"I know, isn’t it great!" said Ng, running her fingers across Ol’s smooth jaw line. "After he read your essay he felt compelled to trim. Who would have known such a beautiful jaw was hiding under all that fur?" she laughed.

I liked Ng. Our paths had crossed long before and I always found her to have a fine sense of humor and so was rather pleased when Ol had told me some months before that they had become a couple. The problem now was that Ol seemed rather miffed and I had to assume the latest essay about my Expired Lover and loss of lust had not tapped into his funny bone but rather, had hit a nerve. Obviously, I had gained points with Ng and Ol was now her New Improved Lover (or Nil) but Ol looked as though I had just run over his dog.

"So, you thought my beard needed trimming?" he asked, helping himself to one of the three chocolate plumped croissants. Now, this is where I started to realize that he was indeed a Martian and not a Big Bender because if I had to guess, I would have thought that if anything struck an irksome chord in him from my latest piece, it might be that his ego was somewhat bruised when I said I no longer found him sexually attractive or worthy of knuckle dragging or Von Trapp yodeling, that he was a bit grayer and thinner on top, or that I was more intrigued by the tiny yellow bird perched on a nearby branch. But no, mentioning that his beard needed trimming seemed to have spurned a disturbing melancholy. Where was Dr. Phil when you really needed him?

"I heard your show did very well," I zigzagged.

"Surprisingly well, yes. You know, I always tried to keep my beard rather neat," he catapulted. "I had that beard for nearly 30 years. No one’s ever mentioned it was unkempt before."

I had never used the word unkempt and from his bizarre behavior, one would think I had suggested his unruly mop looked like the Uni-bomber. Ng and I exchanged nervous glances characteristic of Sweet Lippers.

"I hadn’t planned on shaving it off it’s just when I started trimming, I got carried away, I guess. I’d trim one side a bit shorter, then would have to even out the other side, then I accidentally cut too much off leaving a baldish spot so had no choice but to shave the whole damn thing." He finished his croissant and went to tear off an end of the remaining pastry, mine. I wanted to kick him in the shins but refrained as I knew this would only exacerbate his grieving over his phantom beard.

It was obvious to me that in my many decades of dealing with what I now realized were indeed Martians and not the fun-loving Spunky Puddlers, I was no closer to understanding them than I was before. I had innocently mentioned a mass of hair, his face hamster, but in my naiveté had hit on something that was a bone of contention for irritable Martians.

If he hadn’t touched my croissant, I might have felt badly for his loss but in all honesty, I had no idea that men were so sensitive or attached to their facial hair. Do they see a beard as a security blanket, a pet, a dependent for a tax deduction? And years ago when a good friend of mine shaved his soul patch after I jokingly commented that it had no rhythm; did I unleash, perhaps, the first of my seemingly bad hair karma episodes?

"I’m sorry," I grinned, "but I agree with Ng, you look really great without a beard."

"Thank you," he smiled, "but next time, you shouldn’t be so glib when attacking someone’s beard."

I looked around my shoulder to see if Ashton Kutcher was hunkering behind the tangle of hormonal ivy. Attacking? He made it sound as if I had to defend myself against a rabid raccoon. Obviously, Ol had shaved off a goodly portion of his sense of humor when the whiskers dropped to the bathroom floor.

I congratulated him on his successful art show and thanked her for the croissants

After they left I realized just how vast the planetary divide was amongst Martians and Venusians, feeling a bit sad that my old perspective of Big Benders and Sweet Lippers was seen through a very small and innocent lens.

Even more upsetting, though, was as I sat solo at the wrought iron table beneath the giant rubber tree, serenaded by the fountains’ regurgitating fish mouth and a lone mourning dove, I was left with only half of a chocolate plumped croissant and nary a handful of crumbs.

I looked up at the mourning dove but it flushed from the tree leaving a splat of an exclamation mark on the table, barely missing what remained of my sweet. I knew this was a sign, of what I was unsure, but nervously felt my chin to see if my fate might be with the circus.

A native Californian, Jan Baumgartner is a writer and book editor dividing her time between surviving in Maine and living in Mexico. Her writings on Mexico will be included in the new literary journal, Lady Jane (San Francisco Bay Press, 2009) Her background includes scriptwriting, comedy writing for the No. California Emmy Awards, and travel writing for The New York Times. She has worked as a grant writer for the non-profit sector in the fields of academia, AIDS, and wildlife conservation for NGO's in the U.S. and Africa. Her articles and essays have appeared in numerous online and print publications including the NYT, Bangor Daily News, SCOOP New Zealand, Wolf Moon Journal, Media for Freedom Nepal, and BanderasNews in Mexico. She's finishing a memoir about her husband's death from ALS and how travels in Africa became one of her greatest sources of inspiration. She is a Managing Editor for OpEdNews.

Click HERE for more articles by Jan Baumgartner.

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