Buying a fake beard

For reasons which are too tiresome to go into, I decided to purchase a fake beard. I’d done a bit of research online and I’d noted the differences between those that use elastic around the back of the head, and those which clip around the ears. On various websites, the convention seemed to be that those which clip were the most durable, as the elastic ones are prone to perishing with repeated use. I don’t know why someone would want to use a fake beard repeatedly, it probably being more prudent in the long run actually to grow a beard, but in any case, and pondering on the pros and cons of all the various permutations of fake beard construction and design, I set off into town, intent on making a purchase.
One of the fun parts of online research had been the reviews of fake beards left by previous customers on the various websites. ‘A tendency to itch . .’, for example, or ‘Amazing! Looked just like the real thing!’, on another. ‘It fitted right over the top of my normal beard with no problem at all! Nobody suspected a thing’, read another, or, ‘Terrile! The elastic snapped on only its second usage and almost had the eye out of the ambassadors wife’. The funniest customer review for a fake beard came from a young lady called Samantha who wrote, ‘I originally got this for a costume for myself, but didn’t use it. My son ended up wearing it to dress up as an old man in his first grade class. It worked well and stayed on for most of the day. But beware: this does not look real in the slightest’. Well, it wouldn’t, would it?’.
The fake beard can trace its heritage back to the days of the Yukon gold rush of 1896. In this rugged environment up in the frozen north, the vast majority of potential prospectors arrived clean shaven before making the perilous journey into the wilds, armed with little more than hope and a good shovel. As the winter set in the more rugged among them sprouted impressive beards, and as the famous rhyme points out, the bigger the beard, the more they were feared. In this environment of deep cold and lawlessness, a man was judged solely on the volume, mass and bushyness of his facial hair, and only those who made the grade were unmolested by rival prospectors, bandits, thieves, ne’er do wells, robbers and the perennially shifty. And those without beards didn’t stand a chance.
Gordon McKirk saw a niche in the market and, with his patented glue made from fir tree sap, and a healthy supply of skunk pelts, began to sell fake beards to the prospectors. His Klondike tin shack set up between brothels became one of the most visited businesses of the gold rush, new arrivals making a beeline straight from the steamers and through the mountains to his shop in order to cultivate the manly frontier look. Gordon himself would offer a bespoke fitting service, matching the skunk pelts perfectly with the various chins presented to him, applying the sap glue with a small brush and applying the fake beard before revealing to the customer their new look by means of a mirror hidden behind the curtain. Alas, this was a trick, as the mirror actually was a portrait of one of a number of existing rugged gold prospectors, such as Dangerous Dan McHiggins, Dangerous Dan McKinley, Dangerous Dan McNish, Dangerous Dan McFortescue, or Toby Simpson, who wasn’t particularly dangerous, but he did have a big beard. In actual fact, all of the gold prospectors who left Gordon McKirks shop looked more or less the same, smelling of fir tree sap and skunk pelt, and would promptly get robbed the moment they set foot outside the shop.
Alas, Gordon himself was to succumb in 1898, when, blinded by the various pungent aromas of his skunk pelts, and deafened by the constant honky tonk music coming from the brothels on either side of his Emporium, he tried to fit one of his fake beards to a full grown adult male grizzly bear.
When I was a kid my next door neighbour was a kindly old lady called Celia. She lived alone and kept herself to herself for the most part, though she did volunteer for a couple of days a week listening to children read at the local primary school. She also was quite deaf, and her voice would get higher and higher the longer the sentence that she was speaking. So for example she might say, ‘I was walking through the town the other day and I Thought I Might But Some Daffodils SO I DID AND I MUST SAY THEY’VE STARTED TO COME UP AND THEY LOOK SPLENDID!! But the most unusual thing about Celia was that she always had fake beards hanging on her washing line.
There were always at least seven of them. And you would never see her wearing any of them, which was the weirdest thing. In all other regards she was quite normal and genial, and she was a churchgoing lady who was admired by the local community for the most part.
Of course, there were rumours about why she would have fake beards hanging from her washing line, the suspicion was that she was helping out with the local amateur dramatics society, but she had never shown any inclination towards the arts or any interest in theatre whatsoever.
At about this same time there was a series of cars being held up late at night by an armed individual, a lone figure who for one reason or another became known as the Masked Monk of Maidenhead. It was always something of a mystery why he should be known as the Masked Monk of Maidenhead, as there was nothing particularly Monk like about his reported appearance, and nor did the miscreant operate anywhere near Maidenhead. Rumours then began to persist that Celia, my own next door neighbour, was actually the Masked Monk of Maidenhead, what with all the fake beards hanging on her washing line. It didn’t matter that not one report of the Masked Monk of Maidenhead mentioned any facial hair, fake or otherwise. Nevertheless, rumours persisted and Celia started to become a suspect.
‘It’s just my fluffy BUNTING’, she would say. ‘Every day is a celebration so WHY NOT PUT OUT BUNTING? AND WHY NOT MAKE IT FLUFFY?’ Let’s face it, we’ve all heard of Normal Bunting and the WORLD NEEDS CHEERING UP AND I’M THE ONE TO DO IT!’
As is usual in these situations, the truth was even stranger than fiction and there was a clearer story at the heart of Celia and her fluffy bunting. And bizarrely, it did involve the Masked Monk of Maidenhead.
As I say, she was a church going, god fearing lady, who also did charitable work every now and then for the local monastery. Of the ten monks who lived there, three were bearded. Living by rules which stipulated anonymity, every time the monks appeared in public, they had to look the same so that they were compelled not to form emotional attachments to ordinary people and be swayed from the path of their teachings. Celia would, therefore, provide them with a beard washing service so that they could go about their religious piety freed from the constraints of picking bits of fake beard from the filters of their tumble dryers. When one of their number rebelled against this doctrine and formed an unhealthy obsession with an optician named Brenda, he was ostracised from the religious order and would spend the rest of his time flagging down passing motorists, demanding from them use of their laundry facilities.
Of course, this might all be rumour and inneundo, and to be honest, Celia is probably long dead now.
Alexander the Great, allegedly, was a prolific wearer of fake beards. In the days when he was seen out and about while wearing one of them, he was apparently known just as Alexander the Average. A ruler of the known world by the time he was thirty, Alexander appears in statues, artwork and on coins clean shaven and looking pretty damn hot, yet contemporary accounts always mention him stroking his beard. It is not pointed out whether he was wearing the beard at the time that he was stroking it, or if this was just a mistranslation. What is clear is that many historians suggest he would take time away from the rigours of his court and duties, his lovers and soldiers and necessary admin, don a fake beard, and slip into the busy city streets of Babylon in search of open mic comedy nights.
It is not known whether or not Alexander graces the stages of such institutions himself, or whether he preferred just to sit at the back and heckle. But there are accounts of a comedian from this time, known as Alexander the Great Ninny, who was more of an observational comedian and whose act was much mimicked by such later comedians as Mark Twain and Queen Victoria. One of Alexander the Great Ninny’s Jokes runs as follows:
‘What’s the big deal with conquering Persia? What’s that all about? If you really want to set yourself a challenge, try sorting out the Babylonian annual theatre festival. On the one hand, you’ve got bloodshed, screaming, decapitation, impaling, horror and massive human suffering, and on the other, you’ve got the conquering of Persia’.
Now naturally, this is kind of joke that nowadays has been done to death, with a punchline that you can see a mile off, but at the time it was all new and, contemporary accounts attest, Alexander the Great Ninny would then end each set by tugging his fake beard down, revealing a glimpse of his actual face, and saying, ‘Guess who, folks!’, before scampering off stage to thunderous applause.
So as I say, I decided to go out and buy a fake beard. To be honest, as I left my house the other day I felt excited by the prospect of buying a fake beard and this put something of a spring in my step. I walked with a bit of a smile on my face, the sort of smile which told the world that I was off out to buy a fake beard. I’ve often seen this smile on the faces of other people, and I can always tell what it is that they’re up to, and now it was my turn to have this smile. And those with beards, fake or otherwise, often have the same smile but it’s hidden away from the world. Hidden behind their beards. The smiles might even be fake, as fake as the beards that they hide behind. A philosopher might say, we’r all hiding behind fake beards.
There’s a joke shop in the town where I live. Mister Happy’s Jocular Palace. It has costumes and party accessories as well as Jokes, and for a joke shop, it’s run by the most miserable man I’ve ever met. How tough life must be for him, a man with no sense of humour, spending his entire life running a joke shop. Unless, this itself is the joke. Perhaps he has found the best way to live his life, like a miserable comedian, a man who draws out laughter from the world but hides behind his own ennui,
So I go in to his shop and he looks up from his newspaper. He probably doesn’t get many customers on a Wednesday morning. I walk past the whoopie cushions and the fake noses, the plastic dog turds and the squirty lapel flowers, to a display of fake beards hanging in packets on the wall. And there were so ,at different types of fake beard. Stick on fake beards, hook behind the ear fake beards, elastic strap fake beards, short fake beards, long fake beards, fake goatees, grey fake beards, brown fake beards, white fake beards, and all kinds of different length, from just a couple of inches to ones that came down halfway down your chest, there was every conceivable kind of fake beard you can think of.
Mister Happy puts down his newspaper and ambles over.
‘I’m looking for a fake beard’, I told him.
‘How long do you want it?’, he asked,
‘Just for the night’, I replied.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s