My first failed attempt to grow facial hair occurred in the 8th grade. The whitish fuzz on my upper lip had gotten fuller and darker. And like many young men of that age, I let it grow, unaware of just how tragically sad it was. Fortunately, a family member gave me an electric shaver. Every few days I shaved, and a few stray black hairs would emerge, no more, no less than the time before. Fate was against me.

Fortunately, I didn’t care too much for what fortune had in store for me. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I heard there was a solution to this sad state of affairs. There was a sure-fire way I could turn that sparse patch of peach-fuzz into a ’stache that would make Tom Selleck bow and Harry Reems blush. It was painful. It was tricky. It was time-consuming. And it involved shaving cream and a razor.

It didn’t do shit. I had been lied to.

And so I abandoned the quest to grow facial hair for the next few years.

But then I got high. And I mean, really fucking high. Seriously, that’s really the only explanation for why I ever allowed that ugly ass patch of hair they call a goatee to perch on my chin for close to a decade.

But my sideburns, those were a thing of beauty.

Sometimes I trimmed them to just the bottom of my earlobes. Other times, I let them grow all the way down to my jawline. And then other times I would let them blossom into muttonchops. Needless to say, I wasn’t a chick magnet. But that may have been because I showered on a less than regular basis. My apologies go out to my creative writing classmates. Just be grateful I hate the smell of patchouli.

And then quite unexpectedly, 10 years later, I shaved off the goatee. If I remember correctly, I was simply bored, and quite honestly, I had probably been drinking. It didn’t matter that it was the middle of the day. At the time, I was a freelance writer, and, well, I was free to do anything that I wanted to, except pay the bills.

I had been fired from my gig as an editor in Greenville, followed my girlfriend to Boston while she pursued her master’s, and watched helplessly as a sure-thing job as a news editor with a Beantown alt-weekly had unexpectedly fallen through when the company eliminated the position after I had undergone five interviews. It was a dark period, made even darker by the fact that at the time the sun seemed to set every day in the winter at 3:30 in the afternoon. But once I shaved that beastie off my face, slowly but surely, things began to change.

I began freelancing with another alt-weekly in Boston and picked up regular gigs in Orlando, Philadelphia, and Charleston. I reported on neo-Nazis and anarchists, rappers and rockers, freaky fringe characters and self-righteous bastards. I posed as a homeless kid in Harvard Square, watched a lady eat pages out of the Bible and spray holy water around her seat on the subway, and attended a truly bizarre all day sexpo where I learned that some folks get off on injecting saline solution into their scrotums while others liked to flog each other at pirate camp. What role shaving off the goatee played in all of this, I’m not sure. But I had given myself over to Fate.

Shortly after leaving Boston, I was quite unexpectedly offered a job in Hawaii, and it was as if everything that happened in the year-and-a-half as a struggling freelancer had paid off. Lady Luck had decided to shine on me. And it was there in the Aloha State that, for the first time in my life, I felt like I was an adult. And it was there that I finally tried to grow a beard. Not a goatee. Not a peach-fuzzy ’stache. But the full-on real deal. It was one of the best decisions I had ever made.

And I’m sure that it’s a feeling that is shared by all of my brothers in hair who are competing at the Southeastern Beard and Moustache Championships. Let it grow, boys. Let it grow. Fate demands it.

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