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Opinion

The handlebar mustache experiment

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October 7, 2011

In England, there is an exclusive club where the only condition of membership consists of ownership of the following item: “a hirsute appendage of the upper lip, with graspable extremities.”

That is of course the handlebar mustache, which I currently possess. For those unaccustomed, a handlebar mustache is a mustache where the ends near the corner of the mouth curl into a ringlet, usually giving the owner the appearance of smiling. Since July 9, I have been growing my beard into a scroungy shag that carpets my white face. It was first grown out of freedom because of the daily shaving I had to endure at a cannery in Alaska I worked at, and then I ignored to suit my surroundings in the Alaskan tundra. Finally, this last week I cut my beard off with an axe (I wish) and left my face barren except for a pair of mutton chops and the handlebar mustache.

The beard I had worn for so long has scraped crumbling soapstone mountain sides of the rugged Alaskan interior, felt the breath of the sage and sunflower prairie of North Dakota, been combed by Spanish moss from the south as I braved swamps, and has been washed off by saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean, leaving a crust. Sadly, it was not so cold in Alaska that I could let icicles dangle as ornaments like so many Christmas trees.

Upon coming back from these various and sundry locations, this self proclaimed lifestyle enthusiast decided to change my style and swagger to better suit my hipster tendencies; the handlebar mustache seemed like a qualified answer. This change in appearance is a quite different route than former hairstyles that were clean-shaven or bearded. [Digression] Actually, in 2009, while shaving, I let the stache remain for a few moments. I quickly applied some Dapper Dan hair wax to the edges of the mustache and curled a tight roll that even a turn-of-the-century boxer who says “bully” a lot would admire enviously. I took a photo and placed it into storage, waiting for the right opportunity.

What I thought would be a fashion statement, the new arrangement on my face, soon turned into a social experiment. Mustache wearing has its risks. It is a misconception that all mustache wearers are rapists or have a proclivity for such practices. Yet, as I sit in the library I hear whispers and look up to see bros and their girlies talking behind their hands staring at me, I can hear them say “mustache.” As I walk I will hear people fall down behind me as they run into other pedestrians, double-taking as my all-powerful handlebar mustache leaves them confused and befuddled. During the last week, I have been told in blunt deadpan tones, “when are you going to cut that off, it’s disgusting” and “you will never get a girlfriend.”

On the other hand, random people will compliment me, telling me that I look like Mario from Super Mario Bros. and giving me votes of encouragement to carry on the legacy of the stache. Although I have worn this mustache for a week, it doesn’t compare to the time I wore it for only a few moments one day in 2009.

Yankee swap was the answer to the photo. Yankee swap, or Nasty Christmas as some call it, is a gift-giving game where multiple families buy nominal gifts, usually found on the end shelf where one can buy cards, scissors, or condoms, and place them in the middle and the players roll doubles to win or steal gifts in two-three rounds. Most of my family members will go the end shelf route, whereas I will go all out, hard pranking style. In previous years I have put such gifts in the middle: bags of coal, hemorrhoid cream, cat treats, flour, and adult diapers. This is where the photo comes in, two years ago as we completed, yet again, another memorable game of Yankee Swap, I watched my aunt unwrap her prize. She thought if she picked the biggest and heaviest gift she would win. Knowing this I grinned maniacally as she unraveled an 8 inch by 10 inch black frame autographed picture of me, with my handlebar mustache. The look of disgust she wore is one of my fondest memories to date. In a surprise move, my younger cousin traded his cheap candy for my mug shot. He said he would keep it on his dresser because he thought it was so awesome.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.