Celebrate the Bear

On a quest for the hairiest one

He slid his drink over to me and looked expectant.

"Not beer," I said. "Beards."

He laughed and offered me a cigarette. "Well, I just shaved mine," he said. He ran his hand over his face.

I pointed over to my companion, who was sitting a few feet away and making a facial expression that implied he was contemplating his level of ruggedness. "My buddy has recently taken up beard-growing."

"Wow, yeah, no, mine wasn't that thick. I only had Ashton Kutcher-style stubble. But I like beards. My lover has one."

He looked around, as if trying to get a glimpse of his boyfriend, who was presumably somewhere in the bar. I told him to summon me when he found his bearded beau, and approached a pair of thin, respectably-shaven gentleman at the far left of the bar.

Beards and bears: Keith and Michael were both slight, well-dressed, and had nary a trace of whisker. Keith had large, dark eyes and ears that stuck out adorably. Michael was light-complexioned and had a smoother jaw line than most babies I've seen.

"In honor of Christmas, and more specifically, Santa Claus, I have a question to ask you," I said. Then, after an ample pause: "Are beards hot?"

"Aesthetically, beards are appealing on certain people," Michael said. "But I'd never be with someone with a beard. Too scratchy."

"What about you?" I turned to Keith.

He considered briefly. "I like them. Beard-burns the next morning can be hot."

"I can't lie, I'm kind of jealous I can't grow one," I said.

"Oh, with the right pills you could," Michael said.

"Yeah, but I don't think I'd ever achieve the Santa Claus beard — the ultimate beard," I said. "How long do you think it would take to grow one like that?"

Keith and Michael looked at each other.

"Maybe five years," Michael shrugged.

"But you know, in the gay community, the guys who have beards are called 'bears,'" he gestured to his left, at a crowd of older, slightly larger, certainly fuzzier-faced men. "Like those guys."

And speaking of bears, I looked up and noticed that Sam's lover had rejoined his boyish companion, so I made a quick dash over to them.

"Don't grow a beard!" Michael called after me.

Sam's boyfriend had a light brown beard, a slightly receding hairline, and a bigger frame than, say, Keith or Michael. But as I got closer, I realized he had the most manicured facial hair I had ever seen — very different from my friend's beard, which grows like rampant wild fire across his face.

"You have a nice beard," I said politely. "Why do you grow it?"

"I have scars on my face," Sam's boyfriend, also named Michael, said simply.

"I guess if women can hide behind makeup, it's fair for men to hide behind hair," I said.

"I love his beard," Sam said, staring at it. And that's it: The world is divided into two groups of people: those who love facial hair and those who don't. I know which group Sam, I, and Mrs. Claus are in.

That night, I felt full of quiet Christmas spirit — and holiday-themed beer — but I realized that I had made a bigger breakthrough than when I discovered it was actually my parents filling up my stocking on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus is a bear!

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