See What I Mean_ moustache

Mark Chester took this photo, titled “Milt Harper’s Moustache,” in San Francisco in 1978.

Why I took the photo

Inside the street level office of Nite Life Diner Club, in San Francisco, I saw this man with a moustache that stretched from wall to wall. He was Milt Harper in a Captain Kangaroo hairdo and signature 51-inch handlebar “hair-loom.” I gestured from outside that I wanted to photograph him. He motioned me inside.

How I took the shot

Next to Milt’s office was a one-woman barbershop. I asked if she’d pretend to cut any loose strands from this thing on his face. She liked the fun of the idea. Milt draped a smock and hammed it up. I photographed him with my manual Nikon F camera and a 28mm wide lens on TRI X black-and-white film.

What I like about the photo

I had never seen such a moustache like Milt’s. I liked his lack of inhibition walking around with it, wondering how he put on a sweater and how does he sleep at night, so he doesn’t wake up looking like a walrus?

And one more thing

The COVID pandemic has impacted our personal grooming routine—appearance, haircuts and makeup becoming less important. I’ve been sporting a beard for more than a year. I struggled with the decision to keep it.

To shave or not to shave; that is the question. Is it nobler to have a clean look? To show aging gray or keep a smooth baby face?

On a sunny day in a Sarasota, Florida, neighborhood strip mall I noticed the barbershop sign, Tonsorial Artistry—a catchy name with an attractive logo. I entered scratching my scruffy chin. Husband and wife team Eric and Dawn Jacobsen gave off good vibes. Photographs of Dawn during Coast Guard days were displayed, no evidence of rusty scissors. The place was antiseptic clean. A traditional straight razor shave was on the menu for $18.

I love getting shaves—the hot towel, the hot lather, and that cool, lotion smell on the cheeks. I like the sound of the sharp straight razor scraping coarse whiskers. It glides along like a miniaturized lawn mower. It’s a musical experience. I refrain from humming to keep my facial muscles very still. It’s a 20-minute Zen moment. I close my eyes and travel in my mind to shave-land. It’s an art and skill, for sure. I am stubble-free, feeling boyish again. It feels nobler to be beardless.

Hygiene in barbershops today is more highly regulated than in earlier days. Instruments are sterilized.

A sanitized prepackaged disposable straight-edge razor has replaced the old straight razor. And the once leather-sharpening strop affixed to the barber chair years ago has disappeared.

Shaving sites tell you, “The predecessors of the modern straight razors include bronze razors, with cutting edges and fixed handles, produced by craftsmen from Ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom (1569-1081 BC).”

In the early 1900s American businessman King Camp Gillette created the first safety razor blade specifically to bring the qualities of the barber’s shave into the home.

Facial hairstyles would make an interesting therapy thesis. I keep a beard because I abhor shaving.

In high school I went to Curly’s barbershop for a haircut. I didn’t shave then. The style was called a Joe College with a short pompadour. Curly made me look good but did nothing for my grades.

Most of my friends graduated magna or summa cum laude and headed to Ivy League schools. I graduated “Kum-Quat.” I went west to the University of Arizona. Here, military science class (ROTC) was a requirement; the length of our hair had to conform to a buzz or crewcut hairstyle. No hippie or shaggy look.

Kim Jong-un’s hairstyle might be in the style category called “faded high & tight.” Can you picture him in a Mohawk?

There are still barbershops around. Today’s more popular nomenclature is a hairstyling salon that caters to both sexes, that can cost as much as a monthly mortgage payment.

Grooming in this COVID year has changed with respect to haircuts and facial hair. I have regrown the beard. It feels socially safe. I still hate to shave.

Photographs from Mark Chester’s book “Twosomes,” are on display at the Cape Cod Rehabilitation Center in Hyannis on Attucks Lane. www.markchesterphotography.com.

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