Beard Stories: One of many

Several friends have now sent me links to the current news story about Mariam, a bearded woman in Germany.

These, among others:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2306272/Bearded-lady-Mariam-People-say-I-shot-having-beard-Ive-felt-sexier.html
http://now.msn.com/mariam-feels-sexier-since-letting-her-beard-grow
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/webreg/user/reg_cnt

Talking to M last night, we were trying to count up the bearded women we know or know of. Here’s the list of who I can think of –

Mariam
Jennifer Miller 
The bearded woman who was talking about producing a documentary a while back.
E, a friend of M’s
Debra Beechy 
The person who ran Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Cafe in the Mission
Someone M remembered seeing a few years back at a workshop
Vivian Wheeler 
Amiee Ross
And this list from wikipedia:

This article says there are 30 people (both men and women) in China with congenital generalized hypertrichosis terminalis, a condition causing extensive body hair growth, including a beard.
According to womenshealth.gov, “Between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 women of childbearing age has PCOS. As many as 5 million women in the United States may be affected.” Not everyone with PCOS has facial hair, and most folks don’t let it grow. But, still, there are probably a few who do.
Plus there are various other reasons for a woman to have facial hair.

I like graphs. I’m wishing for a graph of the number of bearded women throughout history (with the y-axis units being “bearded women per capita”). I want it to magically auto-update itself each time a woman stops shaving. I want a graph that would take a little dive if I shaved my beard again for a wedding or some such. I want a graph because I’m curious, and I like data, and I’m curious how my fellow bearded women are doing out there in the world.

And, also, I’ve got a bit of ego in the game. I want to know if I’m starting a trend. I want to know if the number of bearded women is rising slowly but exponentially as we bearded women become more common. I want to know if clusters of bearded women are popping up, centered around prior bearded women, in a pretty fractal pattern. I want to know if anyone else has looked at me, like I looked at Jennifer Miller ten years ago, and thought, “Hm. Maybe I could stop shaving mine.”
I kind of hope so.

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Beard Stories: Kids

There’s an after-school program for gradeschoolers that meets in the classroom next to mine.

When I left my classroom yesterday afternoon, there was a girl, maybe 9 years old, hair in high tight pigtails with colorful plastic balls on the rubber bands, standing in the hall with her back flat against the wall, looking bored and chastened while her classmates played inside.

She looked at me, and I smiled at her and locked my door behind me.

“Are you a boy?” No emotion yet, just checking.

“Nope,” in a cheery tone.

“A lady?!” her voice incredulous, quiet and breathy.

“Yep!”

She raised her hand to her chin. “You have a beard?” sounding confused, like she was checking her facts, wondering if I was an optical illusion.

“Yep,” nodding.

She considered this for a moment as I walked by her, towards the stairs. “How?” a straightforward question, curious about new information, the kind of tone I hear in my science classes.

“It just grows there,” shrugging my shoulders.

“You should shave it,” she instructed me, having resolved the issue.

“Nah. Too much trouble. And I kind of like it,” smiling.

Her eyes bugged out a little.

At this point I was at the stairway door. “Have a good afternoon!” I called to her as I left.

 

I forget which trans* writer said that they were friendly towards kids asking them gender questions but drew the line at puberty. The writer felt that after about age 12, a person should know better than to ask personal questions of a stranger (or a family member, neighbor, or co-worker for that matter).
I don’t feel the same; I like it when adults ask me curious and non-threatening questions. But, there’s something particularly fun about having a kid ask me about my beard. Their emotions flicker so rapidly, covering a charming range from shock to decisiveness to wonder as they work to fit these new pieces of information into their world.

A good friend of mine has a two-month old, who I’m lucky enough to get to spend lots of time with. It’s fascinating trying to figure out what her tiny brain is making of the changing lights and sounds that swirl around her. When she’s not sleeping, she spends most of her time wide-eyed, staring intently at the ceiling fan, a nose, a hat, a picture of black and white dots. One minute she’s smiling and then next she’s upset, but she spends a lot of the time in between with her little brow furrowed in puzzled concentration. As children sort out the world around them, they spend less and less time astounded, puzzling through the mysteries of everyday events. Grade schoolers still do it a lot, middle schoolers somewhat, adults almost never.

When I teach science, I get to reawaken that “what the heck?” response. I get high schoolers, who think they have it all figured out, to be amazed. I get to make them curious by showing them something completely perplexing. I love the bug-eyed “What just happened?!” look on their faces when I convince them, for example, that plants are made of air or that a clump of atoms has the information to make them who they are.  (I feel particularly proud of myself on days when they actually, literally say things like “Whoa!” or “Wow!”)

I’m only just realizing this now, as I write, but I think this is part of what I like about having my beard. I get to give adults the experience, rare in their grown-up lives of routines and schedules, of encountering something utterly new and yet not dangerous or even upsetting. Usually if an adult encounters something completely new, it’s a scary situation like a disease or a car crash. Outside, perhaps, of international travel, it’s hard for adults to find new experiences in the daily routine of work and home.

On a kid’s face, the stumped curiosity is more visible, but I like catching glimpses of it on an adult’s face, too. I like when an adult is willing to break through everything in their brain telling them they should understand everything already. I like it when an adult is willing to engage with something puzzling, rather than pushing the experience away under the guise of politeness or dismissing it as unimportant to their life.

I like curiosity, fascination, inquisitiveness, and wonder. I like it in babies, I like it in my students, and I think I like it in the people who go a little bug-eyed as I walk by.

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Beard Stories: Tha’s craaazy!

7 pm. It’s dark and chilly, feeling later than it is, in the early-dark way of winter. I’ve been walking for 10 blocks, trying to find the Chinese takeout place that’s 3 blocks from work. I’ve finally figured out I was going the wrong way, turned back the right way, and then overshot by a block. So I’m feeling sheepish as I turn back and walk up the same street I just walked down. I cross the street, both to be on the right side to get to the restaurant and to avoid walking by the same folks hanging out on the sidewalk and looking silly wandering back and forth.

On the corner, there are four tall black men in baggy hoodies. As I walk by, they stare, craning their necks. I avoid eye contact, so I can’t see what their expressions are. It’s dark, they’re big. I keep walking purposefully forward.

Ten minutes later, I’ve got my food, and I step out of the restaurant. One of the men is standing right outside, leaning on a parked car. I make eye contact, and he smiles widely. I’m surprised, and I beam back.

I keep walking, still smiling. The other three men are still on the corner, standing in a huddle, blocking the middle of the sidewalk. As I walk around them, they again lean my way, to see better. But this time I look at them and see that they’re smiling.

“How you grow that?” one asks.

“It just grows there,” I reply.

He tips his head back, in the motion of a laugh. “Tha’s craaazy!” he says, with a smile and a tone of wonderment. He gently backhands his buddy, in a “will you look at that!” gesture.

I chuckle as I keep walking. I look back over my shoulder and smile. “Yeah, it just grows there.”

“Wow!” He nods a few times, smiling.

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Beard Stories: Guess Who?

On Friday, I’m being interviewed by a PhD student for her dissertation research. We’ve arranged to meet at a restaurant on Market. She emailed to confirm:

“Great! See you 2p Friday. I have blonde hair and will be wearing a pink scarf so you can recognize me.”

I wrote back, “I’ll be the woman with the beard. And glasses. =)”

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Beard Stories: Moving

I’ve been neglecting this blog for the past few weeks because I’ve been caught up in getting moved. It’s been a bit of an ordeal. The place I was so excited about last time I posted (the cottage in Berkeley) fell through – the landlord had a family emergency and couldn’t get the place ready to rent out. But by the time it fell through, I had already made plans to move, and there was already someone slated to move into my old room by Dec 16. So, I was in a bit of a bind… which is a far more delicate way of expressing it than what I actually had to say about various parts of this moving %$#&%.

So, I ended up putting all my stuff in storage and I’m staying with K for a few weeks, to give me more than just a week to find a new place.

I hired movers from the La Raza Day Labor Program, and, as always, they were fantastic. The two men both had names starting with R, which confounds my semi-anonymity habits on this blog, as calling them R1 and R2 seems either impersonal or Seussian. Both men introduced themselves at the start of the day, but after that, their limited English and my limited Spanish constrained our conversations to “Are these going?” and “Las muebles aqui, si.” They worked for eight hours loading and unloading and loading and playing a fabulous game of tetris with my furniture. My friend V drove them from one location to the other, while K rode with me in the truck. After it was all done, V was asking me where I’d hired them from, and I was explaining about the Day Labor Program. I mentioned that I’d used workers from this program a few times before. My first move, the movers handed me their phone numbers at the end, asking me to call them directly if I had any work in the future. Each time after that, the movers hadn’t done that, which made me worry that I hadn’t been a satisfactory employer. Had I not given them enough breaks, or had they not liked the lunch I provided? Had I been annoyingly unclear in my instructions or hovered too much? Maybe the stairs were too steep and windy, and they just didn’t want to deal with that property again. I voiced these fears to V, and she made a confused, dismissive face. “But R said he worked with you last time, moving you out of Market Street.”

My first reaction was to feel shitty – I had clearly spent a whole day with this man before, and I didn’t remember it at all.  I nervously, with a cringing feeling of guilt, ran a quick “-ism”-check. Did I not remember him because all Latinos look the same? Did I pay insufficient attention to him as a person because he was working in a service job?  It took me a minute to remember my beard, to remember that there were various imbalances in our experience of each other – that we had non-equal positions based on race, class, and employer/employee dynamics, but also on freakishness.

But, I still feel a little sheepish for not remembering him.

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Beard Stories: Searching

So, I’ve been neglecting this blog for a bit, because my life has been in a phase of general upheaval, most of it good. (You’ll see me mentioning K a lot more, as he’s become a much bigger part of my life.)

The less fun upheaval has come from an unexpected apartment hunt. Due to some disagreements with my roommates [drama details redacted], I ended up looking for a new place to live, with a potential deadline to get out or face living with a cat and/or angry roommates.

So, as you do in San Francisco, I got on craigslist. Or, more specifically, K got on craigslist and started sending me listings. Which I then screened, compiled into a spreadsheet, and contacted every single one that seemed at all suitable.
By Sunday, I had a list of about ten places to view – back-to-back appointments every half hour or so, driving all over Oakland and Berkeley. At half the places, I showed up for the 30-minute open house along with a dozen other people, all clamoring to get a place to live that wouldn’t drain every last bit of cash. They all looked so normal. A young, thin, feminine, white woman, with her mother helping her look. A 30-ish het couple dressed in sweaters. A 30-something man with a tidy haircut and polo shirt. Some folks asked for applications, some didn’t. At one place, I asked for an application and filled it out as three het couples in skinny jeans examined the studio, yard, and garage. I handed it to the agent, a brusque, long-haired, middle-aged white woman dressed in gardening clothes and asked if she needed a credit report or anything else. She said, “No, we just look at everything all together,” which didn’t seem to make much sense to me. I never heard back from her and she didn’t call my references. A shy, mumbling, middle-aged white man showed an apartment and asked us to list our emails so he could send applications. I listed mine clearly and then emailed him to follow up. There were several others on the list – an undergrad whose mother was asking all the questions, a man with an eager Labrador, an Asian man with black-framed glasses.
I started to worry that the landlords didn’t want to rent to the queerdo (queer + weirdo, a term I like for myself most of the time). I started to wonder if I’d need to shave my beard in order to get a place, just like I shaved it to get my job. Of course, no one said anything about the beard, but then no one ever does.

Over Thanksgiving, I kept looking. I scheduled a half-dozen places on Friday, bouncing around the east bay solo this time, which was much less fun than driving around with K for company. This time, it was almost all individually scheduled showings, not open houses. When I showed up, it was just me and the agent.
As before, I made a point to mention that I was a teacher. As before, I made a point to make friendly small talk with the agent or landlord.
This time, I saw an inlaw cottage in Berkeley that looked appealing. The young black man in a grey hoodie showing the place didn’t have applications, so I pulled an application from the other day out of my trunk and filled it out on the spot. I thought it might seem pushy, but I also thought it would be the best way to get my application in first and hopefully get priority. He seemed to young to be the owner and too disorganized to be a property manager. My guess was owner’s son. Then, I went to see an apartment down in Oakland. The property manager, a very chatty, 40-something, rotund, shiny-headed bald black man in track pants, talked nonstop as he sorted through a gallon-sized bag of keys to try to find the right one. I asked if he had other properties for rent for under a thousand, and he offered to knock the price on a nearby apartment down from $1100 to $1000, “to get the right person in there.” I think I might have mentioned being a teacher, but he hadn’t seen my financials yet, so his suggestion that I was the “right kind of person” had to be based almost entirely on looks. We drove over to see it, I filled out an application, he called in to check my credit, found out it was good, offered to throw in a parking space, and offered the apartment to me on the spot. I told him I wanted to think about it, and he said to just let him know. Then he spent another ten minutes continuing to tell me his life story – how he’d lived near where I live in SF, which schools he’d gone to (since I said I was a teacher). Then he mentioned, apropos of what, I forget, that a good friend of his (or maybe one of his tenants?) directed the Gay Men’s Choir. I perked up, asked who. He couldn’t remember the name, but he thought he had a photo of the guy. He searched his messy desk but could only find a photo of the back of the guy’s head, which didn’t give me enough to figure out if I knew him. But we got to talking about the Chorus and how great it was. Finally, I managed to extract myself from the conversation, to go see one last place.

Two days later, I got a call back offering me the inlaw in Berkeley, which I’ve now got a deposit down on. I get the keys on Friday.

I’m glad that someone thinks that a butch-haired, red-bearded, bespectacled, 30 year old white woman in a tshirt and new jeans is the “right kind of person” to rent to. I’m glad I didn’t have to shave. And I’m looking forward to my new place.

 

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Beard Stories: Sir? Ma’am?

“You have your pick of liquor stores,” K joked, touting the dubious benefits of the apartment I was viewing. The building, which had badly patched stucco on the outside and badly patched plaster on the inside, was situated next to kitty-corner bottle shops. Across the street was a boarded up house, while next door there was a perky little bright yellow house, remodeled and sparkling, perched like a canary in a cage, inside the tall black spike-topped fence.

When we were done, we sat in the car, figuring out where the next apartment open house was. It was a warm day, so I rolled down the window all the way as we talked. When I pulled out my computer to see the address on my house-hunt spreadsheet, I was a little nervous to be flashing around electronics. The yelling match that had erupted outside the liquor stores earlier and the person who wandered down the middle of the street loudly cursing everything they saw had made me a little vigilant.

So, when a person walking up the street appeared to be headed for my car, my shoulders rose and tightened a little. As she approached the car, I don’t think my posture changed visibly, but I felt my whole body go a little bit more tense.

She was a thin woman, draped in four or five layers of clothing; I could see a white sweatshirt with big polka dots, a black shirt buttoned wrong, and worn navy blue trenchcoat, none of this sat squarely on her shoulders. Her dark brown skin showed deep creases, but I couldn’t begin to guess her age.

“Excuse me, sir?” she said, standing a few feet away from the window and leaning towards us.
She looked again.
“Ma’am?”
She looked again, still puzzled.
“Are you a woman?” she asked.
“Yep,” K replied for me at the same time as I answered.

She then proceeded to explain how she had fifty pennies but they wouldn’t take them at the store because she didn’t have the wrapper to make them into a roll of pennies. So she wanted to know if we had two quarters that she could trade for her fifty pennies, so she could buy something that the store.

We apologized for not having any change. She shuffled away.

 

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Beard Stories: Wishful thinking

(Originally written September 2, 2009.)

“You used to be in Andy’s lab, right?” asked the professor I was meeting with to see about a job as a grader. Her office is across the hall from Andy’s.
“Yeah. I switched  into Gretchen’s lab.”
“You used to have a beard, right?”
“Yeah!” I’m surprised. Almost no one says anything outright about the beard, especially no one outside the queer leather scene.
“I didn’t recognize you without it,” she says, smiling. I think to myself that clearly that isn’t literally true, but I understand her meaning.
I smile with a little shrug and nod. I’m never sure what the next step is in a conversation like this. My failure at small talk. Or the lack of training in my upbringing on how to converse about one’s beard.
She leans back in her chair a bit, taking a more relaxed, conversational posture “You know, I’ve been with my husband twenty-five years**, and he’s always been clean shaven.” Her tone clearly says that she kind of wishes he’d grow a beard.
“It’s fun variety,” I offer, smiling and wishing that sentence had come out with better grammar. “I’ll be growing it back soon,” I continue to show I agree with her that beards are nice. (As if a woman would grow a beard without having a preference for them.)
“Ah, great,” she says, or some other phrase of approval. “Twenty-five years, and he’s never grown it out…”

And the conversation moves on from there to whether or not I’ll be working for her.

**I actually remember it as thirty-five years, but that didn’t seem to add up with her age. Ten or fifteen minutes later in the conversation, I was trying to figure out if I was remembering it correctly or what she might have said, or if she could possibly be a lot older than she looked and had in fact been with him for thirty-five years. Based on her appearance, twenty-five even seems high, but then I’m lousy at judging ages.

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Beard Stories: Me too

(Originally written August 29, 2009.)

“Large chai latte, please.”
“Venti chai. That’s three thirty-five.”
“Thanks.”
I’m in the DC train station, waiting for the next train to Baltimore. Not in a total hurry like usual.
A black woman in her forties, wearing a beige trench coat and a long, business-woman skirt and blouse, is in line behind me, so we end up standing together waiting for our drinks. She catches my eye and asks, smiling in a friendly, wide-eyed way, “How do you grow that?” with a hint of pleasant fascination in her voice.
“It just grows there.” I reply, smiling back and shrugging. “It started growing in when I was thirteen, and I used to spend all this time shaving and tweezing and plucking and doing chemicals and whatnot. So I decided to just let it grow.”
She’s smiling broadly now. “That makes sense!” she chuckles. “If I had one, I’d grow it myself!” she says with a chuckle.
I laugh and say something generic like “Cool!”
“Venti chai.” The barista sets my drink on the counter. We smile and nod, and I head off to my train.

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Beard Stories: Beard in translation

(Originally written August 28, 2009)

Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Romanian = barba
French = barbe (looks to my American eyes like “Barbie,” although I’m sure that’s not how it’s pronounced. But I like the idea of a Barbie beard.)
Afrikaans, Dutch = baard, German = bart, Yiddish = bord
Croatian = brada, Latvian = bārda, Lithuanian = barzda, Slovenian = Brada, Polish = broda
Welsh = barf (ew)
Galician = Barbados (I’m assuming this is a translation error!?)

Hebrew = zakan (If I’m reading it right.)
Slovak = fúzy (! – my favorite)
Cockney rhyming slang = Strange and weird (I like this one!)

More:
Danish = skaeg, Icelandic = skegg, Swedish = skägg, Norwegian =skjegg
Albanian = mjeker
Czech = vousy
Estonian = habe
Filipino = balbas
Finnish = partaa
Hungarian = szakállt
Indonesian, Malay = jenggot
Irish =féasóg
Maltese = abjad
Swahili = ndevu
Turkish = sakal
Vietnamese = râu
(as a sidenote, it was interesting to find out which languages used which alphabets.)

Beards.org says my particular style is called a chin curtain, chinstrap, or Donegal.

Definitions, from various sources. 
v. defy, oppose
n. hair on the sides of the face and chin
(v. t.) To take by the beard; to seize, pluck, or pull the beard of (a man), in anger or contempt.
(v. t.) To oppose to the gills; to set at defiance.n. a tuft or growth of hairs or bristles on certain plants such as iris or grasses
n. a person who diverts suspicion from someone (especially a woman who accompanies a male homosexual in order to conceal his homosexuality)
n. tuft of strong filaments by which e.g. a mussel makes itself fast to a fixed surface
n. Of a woman, pubic hair.
v. go along the rim, like a beard around the chin; “Houses bearded the top of the heights”
(v. t.) To deprive of the gills; — used only of oysters and similar shellfish.
n. An imposition; a trick. [Obs.] –Chaucer.
(n.) A barb or sharp point of an arrow or other instrument, projecting backward to prevent the head from being easily drawn out.

From the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Cutting the beard. The Turks think it a dire disgrace to have the beard cut. Slaves who serve in the seraglio have clean chins, as a sign of their servitude
Kissing the beard. In Turkey wives kiss their husband, and children their father on the beard.
To make one’s beard (Chaucer). This is the French “Faire la barbe à quelqu’un,” and refers to a barber’s taking hold of a man’s beard to dress it, or to his shaving the chin of a customer. To make one’s beard is to have him wholly at your mercy.
I told him to his beard. I told him to his face, regardless of consequences; to speak openly and fearlessly.

And from Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary:

Beard. The mode of wearing it was definitely prescribed to the Jews (Lev. 19:27; 21:5). Hence the import of Ezekiel’s (5:1-4) description of the “razor” i.e., the agents of an angry providence being used against the guilty nation of the Jews. It was a part of a Jew’s daily toilet to anoint his beard with oil and perfume (Ps. 133:2). Beards were trimmed with the most fastidious care (2 Sam. 19:24), and their neglet was an indication of deep sorrow (Isa. 15:2; Jer. 41:5). The custom was to shave or pluck off the hair as a sign of mourning (Isa. 50:6; Jer. 48:37; Ezra 9:3). The beards of David’s ambassadors were cut off by hanun (2 Sam. 10:4) as a mark of indignity.
On the other hand, the Egyptians carefully shaved the hair off their faces, and they compelled their slaves to do so also (Gen. 41:14).

Etymology
Beard O.E. beard “beard,” from W.Gmc. *barthaz (cf. M.Du. baert, Ger. bart), seemingly from PIE *bhar-dha “beard” (cf. O.C.S. brada, Lith. barzda, and perhaps L. barba”beard”). The verb is from M.E. phrase rennen in berd “oppose openly,” on the same notion as modern slang get in (someone’s) face. Pubic hair sense is from 1600s; in the 1811 “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” the phrase beard-splitter is defined as, “A man much given to wenching” (see beaver).

And, related –
Bizarre – c.1648, from Fr. bizarre “odd, fantastic,” originally “handsome, brave,” from Basque bizar “a beard” (th notion being of the strange impression made in France by bearded Sp. soldiers); alternative etymology traces it to It. bizarro “angry, fierce, irascible,” from bizza “fit of anger.”

And finally, some beard quotes:

“All the men in my family were bearded, and most of the women.” – W.C. Fields
“To a man, ornithologists are tall, slender, and bearded so that they can stand motionless for hours, imitating kindly trees, as they watch for birds.” – Gore Vidal (Maybe that’s why I keep doing bird research.)
You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.” – G. K. Chesterton
“There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. This period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard. ” – Jean Cocteau
“If you are really Master of your Fate, it shouldn’t make any difference to you whether Cleopatra or the Bearded Lady is your mate.” – Ogden Nash
Wisdom is in the head and not in the beard” – Swedish proverb. And, “If the beard were all, goats could preach” – Danish proverb
Or, more graphically, “A beard creates lice, not brains” – Greek proverb.
Alternately, “Chins without beards deserve no honour.” – Spanish proverb
I have the terrible feeling that, because I am wearing a white beard and am sitting in the back of the theatre, you expect me to tell you the truth about something. These are the cheap seats, not Mount Sinai.” – Orson Welles
Kissing a man with a beard is a lot like going to a picnic. You don’t mind going through a little bush to get there!” – Minnie Pearl
Seize opportunity by the beard, for it is bald behind” – Bulgarian proverb
“Upon shaving off one’s beard. The scissors cut the long-grown hair; the razor scrapes the remnant fuzz. Small-jawed, weak-chinned, bug-eyed, I stare at the forgotten boy I was.” – John Updike
When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully, the world, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to find it comes off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away the timid adventurers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.” -Shakespeare

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