My best friend Davey called me in the wee hours of Día de Los Muertos, but his voice sounded strangely altered — think Strom Thurmond after a fifth of Wild Turkey.
He said that he had been kicked out of a party for poking people with his cane. And worse than that, all his friends were angry at him.
He told me he had not broken from his “old man” character for the last 28 hours.
“They just don’t understand,” he said. “Halloween is 10 percent costume and 90 percent character.”
I laughed then, but as I’ve wrestled with the comment these last four months, I’ve come to finally understand its wisdom. Go ahead and put on your Popeye costume next Halloween. But if you can’t squint and mumble gibberish, you are far from a sailor man.
But this is bigger than a once-a-year truth nugget. Now that March has arrived, I offer you this: “Mustache March is 10 percent costume and 90 percent character.”
Now, some bare-faced Santa Cruzans may question what a furry upper lip has to do with attitude. But the true greatness of a mustache is about more than dexterous trimming and inventive style. A ’stache is a statement about what kind of man you are, and the statement stretches well beyond the inch between mouth and nostrils.
If you keep your lip warm with a thick, Ron Burgundy ’stache this month, you have a responsibility to exude an air of mahogany and leather-bound books.
If your taste tends toward a heavily-waxed and curly Aristo-stache, then you’d better drink your tea with pinky raised and comment on the oaky hints in your wine.
And if you wear a Mark Spitz mustache this March, be a patriot and wear a stars and stripes Speedo like the man himself. Let your lip-sweater be a reminder of a simpler time when the biggest vice plaguing America’s gold-medal swimmers was an addiction to the power and class afforded by a perfectly-kept mustache. A time when the nation came to understand that nothing frames seven gold medals better than a thick, brown mouth drape.
I have chosen to celebrate this March — a month when baseball, our most-mustached pass-time, begins — with a horseshoe ’stache. The style, worn by cowboys and gas station attendants who spend their lunch breaks at the local strip club, forces its wearer into a certain brand of old-school gruffness.
I would like to claim I can control the ’stache, but the power of the lip-hair has taken control of me. The horseshoe becomes badly misshapen when I smile, and even when I try to show my teeth, the weight of the mustache forces my mouth back into a frown.
There is an English proverb: “A man without a mustache is like a cup of tea without sugar.” But in my case, my mustache is more salt than sugar — or maybe even cayenne pepper.
I walk down the sidewalk, and my mustache will not allow me to move out of the way of coming pedestrians. I can’t help but rev the hybrid engine of my carpool-privileged Prius while stopped at a red light. I’m plagued by a powerful new desire to wear sleeveless flannels and pick up a chewing tobacco addiction.
People tell me I’m changing, tell me to shave it off.
All I can say in response is that I’ve tried. I’ve stared into my bathroom mirror during the frigid hours right before the break of day and thought it over. I’ve even lathered my face with shaving cream.
But try as I might, I cannot force the razor onto my upper lip.
My ’stache has ceased to be just a bit of well-groomed facial hair. It’s become a symbol of great mustache wearers of years gone by.
It is as if Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, Frank Zappa and Rollie Fingers, Yosemite Sam and so many other great men of generations past have taken responsibility for protecting my furry upper lip.
Every day, my mustache grows thicker, and it becomes harder for me to recognize myself.
So, I apologize if I bump your shoulder on the street or challenge you to arm-wrestle. I don’t mean anything by it — my lip hair has taken control.
Please understand: In March, the mustache is king.