(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.