The Sociological Quandary That is My Mustache
It all started in Vegas, as any good story about a mustache should…Well, Vegas or the Alps…But I digress.
A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I took a trip to Sin City. In honor of our journey, we decided to ditch our names and take on the personas of people we like to call Guy and Judy Palomino. Guy is a used car salesman whose catch-phrase is “One of these days Judy, I’m going to fuck you in the ass.” He says this everywhere: at the bar, at the reception desk of the hotel, at the blackjack table. It’s his thing.
Judy is a former debutante who was once voted the most beautiful woman in Fresno.
To help get into character, I wore an ill-fitting suit and shaved my beard into a ridiculous 70’s porn star mustache. Judy wore polyester. Lots of polyester.
Needless to say, we had a great time.
For reasons I find inexplicable to this day, however, my girlfriend likes my moustache. She can’t get enough of it. So weeks after leaving Vegas, I still find myself with a ridiculous rat’s nest on my upper lip. The whole thing has had a profound impact on my daily social interactions. Especially when I’m out walking in public. The reactions I get from strangers could form the basis for a sociological thesis.
Most interesting, I’ve found, is that different ethnic/racial groups seem to regard my moustache differently. For instance, despite my fairly lily-white skin, Mexicans now seem to think I’m Mexican. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached in recent days by people asking me questions in Spanish. This never happens when I’m clean-shaven. NEVER.
I happen to speak pigeon Spanish, but not well enough to carry out a conversation. So I usually tell people who approach me that I don’t understand. When I do this, their demeanor immediately changes and they tense up. At first I thought they were just embarrassed for some reason. But I’ve since come to a different conclusion: they think I’m a cop.
A few days ago a homeless guy tried to sell me weed in Spanish. When I told him I didn’t understand, he freaked out and lied in English “Oh, I just wanted to know what time it is.”
Filipinos, on the other hand, seem to find my mustache hilarious. HILARIOUS. Chidlren, old women, men, but especially teenagers. I can’t walk around my neighborhood when school gets out. They’ll follow me around for blocks, giggling. Not worth the humiliation. They’re too polite to call me names, but I can see it on their faces. “What is that thing on his lip!”
Women, my girlfriend the lone exception, run in terror at the sight of my mustache. Especially if I see them on the street. Normally when I see a woman, I can smile or make eye contact and get some kind of response: a look, a wave, a smile. But with a mustache, absolutely not: eyes to the ground, to the sky, anywhere buy my face. Even the homeless lady who sometimes sleeps on the bus benches near my house is terrified of me. Won’t say a word. Not even if she has a change cup out.
The most curious reaction comes from Armenians. They seem to want to fight me. The reaction is almost universal. At first they’ll stare with a mixture of horror and revulsion. Then their eyes get hard.
If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, I’m not.
I joined a small gym a few months ago where the owner is Armenian. Nice guy. I’m a Celtics fan he’s a Lakers fan. Every day I work out, we talk sports for a couple of minutes. Just friendly small talk really, but enjoyable. But ever since I grew the mustache he won’t say a word to me. At first I thought he didn’t recognize me. I’d wave and he’d give me a curious look. Finally, one day I went up to him and started talking Lakers/Celtics, and his eyes went hard too. He completely ignored me.
Maybe my mustache makes me look Turkish, I don’t know.
They say the most evil people on earth all had mustaches: Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein. But I don’t buy it. Pol Pot didn’t have a mustache. Dick Cheney doesn’t have one either.
Suffice it to say, I think the mustache presents some interesting metaphysical and sociological quandaries. If I can make it a few more weeks with this thing on my face, I’ll continue to plume the depths of mustache as signifier.