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Big Chuck

July 2, 2012

Slip of the razor revealed a whole new Chuck

Facial hair is a tricky thing to pull off.

I have had such for almost a half-century, in one form or another.

In college, I had mutton chops that stuck out four inches from my face. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, "The Father of the Mutton Chop," had nothing on me. I combed them out from my face until they came to a point. They were the perfect facial accessory to my tie-dye shirts, pukka shell necklaces, platform shoes and flared pants. I, of course, looked ridiculous.

Later it was all about the moustache and the Afro. I was living in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and I fit right in. I could pick my Afro out so far that it virtually had a life of its own. Like a "Chia Chuck."

My stache morphed from a goatee to a Van Dyke to a walrus at a moment's notice. Later, as I settled down, I wore a trimmed moustache or goatee for decades. And still do today.

I think it gives my oval Jim Henson-inspired head some depth and character. I've always had a large head. Even as a baby. My baby pictures show me as a nuanced crossover between Bert Lahr and Nikita Khrushchev. A perfectly round, comic-looking bobble-head with several levels of chins. Revisiting these earliest photos set me on the path to a hirsute future. I needed something to break up the round, wide, expansive plane called my face.

Recently I walked into a minefield while getting ready for work at 5 a.m. I made the worst mistake any optically challenged man like myself could make. I tried to shave without putting my glasses on. After, when I wiped my face clean and peered into the bathroom mirror, I was horrified. I had weed-whacked my moustache into a scraggly, uneven, scary-looking swatch of facial Velcro. Uh-oh.

There was only one thing to do. Shave it off.

As I walked to work that morning I noticed it was unseasonably cold out for June. Then I realized it was the burst of morning air hitting the skin between my nose and top lip that had been hidden since Nixon was president.

At work I found myself constantly wiping my chin for fear that I had dripped some water on my face (or worse yet, had entered my drooling phase). My hand always came back dry. My lower face was as cool and clean as a baby's bottom (no doubt a baby that mashed up that old Lahr/Khrushchev thing).

When my co-workers arrived at work I waited for the reaction. At first it was a whisper overheard not quite out of earshot.

"What's the matter with Big? Is he sick?" Or "Big looks different today. Is he all right?"

It was amusing. And then there were the direct comments like "Hey, Big Chuck, are you losing weight?" I loved that one. It was an hour before the shrieks of "Oh my God, where is your moustache?" could be heard echoing throughout the radio station. I suspect that my colleagues have never seen me with a bare face. And I've worked with these people for decades!

Now, several weeks later, the novelty of a hairless face has worn off. I've rediscovered the uncharted shaving shore under one's nose that will leave you with little pieces of white toilet paper tagged on your face to mark the spot where you drew blood.

Enough. It is time to put some hair back on this old mug.

But, since this rebirth, which path do I take? Now that my face is a tabula rasa, I have the opportunity to revisit old, mostly failed, facial configurations.

I seriously thought of partnering up with my old friend the Van Dyke. It is such a declarative facial statement. The marriage of the dashing moustache with the insouciant goatee seemed the perfect fit for me. Or at least it was in 1968.

I decided to look up the definition of the Van Dyke. Once I got to the part where a Chicago columnist in the 1800s reviewed it as a "style that was selfish, sinister, and pompous as a peacock," I thought this is definitely not the road I want to take.

So what will it be? I will probably end up with just a plain, uniform strip of now-graying hair to cover my philtrum. Easy to care for, simple to trim. No muss. No fuss. Boring.

Now those mutton chops, on the other hand ...

I'll catch you in two.

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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