A Clear-Cut Situation

The face in the mirror keeps catching me by surprise.

“Hey, Scott! You … ” a co-worker called in the parking lot, patting his own chin.

“Yeah, I did.”

It’s the bare-faced truth: for the first time since early 2013, the beard is completely gone. Deforested. Clear-cut. Shaven.

The facial fur left for the same reason it came – to secure a part. When I first transformed into my more hirsute self (joking that I had hit my mid-life crisis), it was to play an Arthurian knight in “Camelot.” This time, an internal city spot was being created that needed a Sherlock Holmes type, and while Sherlock is known for his abundance of brains, there’s rarely been an abundance of hair to go with it. So, out came the razor.

The stage is funny that way. In a similar situation, to play the spear-bald agent Swifty Lazar, a friend erased a beard that had been in place for better than 40 years. We had performers in the cast that were younger than the exorcised adornment was.

It was a peculiar transformation then. It feels equally strange now.

I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest. After all, these last few years have held a lifetime’s worth of changes. Four years ago, my wife Heather and I began to take care of Missy, her physically and mentally disabled aunt. One year ago, I left newspapers (aside from this column) to do PR and pursue some writing of my own. Five months ago, Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, prompting still more changes in response.

Compared to all that, what does a scraped face matter? Sure, it feels a bit cooler, maybe looks a bit younger. But set against everything else, is the re-summoning of a bygone visage so much?

Then again, maybe that’s it. With so much having changed, it seems … peculiar to look like I did before it all happened. It’s almost like turning back the clock, stepping back to an earlier time.

Silly, of course. You can’t undo change with a razor.

And yet … maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a symbolic reset.

Anyone who’s ever been a caregiver of any kind knows this: fatigue is real and rarely acknowledged. When you put much of your energy into keeping another person going for one more day, the last thing you want to do is worry anyone by revealing how low your own tank is. Sure, you know the caregiver has to be cared for, too, but that’s an intellectual knowledge rather than a visceral one, sort of like how one might have read about bears in the mountains without having any idea what to do when Smoky visits your campsite and rips open your car trunk.

And so, a level of background tired sets in. A level of tunnel vision, too, where you focus on taking care of what needs doing now, with the rest stored in a mental attic for later, if it isn’t just left behind as discarded baggage.

It’s easy to fall into cycles. Habits. Patterns.

Breaking that pattern, even in a small way, helps.

Suddenly, the world looks a little different. You have to come up for air, to pay attention, to see what else might have changed when you weren’t looking. It can be re-energizing, snapping you to attention like a glass of cold water to the face.

Come to think of it, that’s one reason I do theatre in the first place. The chance to step outside myself for a while, to be someone new and, in doing so, get a second wind for who I already am.

The stark state may not last. I do like the beard. So do Heather and Missy. (Actually, Heather likes any state that isn’t the in-between stubble.) But for now, with a few swipes of a Gillette, Mr. Holmes may have solved yet another situation.
Even if it does mean taking it on the chin.

Fur Sure

As midlife changes go, this isn’t a bad one.

There’s no hot sports car sitting off the curb of Casa Rochat, attached to a huge bank loan and a running tab at the garage.

There’s no blonde or redhead on the side, no sudden resignation of my job to hike the Andes, no purple mohawk with an accompanying earring.

Instead, there’s just a bit more facial fungus  than there used to be.

Yep. The head shot on Rochat, Can You See is now inaccurate. Scott’s sporting a beard.

It’s not the first time I’ve flirted with the idea. The trouble is, there’s at least three stages to wearing a beard and Heather only likes two of them – smooth and smelling of shaving cream, or soft and fully-grown. The rough, scratchy, in-between stage that resembles my lawn during a Colorado summer isn’t comfortable for either of us, and that’s usually when I call retreat.

I made an exception once, back in Kansas, and let it keep growing. And by “keep growing,” I mean “Did nothing whatsoever to trim, thin or otherwise tame it.” All I was missing was a cardboard sign and a spot in the supermarket parking lot.

When people look at your face and ask if things are going all right at home, that’s not a good sign.

I knew it could be done better. I’d seen so on Sean Connery, on Dan Simmons, on my own Dad before he opted to return to a clear-cut. It just seemed like more of a hassle than I wanted.

But when I auditioned for and got a part in “Camelot,” the director had one question. “Do you think you can grow a beard by opening night?”

And thus the wildland restoration effort began anew.

As it happens, there’s a few advantages to going furry. You save a lot of money on razor blades. (You know, the ones they seem to alloy with platinum these days?) You pass the initial hurdle for any opening of “Fiddler on the Roof.” You get instant portable climate control, providing insulation in the winter and a handy sun screen in the summer.

Most of all, you create an instant conversation piece, once you’re far enough along for people to see that you didn’t just oversleep the alarm.

“Hey, what’s this?”

“You’re going to keep it, right?”

“I don’t usually like beards.” (Pause) “But this one suits you.”

Between this and some springtime weight loss, it’s even made me take a fresh look at myself. Usually, studying the mirror means a grudging acknowledgement of the Growing Thin Spot atop my head (which is a little like saying Jupiter has a reddish area somewhere in its middle). Now, it’s like meeting a new neighbor.

Besides, it’s quite the novelty to see hair advance instead of retreat.

Maybe this is the real reason – or at least a real reason – for the stereotypical midlife crisis. After so long of creating an identity, even the smallest change looks huge. It’s intriguing. Even exciting. And it makes you wonder what else can lie beneath the surface.

And really, that doesn’t have to be a crisis at all. Not when it can be an opportunity.

Learn an instrument? Why not?

Take the trip you’ve always put off? Go for it.

Start that book that’s been “someday” for 15 years? Sure.

I’ve known people who did all the above, or variations of it. Sometimes the experiment didn’t work so well. Sometimes it blossomed into something beautiful. In all cases, the self-portrait expanded, not so much changing who they were, but discovering more of it.

Funny thing about discovery. It’s addictive. There’s always more to find.

Just one thing. Be careful about discovering the Maserati.

Some situations, after all, are hairier than even Gillette can handle.