Saturday, February 02, 2008
The other day Ana and I were walking in Hammersmith down Kings Street. We were coming back from Sagar, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that was supposed to be one of the best in London but in actuality was merely okay. Well it wasn't bad. The waiter had one of the most impressive mustache/eyebrow combinations I've seen. Much more fulfilling than the dosa. Anyway so we're walking home and three kids walked by. They seemed to be in their late teens. One of them says to me, "Hey, Nice beard!" Immediately the ambiguity of the compliment befuddles me and I don't respond. But when he's just a little past, I turn around and say, "Thanks!" He gives me a thumbs up in return.
Now, first of all, I've been growing a beard since I've gotten to London. By now, it's clear that what I'm trying to do is grow a beard but that's not to say there is actually any beard there. It's more like well-kempt aspirational stubble. I even got it trimmed once in the hopes that a stronger border a stronger beard would make. If the shouter had really meant "Hey, nice beard!" one could not measure my happiness. To be validated by a stranger vis a vis facial hair would mean that not only was my attempt at a beard noticeable as such but actually excelled in that category. I grinned as I stroked my beard.
The other less happy interpretation may be more likely. I was, as is my custom, wearing rather tight pants (New Standard, APC) in a decidedly unhipster neighborhood. These pants have previously been accused of making me gay-seeming. Seeing as I was walking arm-in-arm with a woman, beard in this case could have meant "a companion of the opposite sex used to hide a homosexual's sexuality by appearing in public as if the two were a heterosexual couple." But the term is not generally used among straight young teenagers and I wasn't wearing these pants (even more gay-seeming/tighter) so that seemed unlikely too.
Then I was left with two options: rejoice ecstatically or stew. OR I could have chased the kid down and asked him what he meant but clearly that was the worst of the options. How I feel about that haunting compliment depends now on my wild mood swings. When I'm in a particularly dark mood (L'enfer, c'est les autres), I can't imagine he meant anything but malice. But when, in the right light, the rare London sun shines through the red bristles of my beard, well, then, just then, I think it could be possible that he just meant nice beard.