My roommate is hell bent on growing a four-foot long ZZ Top style beard for no good reason at all except that he can. He has made several beard attempts in recent years, but they all have ended with feelings of despair, regret, and shame.
The first time he tried was in the autumn of 2003; the only attempt with any logic behind it. He had been cast a small speaking role in a production of The Medea, an ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles. He, as well as every other male character, was required to grow a sizable beard for his role.
And grow a sizable beard he did indeed. Jabe is half Italian and very hairy. His beard grows fast and thick as does the hair on his head. After 6 weeks he was sporting a full thick mat of hair on his face that would rival that of any Alaskan fishing boat captain.
Being the loyal friend that I am I decided to join him in a “sympathy beard”. I also refrained from shaving for 6 long weeks. My beard, by comparison, was pathetic. It didn’t look all that bad, but compared to Jabe’s it was the difference between a sporty economy coupe and a Formula 1 racecar. My beard had no real shape and you could still see skin and the remnants of a once-attractive man beneath it.
It was the last time I let any facial hair get out of control. I didn’t like who I became. The beard started taking over. It was influential in key decisions. It clouded my judgment. It was a surly and cocky beard and its arrogance pinnacled in a monumental boast that I could out drink anybody in Olympia that was willing to challenge me. For a short while my beard remained unchallenged, but it only fed fuel to the fire. With each passing day my beard shouted louder and louder and became more brash and offensive. “Cowards!” it would shout from atop a coffee table at a party, “I’ll out drink any one of you weak-stomached amateurs. Name your alcohol. Name the place and time. I’ll show you what it means to get drunk in this town!”
Finally my good friend Anna Severn stepped up to the plate. “Enough!” she yelled. “You and your beard are full of shit. I’ll out drink the both of you!”
Money started flying around the room instantly. My beard had stirred up a lot of mixed emotions. Its confidence was inspiring to some and detested by others. There was no middle ground. You were either with me or against me, and in that way the contest was not unlike a race for the Presidency of the United States of America.
I laughed in her face. The notion that I could get taken down by a girl was simply preposterous. This wasn’t Raiders of the Lost Ark, this was real life. And in real life women cannot out drink men.
That’s what I thought, at least. Had I been clean shaven I might have given more thought to the fact that we were nearly the same weight and that she was quite the competent drinker. I may have considered the fact that out of the gates I’ll match anyone, but as the night wears on—especially when hard alcohol is in the mix—I tend to go from zero to passed out cold in a split second.
These things did not concern my beard, however. “Name the place!” it yelled.
“Right here!” she yelled back. Ooohs and ahhs came from the crowd. More money changed hands.
“Name the time!”
“This Saturday, at the Halloween Party!”
“Name your poison!”
Immediately the room exploded into laughter. More money exchanged hands and the scales were tipped in my favor. We formed a committee of Anna, myself, and our two biggest supporters to establish the rules:
1) We would begin in the kitchen of Mara and Christian’s house at precisely 10:00pm that Saturday night.
2) The drinks would be double tall Cape Cods, made with Absolut vodka and mixed by a third and impartial party.
3) Every drink must be matched. It would be up to the discretion of whoever finished their drink first whether they wish to wait for the other to finish their drink, or force them to pound it and begin another.
4) Should a drink be spilled it must be replaced in full with no credit.
5) Passing out constitutes a loss.
6) Vomit constitutes a loss.
7) Any unwillingness to participate any further constitutes a loss.
The rules were agreed upon. Hands were shaken. Bets were made. It was a contest of honor and pride. There was no prize for the winner other than glory and gloating rights. It was a testament to all things noble of mankind. It was on.
The contest began innocently enough. Our drinks were prepared. We counted down. When 10:00 struck a pistol was fired, we clinked our glasses, and we began drinking. I was the first to finish the initial drink. I opted, out of politeness and a spirit of sportsmanship, to let Anna finish at her own pace. By the end of the second double, however, things began to get hairy. Our genteel contest was beginning to get vicious and cutthroat. There was still laughter and smiles exchanged between us, but beneath it all ran a tone of treachery and bloodlust. The side bets, which were constantly being updated, were spiraling out of control. It was no longer a simple contest between two friends, but an epic battle of opposing forces with hundreds of dollars at stake.
The odds were lingering in my favor at around 5/4 by the end of the third round, but I was starting to get nervous. How long can I keep this up? I wondered. I’ve been preparing for days and I’m getting straight faded. She must know how drunk I am. How much longer can I last?
Things get blurry from there. It was somewhere toward the end of round six that I decided in my mind that I’d had enough. I had little at stake in this. By Jove I was drunk and I wanted sleep. I’d had nearly 12 drinks. What would be the shame in conceding at this point? If I lost to Anna at least I would be losing to a friend and not some random drifter that would mark our hometown as a den of suckers and rubes for all eternity.
The decision was made instantly. I staggered outside to find Anna and concede the contest to her. I vaguely remember tapping her on the shoulder and seeing her swing around. I tried to tell her that I gave up and that she was the winner, but all that came out of my mouth was some mumbled gibberish.
It didn’t matter, though. Anna knew what I was trying to tell her. A glow washed over her as she asked me, “Are you giving up?” I nodded my head in agreement. There was a roar of simultaneous cheers and boos from all around. I was pelted with garbage as I made my way back inside while Anna was congratulated and her victory celebrated by everyone that hadn’t bet against her.
It wasn’t until I had reached the kitchen that I realized what I had done. How could I have folded so easily? Yes I was drunk, but I wasn’t finished. How could I have been so hasty? So short-sighted? So weak? Every wrong turn I’d made in my whole life was manifesting itself right before my eyes and mocking me.
Enough is enough, I thought. I focused my attention on Stacy, our impartial bartender. “Make me another one.” I demanded.
“But I thought…”
“Never mind. You heard it all wrong. This contest is far from over if I have anything to say about it. I need another one fast. I spilled my last one and I’ve got some catching up to do.”
My case was sound. I had never actually admitted defeat. I never even said any words at all. All that cheering and shouting must have been over something else entirely. I’ll walk back outside proudly with a nearly full drink as though nothing had happened and no one will be the wiser. We’ll see yet who is the better drinker!
And that is exactly what I did. I walked back outside with a second wind and a fresh drink. My actions sparked a massive explosion of confusion and chaos. Money had begun to change hands, but there had not been enough time for business to be concluded. People thought I was out of the running, but here I was with a drink in my hand and a smile on my face implying otherwise.
Anna, who was still basking in the glow of her win, glared at me. Her face contorted from lighthearted glee to a distrustful grimace. “What’s going on here?” she demanded.
“What are you talking about?” I asked her as I sipped my new drink.
“What are you doing with that drink? I thought you conceded.”
“Wherever did you get that idea?” I asked taking another drink.
“You did! You came out here a minute ago and conceded! This contest is over! I won!” She was shouting and waving her finger in my face. Her arms were flailing around like a muppet on speed. She was visibly upset and a little confused, but she knew what I was up to.
“I did no such thing.” I proclaimed. I flashed her a knowing and mischievous grin. Its subtlety did not go unnoticed.
“Right there!” She pointed at my face. “You know you gave up and you’re trying to cheat!”
It was all true what she was saying, but I was never going to admit to it. As far as I was concerned I hadn’t broken any rules and I was still in the running, but I knew I was doomed. Too many people had witnessed my concession, and even though they were all drunk few were as drunk as Anna and myself.
The crowd was forming into a mob now. Faces were getting angrier and people were starting to get violent. My stunt, I thought, was clever, but the people that had their rent on the line didn’t find it as charming as I did. The crowd started jeering and booing. Anna looked like a judge at a witch trial. She had god on her side and she knew it. She was righteous and she was casting out the devil. She had all the momentum now. The crowd started throwing cans of beer at me. I managed to dodge a couple, but they kept coming. I was being run out of town like a snake oil salesman.
“This whole contest was fixed from the start!” I yelled as someone dragged me around the side of the house. “You’re all a bunch of winos and drunks and potheads! You people are worse than Nixon and Bush put together!”
That one did it. People started throwing their bottles now. I had no choice but to turn around and make a run for it while covering the back of my head with my arms. I felt like Frankenstein’s monster and Spiro Agnew. I was being run out on a rail, and for what? What crime had I committed other than a healthy commitment to the spirit of competition?
Of course I knew how absurd I was being. I broke every rule in the book. I boasted and mocked my competition. I conceded, and then tried to weasel my way back into the running. I behaved like a scoundrel from the very beginning and I got exactly what I deserved.
The next afternoon when I woke up I went to the bathroom, vomited, brushed my teeth, and took a razor to my face with extreme prejudice. It was the beard’s fault that I had behaved the way that I did. The beard had cost me my honor and my pride.
I looked in the mirror at the old me; the sensible and pragmatic me. I breathed a sigh of relief and vowed to myself never to let that happen to me again.
But that is neither here nor there. The real story is the phenomenon of the Hockey Beard.