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Joys of the stick-on mustache

Oct 5, 2017 By Clair McFarland

"I dearly love a laugh."

That's a Jane Austen quote. Even though she's not my favorite author, or even in my top 10, that quote of hers stays with me and reverberates in my guts like a digestive chuckle.

I do love a laugh. I made a whole landslide of them the other night, once I finished the humorous book I'd been reading. Then I cried.

The Husband looked up from his novel.

"Must have been a good book, eh?"

"Oh, it was! There was this girl, and her uncle was a psychopath, so she had to run away from home. She disguised herself as a boy, but then she ran into the boy that she liked, while she was dressed up as a boy! Then, thinking that the girl was a boy, some other girl fell in love with her by accident..."

"Sounds like a mess! Who wrote that book, anyway?"

"Shakespeare."

Shakespeare loved a laugh. And a mess.

The next day, my sons emptied their pockets and dumped out their piggy banks. They counted pennies until they reached their desired total: four dollars. That's one dollar for each of them.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because we want you to take us to the store and let us buy mustaches."

"You don't buy those. You earn them. With hormones."

"No, no, silly!" they giggled. "We want to buy stick-on mustaches!"

And they did. Each bought a pack of stick-on mustaches, which they shared with me - and the fun began. We were the Super Mario Brothers. We were railroad barons. We were Tom Selleck and Bluto and rustlers and, at last, a giddy biker gang!

I never realized how much laughter a few stick-on mustaches could bring people, but I was told that I looked especially ridiculous under mine - a full handlebar setup.

"Aack! You look like your brother!" The Husband screamed.

I hope he can get that image out of his head.

"Ah, phooey!" The words fizzled out between locks of fake fur.

"I forgot to pick up hamburger buns for dinner."

I'd been slow-cooking barbecue pork all day for pulled pork sandwiches.

"I better go back to the store."

"Well, Mom," said my oldest, "don't take your mustache off, because you don't know if it'll stick back on after that."

Oh dear.

I drove to the store wearing the fuzzy, black, handlebar mustache. At first I was timid about the adventure, but then I thought about the heroine in the book I'd just read. I thought about how her adventure had been a social experiment, and how it gave everybody a laugh and led her to her blessed fate.

I strode into the store, expecting a few laughs - but that's not what happened. Most people, upon spotting me, avoided eye contact altogether. There were awkward hushes, shufflings, downward glancings in the bread aisle.

Just then it occurred to me that my weekend wear of gender-homogenized flannel and jeans wasn't helping me strike a chord of incongruous humor. Also, and I say this not to digress would-be literature into shallow typing, but rather to give the reader an explanation: my figure is not that of an overwhelming female stereotype.

Why, I looked like a boy who was trying desperately to look like a girl! Or perhaps I looked like a girl who was trying desperately to look like a boy. I'll let you know once The Husband gives his frank opinion on the subject.

"Honey, do I look like a boy disguised as a girl, or a girl disguised as a boy?"

"The baby's leg is stuck in the toilet."

"Don't change the subject!"

Meanwhile, back at the store, I was realizing that the shoppers could not see the humorous power of the fake mustache. To them, I was a person within a painful mental transition whose identity was uncertain.

"Just don't look at that individual," was the vibe. "To look might be to leak some wordless acknowledgement of one gender or the other, and that portends offense. Let's not offend."

Welp, that was a unique social experiment, indeed. And a handy way of turning the grocery store into an eerily quiet place. But then! Signs of life. Just as I was walking out, a woman burst into roaring laughter. "Bahahahah! Nice mustache!" she wailed. She had been talking with a man, whom I recognized as the photographer who'd shot my senior photos. He recognized me too, and doubtless remembered trying to feminize me by posing me between two aspen trees even narrower and straighter than I am.

He laughed. "That's a good joke, Clair. Very good!" And everyone parted ways chuckling.

Well, what can I say? I'll never know if I was a Shakespearean hero or a walking confusion, but I think it was the latter.

I do not believe in laughing at people who are struggling with disdain for their given biology. That would be cruel. And there's no reason to turn the world into an eternal high school by being cruel.

But, if we're not being cruel, does oversensitivity naturally result? If we're so afraid to offend that we can't look up and see all the incongruous things that we can see in this crazy world, might we lose our sense of humor altogether?

A society that is too afraid to laugh: it sounds like a dystopian novel. But we are here, and the consequences of our humorless trembling are bigger than you think.

Goodbye, Shakespeare.

Goodbye, Billy Wilder.

Goodbye... Bugs Bunny?!

I'd laugh for you, but I don't want to hurt you. And so, goodbye.

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2017-10-18