I wore a moustache from some time in the mid sixties, until December of 2003, when I shaved it off. This is its story.
I'm not sure when or why I grew it. It was sometime between 1963 (my college yearbook shows me clean-shaven) and 1968, a bit before I met Margie. My mother hated it - I don't know if a rebellious streak was part of its attraction for me (some people shave their heads and join a cult - I grew a moustache). I've wondered whether it played a role in determining the person I ended up marrying. A girlfriend I was quite fond of confessed that she didn't like it. Had I shaved it off for her, would I now be married to somebody else? I doubt it was the only thing that split us up. Margie's father wore a moustache. Did that have anything to do with her attraction to me? I can't know. It was simply a part of me for at least 35 years. I kept my moustache fairly neat during the bulk of my business career, as seen to the left. Note 1
It was often hard to keep it neat, because my hair is rather curly, and my moustache particularly so. But I actually enjoyed that aspect of it. A man once approached me on the street, and asked me, "How do you get your moustache to be so frazzly?" I confessed that I hadn't a clue, it just came in that way. There was a time in the late sixties when I grew my hair rather long as well, in a huge "afro". This was, after all, the period celebrated in the musical "Hair". When I finally decided to have it cut, I just walked into a randomly selected barber shop. The barber took one look at me, and quipped, "Are you here for a haircut, or an estimate?" The epidemic of people totally avoiding haircuts during that period was actually no joke to barbers. The picture to the right shows my moustache in a shaggier phase, in 1969. That's what I looked like when Margie met me.
As I aged, some of my hair began to turn white, and this seemed to affect my moustache the most. The white mixing with the black turned my moustache grey, but the white hairs were also more kinky and uncontrollable than the black, and I began to be displeased with my moustache's appearance. I also passed some significant milestones in my life. My mother died in August of 2002, and I reflected on her displeasure with my moustache, and thought that she would have been pleased to know that I had finally gotten rid of it.
Then, in 2003, I put a great deal of thought into the possibility of an early retirement, at the age of 61. As an engineer and computer scientist, I viewed that decision as irreversible - it doesn't take much inactivity in computer science to find yourself completely out of date. It took me months to arrive at a decision, performing multiple financial evaluations to see if we could afford it, and making longs lists of what I might do in retirement, to reassure myself that I wouldn't end up completely bored. I finally decided to go ahead with it, and I retired in October of 2003. I had an impulse to somehow mark that event with a change in my appearance, so I once again started talking about the possibility of shaving off my moustache. Margie, who had never known me without it, didn't seem enthused by the idea.
That was the state of affairs on Christmas day, Thursday, December 25, 2003, about eight weeks after my retirement. The picture to the left was taken at a Christmas dinner at our house (you can see how white and unruly my moustache had become). My two daughters were present, along with my sister Phyllis and her family, and a few other guests. When I mentioned the possibility of shaving my moustache, Phyllis suggested I just go ahead and do it.
At that point, my daughter Sara took my picture, went off to a computer, and began generating an image with half my moustache Photoshopped out, to give me an idea of what I would look like. But while she was still doing that, I overheard Phyllis and Margie talking, and I heard Margie say that there was no chance I would just go and shave it off that evening. I was hardly the sort of person who would do such a thing impulsively, she said - I usually thought everything to death before taking any action. This, of course, is true. It had taken me months and months to decide to go ahead with my retirement. I'm not someone who would ever be described as "spontaneous".
But Margie's remark did it for me. I never do anything spontaneous? I quietly went off to our master bathroom, and shaved it off. Well, half of it, as shown to the right (no sense being too spontaneous). Then I came back out to the living room to let the assembled multitude compare the two sides. I must say, this caused rather a sensation. Regarding her Photoshop efforts, Sara later reported, "I almost got there before you made my efforts useless by actually shaving!"
If this is the most spontaneous thing I ever do, frankly, it doesn't amount to much. Compared to my retirement, it was hardly an irrevocable decision - I could always grow it back, after all. But maybe, logical and obsessive engineer that I am, this is as spontaneous as I get.
Obviously, the second half had to go as well. I suppose I could have walked around for a week or so with half a moustache, but I didn't quite have the nerve to do that (although if I had robbed a bank during that period, the witnesses on opposite sides of the getaway street would have contradicted each other). Below to the left, the final result that day. To the right, portions of my moustache preserved in a 12.5 cm (5 inch) plastic test tube.
I think Margie was not too pleased - I was no longer entirely the man she married. There was something missing. The next morning, when I woke up in bed and turned to her, she looked at me and said in mock surprise, "Who are you?"
Note 1: The word "moustache" (often spelled "mustache" in the United States) came into English, via French, from an old Italian word, mostaccio (sometimes mostacchio). That in turn came from the Greek moustákion, diminutive of Doric Greek mystax, meaning jaw, upper lip or moustache. Actually, the root mystax, passed down through Latin, is the source of the English word "masticate" (chew).
It's curious that after Italy gave this word to the world, mostaccio has mostly fallen out of use in modern Italian, with the current word for a moustache being baffi. Using Baffi, a plural (of baffo) makes sense, I suppose - after all, a moustache has two sides, and I began removing mine by only shaving off one of them (one baffo, I guess).
Apart from a small number of words of Greek origin (such as tesi, meaning "thesis"), Italian nouns ending in "i" are plural. Thus biscotti, panini, gnocchi, and spaghetti are all plural in Italian. Spaghetti means "little strings" (spago = "string", add diminutive ending etto → spaghetto = "little string", plural spaghetti). You can read more about this in the entry Biscotti (bis). [return to text]