Something About That Beard

I was coming home on the bus after working out at the gym and shopping at the grocery store. The bus trip takes about five minutes. Unfortunately, this particular bus trip was the longest five minutes in my life. A mostly bald gentleman with wispy sideburns and long hair at the base of his neck mentioned that I look like a rabbi with my long beard. That’s a strange comparison. Most people say I either look like a merchant marine or a Middle Eastern terrorist. This is the first time someone told me that I look like a rabbi.

I’m surprised that no one has ever said that I look like a Greek philosopher—or as Mel Brooks describes it, a professional BS artist—since I wear the beard without the mustache. A style I adopted during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s, which suited my facial features better as I started working at the gym and trimming down five years ago.

With the passing of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some people—mostly members of a Christian non-denominational church I belonged to until a few years ago—would come up to me to say that I looked like a terrorist and asked if I was planning to blow something up. They were joking around. I gave them a serious response that made some run away screaming: “No, but if I do, you will be the first to know.”

The gentleman on the bus may have been a professional BS artist himself as he expounded on how rabbis maintain their beards in Old Testament and New Testament times, how beards never go out of style, and, of course, women always love bearded men. When I got up to get off at my bus stop, he encouraged me to read a few pages of the Old Testament every day. An odd conversation. It never occurred to me until later that he might be Jewish. Most American Christians tend to forget that Jesus was a Jewish carpenter.

I think I learned more than I wanted to know about beards in those five minutes. Since I’m the only student in my ceramics class with a beard, I’d created a small statuette of a human face with a beard in the classical style. This is in preparation for the larger-than-life self-portrait bust that I’ll be completing for the class final.