November 8, 2010
Queen’s University at Kingston, Ontario, has a new buzz word: Movember. For the last two weeks hirsute students and staff have faced levels of apprehension on campus I haven’t seen since the American draft in the seventies. Even the clean-shaven guys asked themselves the question: “When I am called, will I go?”
PhD. candidate Martin Mallett filled me in: “One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lives. 4,400 in this country die each year from it. The disease is fairly treatable, though. This whole Movember thing started in Australia when a bunch of guys brought moustaches back as a fund raiser for research and it caught on. There’s a huge Movember in Australia, Canada and the U.K.
“The tagline on their website reads: ‘Changing the face of prostate cancer.’ Guys register on Movember.com, then start November clean-shaven. They grow it out and collect donations throughout. At the end of the month a series of Movember galas occur where everybody showcases his moustache. It’s pretty amazing what some men can grow in a month.”
Martin went on: “This is the first time since grade 11 that I have had no facial hair. I feel I have been instantly taken less seriously. I feel I don’t project authority as well. This can only get worse as the moustache goes into the intermediate stages.
“When she saw me without, my wife was dismayed. Days later I would be talking to her and she would stare at my face as though I was a different person. And all of these sensations I’ve never had before: cold outside, sudden warmth on my face when I enter a room. But I’ve already raised over $100 in the first week. I think people donated just to see me shave my beard.
“The first night I went to a co-ed water polo evening. All the girls on the team were lined up against the wall. They started to squeal. That was the first time I have had that reaction from a large group of women. I don’t know if it was shock or what.
“Charlie’s making a video of my moustache growth over the month. I go to the studio every day, sit on a stool and do a full revolution in front of a fixed camera. He’ll stitch that all together and make a thirty-second video of the moustache-growth process. We’ll try for a twisted version of one of those David Attenborough time-lapse nature films.”
Like Martin, I have worn a beard since I realized the need to put some distance between my baby face and my older students. I was teaching grade 8 at the time. The moustache came a bit later, though, as my upper lip seemed to defy adulthood.
I still remember an encounter with a security guard spurred by my lack of a passable moustache. Some of you will remember Dr. Robin Staebler, the genius/gadfly who founded the Newboro Medical Centre. After Eastern Ontario, Robin became Head of Family Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Visiting the Staebler household was always interesting. One day we installed lights in his horse barn. The next he asked me to sit in on interviews for the fresh crop of resident physicians to staff his department. Of course Robin went on ahead and expected me to catch up with him. How would I do that? “Don’t worry. I’ll find you.”
So I drove the half-hour into Minneapolis, parked my Beetle underground, and wandered out onto the quad to take in the sights of the lovely campus. A security guard shortly walked up to me. “Rod?” I nodded. “Dr. Staebler will meet you in the conference room in his building. If you’ll come with me I’ll show you the way.”
“How did you pick me out of the crowd?”
“Dr. Staebler gave us a good description.”
The interviews were a highly interesting experience. Robin didn’t pick one brilliant young woman who would have been my first choice, but then I’ve never felt particularly threatened by students who were smarter than me. As we met for lunch I had to ask: “What description did you give campus security that let them zero in on me so quickly?”
Robin looked at me, savouring the moment: “I told them to watch for a young Abe Lincoln running to fat.”
It was time to grow that moustache.
I forget why, but once in my thirties I decided to shave it all off. My first day at school went smoothly enough until in my home form a fifteen-year-old named Rachel noticed me sitting at my desk, shrieked, ran up, wrapped her arm around my head and pinched my cheek. This astounded everyone in the room, including Rachel, I think, as she was normally a relatively undemonstrative kid.
Word got out and the rest of the students took it easy on me. That evening was a party, though, and my principal, J.R. Johnson, kept bringing staff members over to introduce me as “Clair Kelso, 1956!” Apparently without the beard I bore some resemblance to my friend and department head of the time.
Twenty years later I shaved again, perhaps looking to rediscover that baby face which had caused me so much grief in earlier decades. This time nobody reacted. Nobody even commented. So there didn’t seem to be much point in shaving every morning and the thing grew back by itself.