By JEFF PICKELL
I’d never want to be marooned on a desert island for six years, but not for the reasons you’d think.
I actually think it would be a pretty interesting experience to spend a few years like Robinson Crusoe on a tropical atoll with nothing to keep me company but coconuts and a herd of feral goats. The problem is, nobody would believe me if I did.
When my rescuers finally showed up, the discourse would go something like:
Jeff: Thank goodness you’re here! I’ve been awaiting rescue for ages!
Rescuer: Relax, buddy. You’ve been here what? Three days?
Jeff: What are you talking about? The ship I was on sank six years ago!
Rescuer: If you’ve been on this abandoned island for so long, where’s your beard?
Jeff: [After a long pause] I have no good answer to that.
I’m among the approximately 4,000 American men between the ages of 18 and 122 who go beardless each year. Sure, I have facial hair, but it grows in careless, inconsistent splotches that kind of remind me of my cleaning habits. If I go three or four days without shaving children laugh at me and dogs bark at me on the street.
I’ve wanted a beard since seventh grade, when I had geography with the delightfully bearded Mr. Fincham.
Mr. Fincham would’ve been an unremarkable teacher were it not for his remarkably remarkable stories. He once brought in a wood stake he said was from Transylvania, claiming it could have been used on a vampire hunt. Another time, he showed us a katana given to him by a World War II veteran. It was procured after the soldier shot a Japanese commanding officer charging at him in a last ditch banzai attack.
The best story of all was the one he told to warn us against tipping back in our chairs.
When he was in high school, Mr. Fincham had a close female friend who was “very bright and just very charming. She was just really very bright and had the whole world ahead of her.” That’s how Mr. Fincham spoke.
One day, Mr. Fincham’s friend tipped back too far, fell over, and knocked her head on the floor so hard her skull broke and little pieces of bone stuck into her brain. When he went to visit her in the hospital, he found her screaming silently in pain—her voice was gone by then. She was clutching her bedside railing with such violent force that her hand had turned black and blood oozed from her fingernails.
“It took her two weeks to die,” he said gravely.
And nobody ever sat down in Mr. Fincham’s class again.
I admired Mr. Fincham’s deftness at terrorizing middle schoolers—after all, they were, and continue to be, my worst enemy. Consequently, I admired his massive beard, which he periodically combed after setting us to work in our outdated geography books. It is, to this day, my belief that I would be at the forefront of beard achievement had I not slighted my idol.
The summer between seventh and eighth grade, I took to reading the stack of old National Geographics my grandpa sent me and stumbled across a startling factoid. And so, on the first day of school, as Mr. Fincham started into his anti-tipping anecdote, I raised my hand in interruption.
“Mr. Fincham, your story can’t be true,” I proclaimed. “I read that the brain doesn’t have pain nerves, so she couldn’t have been in as much pain as you said she was!”
Mr. Fincham grabbed his beard in surprise, assuring us that he would never lie to his students. Still, he said wouldn’t tell the story until he could provide proof that it was true. For one day, we sat comfortably. That night, Mr. Fincham phoned his doctor friend.
“It was brain swelling that caused the pain,” he explained to us the next day after another terrorizing telling of the story. He looked me dead in the eye. “Brain swelling. The brain may not feel pain, but the skull does when the brain swells into it.”
My classmates grumbled, pushing back their chairs and climbing to their feet. Several hair follicles on my face and neck shrunk back into my skin, never to be seen again. It seems Mr. Fincham placed a call to a few of his friends on the U.S. Board of Beard Determination as well.
So, I guess the moral of the story is that if you ever want people to believe you’ve had a prolonged stay on a desert island, never challenge a bearded middle school teacher.- Dec. 13, 2006