“The Beardist,” by Joshua Sampson

Dec 20th, 2018 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

“Does it look okay?” I asked my girlfriend as I examined a large billboard advertisement across the street from our car that prominently displayed a new beard balm. She wasn’t paying attention really, as she flipped through Reddit and Facebook in an amorphous blur, like she was simultaneously fact-checking statements made by politicos on either media platform. She wasn’t. She was verifying whether the latest celebrity belly photo indicated a baby bump or too much ice cream. Meanwhile, I was looking at the advertisement and then back at my own face in the sun visor mirror. She knew I wasn’t asking about the beaming gentleman on the advertisement.

“It looks fine,” she said. “I think you look good even with just a little stubble. Even without a beard… you have boyish good looks. You look cute.”

I don’t want to look cute, I thought. I want to look like Robert Redford from Jeremiah Johnson. Rugged, handsome, bearded.

I looked in the mirror again and noticed a few patchy parts and was discontent with the hair that had grown on my face. It was a beard months in the making and I still looked like I was going through puberty. That’s something people don’t tell you if you have ababy face. Even at thirty years old, you still look like you should be holding a giant lollipop with a propeller hat on your head.

“It’s like I never grew into a beard,” I said. “My father was 35 years old by the time he could grow proper facial hair.”

“Stop fretting,” she said. “You are in full vacation-mode. You could wear your pajamas all day, every day if you wanted.”

“Are you saying this is vacation, pajama-level beard?” I asked. “Because it sounds like that’s what you’re saying.”

She made a pfft sound. “You are so sensitive. Stop worrying about it, let it grow a bit longer. For Pete’s sake, you’re in a city where nobody knows you. Enjoy yourself.”

“While I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, I seem to be inferring that I should be ashamed of my facial hair, but because I’m on vacation in a city where nobody knows me, no one is going to point out how bad it looks.”

The proceeding Pfft noise she made was much longer and much louder than the previous one, but instead of following it up with a response, she just went balls-deep back into her phone. I appreciated her condolences for the death of my bearded dream, but she had said in the past, after I had gotten carried away with my shaver, that I should never shave my face completely again—even if my beard fell on the slim side—because the thought of kissing a tween-age version of her boyfriend was disconcerting.

I looked at the man captured on the advertisement across the street again and reflected upon his cheerful smile.Unlike me, there was no shame in his eyes.


I had just turned from ordering a hotdog from a street vendor when I ran straight into the giant. I had seen him ambling through the crowd a few blocks down, looking for something in the way a farmer looks when strolling through a farmhouse full of poultry. He was atowering individual, at least six-four and broad shouldered. The juxtaposition of his dirty black shirt underneath his neatly groomed beard was startling, asI had imagined one who spends time manicuring themselves so acutely must likewise focus on their attire. Before I could mutter my apologies, he spoke,enunciating slowly and so perfectly that I had no trouble understanding the words uttered from behind his white teeth.

“Where do you think you’re going with that small, shitty beard?”

This statement alarmed me, of course,as my serious fretting over the “beard issue” had been a private matter between me and my girlfriend, and the giant didn’t appear to be the listening-in type; or, at least, why would he be listening in? I didn’t reply to his question immediately as a strange sort of envy built-up inside me; his facial hair was prodigious indeed and slept on his chest like a massive comely cat, albeit a feral one. But each lock—lock,I say—was combed evenly and beautifully. The length was significant, but it was the sheer girth of the thing that was truly amazing. One could quite possibly crawl up inside it if they wished, and rest upon the comfortable mattress of fine scented hair that no doubt existed within. Even the gentleman on the billboard advertisement would have grimaced for inadequacies’ sake in the face of this man’s beard.

“I was just going to eat this hotdog and go on my way, sir,” I said, sounding more like a grade school adolescent than a thirty-year-old man. And why did I call him ‘sir’? And why were the people around me moving as though they were afraid? A cleanly shaven young man with tattoos on a skateboard rolled by, and the fear in his eyes created a knot of angst in my stomach that rested neatly next to the envy. Perhaps this giant of a man with a lovely beard was famous to the people of these parts for his size and beard; or, perhaps he was infamous. The sort of farmer who walks through a crowd of chickens and smashes their heads at his leisure. I bet you could build a reputation with behavior like that.

“I hate your face” he said, sneering with murderous intent. “I saw you a few blocks back and knew you needed to learn a lesson.”

“I don’t want any trouble,” I said, and I looked over the giant’s shoulder at my girlfriend who was sitting in our parked car. She was checking a cuticle and her other hand held her phone. Both were taking far more precedence than my current predicament. At this point, the giant removed two things from his pocket and it took me a moment to understand what they were, as this was one of those insane scenarios that would be otherwise unbelievable if it weren’t happening. What he held was as follows: one can of shaving cream, the stuff that was more water than cream for whatever reason, and one of those cheap blue razors that have hidden pincers installed in them, so that every time you try to shave, it strips a chunk of flesh off your face. I think if you look close enough at that particular brand of razors, the warning would state, “Caution: Purchase only if poor.”

“You are going to shave that beard,” the giant said. “We don’t want any of that around here.”

“What are you doing with that razor?” I asked, but I already knew. He stepped toward me and I stepped back. I was squirrely, and in more ways than just one, like stuffing food into my cheek to hoard away from my girlfriend in case the food storages at our house were running low. I also had a vertical leap of eight feet at one time. Literally, one time: I had just bought two balloons from the store—one with a smiley face and one that read, “Happy Birthday!” My girlfriend thought I should have bought two matching balloons, but I had disagreed. The smiley one made me feel better. She had said they weren’t for me, but if you don’t know by now—I don’t trust her judgement. Anyway, we were packing to leave to a friend’s birthday party and the balloons flew out of my car and into the sky. Well, I jumped. And I caught them. But I had gone up and forward and landed; oh, how did the doctor put it? Incorrectly. I sprained one ankle and broke the other. I showed up days later, and late, to my friend’s birthday party with two sagging balloons. The smiley-faced one appeared much sadder than it had when we purchased it.

“Soon as I laid eyes on you I saw a problem,” the bearded man said. “You’re upsetting our values with your presence.”

Our values, I thought. So, there was more than just one? There was a whole gang then. The arbiters of masculine beards.

“I think we need to just calm down and walk away,” I said. “I’m not up to no good with this beard. I just thought I’d grow it for my girlfriend because she likes facial hair.”

“She’s leaving you,” he said. “She doesn’t like your beard.”

“What?” I asked and looked over his shoulder, but my girlfriend still wasn’t looking at me. Her boyfriend was being verbally assaulted, and she was looking at cute pictures of cupcakes on Pinterest. “She wouldn’t leave me, we’ve been together for three years! Our relationship is rock-solid!” I at once realized how silly that statement sounded.

“She saw what a man looks like,”he said, and he comically swiped his hand across his face as if he were unveiling a grand prize. “Your beard looks like a twelve-year-old boy wiped shit across his upper lip. It sucks.” He moved closer toward me, the razor and shaving cream held out in front of him. “Shave it off or I’ll shave it for you.”

“Oh my god—you’re insane,” I said as his shadow loomed over me, consuming all light and dignity. I realized there was little room for escape so began offering the giant my bargaining chips: “Why would you want such a prominent beard anyway? I heard they get scratchy and are more prone to fecal particles.”

“Shut up,” he said. “And shave your stupid beard while I kiss your girlfriend. I am gonna kiss her so hard, man. Just let her feel my beard on her chin.”

“Get away from me, you psycho!” I screamed. The shrillness in my voice evoked memories of jumping eight feet into the air grasping for balloons, only to land on both my ankles … oh, how did my doctor put it? Like a real dumb shit. I tried to back away a few more steps but his shadow loomed even larger until I was cornered by his massive frame.

Meanwhile, he was whispering hysterically: “Shave your stupid beard. Shave that stupid damn beard. Shave your dumb face.”

He grabbed me around the neck and smeared a palm-full of shaving cream across my cheeks and over my lips. I tried to fight back but he was too strong. One arm held me as my body flailed like a struck piñata. He dragged the razor across my face, inaccurate and rough. My chin hair was not so much shaved from my face as it was ripped by the uneven, cheap razor.

“Please, stop this madness,” I said as he shaved my tongue and one of my eyebrows by accident.

“Hold still, crappy beard-boy,” he said. There was shaving cream all over his arm, in his beard, and on his shirt. “Stop giving me trouble and let me get rid of that stupid thing on your face!”

“Screw you, man!” I yelled, and the stillness that followed as he carefully trimmed my sideburns was unsettling. He was making sure there was no trace left. At least with stubble I could pass for twenty-one, but he was turning me into a teenage boy. Pre-pubescent even.

“I’m going to kiss your girlfriend so hard,” he whispered angrily. “And she is going to run her hands through my beard. She will know what a real man feels like.”

I started to cry as he finished shaving my face, and then he dropped me on the street, where I fell into a pile of shivering agony. He had turned me into a sad toddler left in a toy aisle, a shrieking dog put into a kennel, a shaved man with the face of a child.

“Why? But why?” I asked.

“Behold,” he said, and I looked upon the majesty of his beard once more. I had to use the shade from my left hand to conceal the magnificent glow emanating from his face, and even then, I could only see it through the cracks of my fingers. “You can only dream of this beard,” he said proudly. “And, only when you can comprehend its majesty, only when you can grow one as impressive as this one … only then will you understand my motivations.” He dropped the razor and the shaving cream and began to walk away. Over his shoulder, as if to make his actions very clear, he said: “Your beard looked like shit.”

As he disappeared into a crowd of passersby, my girlfriend ran to me from our car, large tears welling in her puffy eyes. “Who was that?” she asked. “I looked over and you were gone and then saw you backed into a corner by that brute.”

I cried some more: “He was so mean!”

“Oh, baby,” she said as she placed her hand on my cheek. “Everything is going to be fine.” She was smiling now, a few remaining tears on her cheek, and then her expression changed and grew more intent. “Oh my,” she said and placed her hand to her mouth. “Look at your face—you look like a little boy.”

At that point, I was inconsolable.


Joshua Sampson is a short fiction hobbyist and graduate student at Eastern Michigan University. While he wants to move to a warmer climate some day, he has resigned himself to continue writing stories about hunchbacks and alcoholic clowns until his untimely death in a snowstorm somewhere near Lake Michigan.

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