Advice for the newly hirsute


Advice for the newly hirsute

This Beard Won't Grow Itself: An Indignity Chat

THERE'S A WHOLE industry out there telling people how to perform masculinity. And yet, when the editor of Indignity suddenly found himself in possession of a beard for the first time, he realized he had no idea what it took to manage it. Luckily, Indignity maintains a full-time beard expert on staff, to answer questions.

TOM SCOCCA, for Indignity: Recently, by accident, after 52 years as an essentially clean-shaven person, I grew a beard. This has raised some unanticipated questions, and I was hoping that you, as a longtime proprietor of various beard forms, might be able to answer them.

JOE MACLEOD, also for Indignity, longtime beard owner: I have sported a variety of beards in my beard-growing life, and I am available to answer all questions.

Scocca: For the first six weeks or so, thanks to my blond hair and naturally sparse growth pattern, I could pretend the beard wasn't really happening. It was just...long stubble, really. Then for another six weeks I could pretend that the beard was happening on its own. But then it turns out there's a point where you have to take responsibility for shaping and controlling the beard? How do you do that?

MacLeod: You gotta have an electric trimmer of some sort. Early in my career as a beardo, I had a NORELCO electric razor with the three rotating heads, and it had a little pop-up thing for trimming sideburns. I used it to keep the beard from turning into a bush. Eventually as I became more adept with trimming, I hadda level-up and I bought an electric trimmer with some attachment/guards that keep you from going too deep, which is something that can happen, and then you go nuts trying to even stuff out, and then you end up shaving.

It’s trial and error. When I make a mistake I just live with it because I have a werewolf-level of beard-growth speed.

Scocca: See, I'm still planning to return to my old facial-hair identity, so the idea of gearing up to go pro feels like too much. But the muttonchop region got wildly bristly without ever actually filling in, and I eventually steeled myself and scraped that part off with my usual Mach 3 and shaving foam. That required a lot of judgment calls I didn't really feel qualified to make, though!

And then I had to clean up the larynx area, where the growth was luxuriant in a way that didn't really make sense in relation to everything else.

MacLeod: Yeah I have attempted scissors-cutting but it’s tricky. There are pros for that.

Using a triple-blade face-razor is not optimal.

The larynx area, you either leave it at a specific height, so it won't itch, or you gotta go in and give the surroundings a proper shave.

Scocca: The trouble is, all on its own, my facial hair assumes the Vandyke configuration popularized by the D.C. Comics superhero Green Arrow, a shape that implies a level of grooming skill that I do not in fact possess.

MacLeod: If you send me a picture of your presently-bearded face I can offer some suggestions, but the number one tool is electric clippers.

I think it’s just practice, but you are by your own admission resistant to the hirsute look, so there’s no harmony. Beard acceptance is not to be underestimated.

Scocca: Right, and speaking of acceptance—when you eat and drink, stuff just gets on the mustache automatically, and maybe the beard too? There's not some secret trick for deflecting it away? These are questions I never thought to ask my mustached father because I was never going to have a mustache.

MacLeod: It depends on your level of commitment to face coverage. Personally, I can’t tolerate the Sam Elliot-level moustache, where the entire upper lip is subsumed by hair.

Meanwhile, you do develop a sense of what’s gonna give you trouble, like let’s say a soft-serve ice cream cone, or a glass of beer with a big foamy head on it, so you need to be prepared for the wipin’.

There’s a reason for that cliche of some galoot slurping a mug of beer and then wiping his face with his sleeve.

Scocca: Right, I find myself wiping frantically after every bite of food.

MacLeod: I also keep the foliage under my lower lip short, to prevent any buildup of, for instance, lobster bisque.

You develop a sense of what’s on your face.

Kinda like cat whiskers, you can feel the change in the weight of the affected follicles.

Scocca: When I try to imagine myself avoiding the Sam Elliott look, though, I worry about achieving the over-clipped J. Jonah Jameson look, as portrayed by J.K. Simmons in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films.

J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson in Columbia Pictures' action adventure Spider-Man (2002). Photo by Zade Rosenthal via IMDb.

Right now I keep getting the cat-whisker feedback too late, like I put my face down by a bowl to see if the contents are hot enough from the microwave and then I realize my goatee is brushing those contents.

MacLeod: I think the covered upper lip makes for a very compelling moustache, but again, it’s a cookie-duster situation, you’re picking up a lotta detritus.

So with food contact, you must be ever-vigilant, and you need the honest observations of those around you. You’re out there having a hot chocolate in the winter air someplace, and you got whipped cream on part of your face-hair and some nasal-condensation going on, it can get ugly fast.

It all comes with time and experience, and I cannot emphasize enough that if you are not committed to this lifestyle there will be no harmony.

Scocca: There's a part of me that keeps thinking the way to fix the dangling wispy ends of the mustache is what Rollie Fingers showed us all back in the '70s. But then there's the part of me that's been making decisions about my face for half a century.

MacLeod: Yes, and then you are diving into Product for the hair management. I have a friend who purchases beard oil, for fuck’s sake. For me these things are a bridge too far.

Scocca: I don't use hair product on my regular top-of-the-head hair, so using it on my face seems absurd.

MacLeod: I have to use hair product for my dome hairs because I don’t have a lot of them and they need to be well-regulated and orderly. I employ the SUAVECTIO FIRME clay pomade. It also smells nice. As an unintended consequence of product application, some of it finds its way down to my sideburns for an enhanced effect, olfactory-wise.

UNSOLICITED TESTIMONIAL: We don’t get anything for talking about this hair goop.

Scocca: "For Natural Texture Hairstyles"—if there's one thing the beard has, it's plenty of natural texture. The cat, who is not naturally cuddlesome, thinks it might be a sort of cat-brush.

MacLeod: Yeah my cat enjoys running her claws through my beard and I have never gotten comfortable with this behavior.

Scocca: One thing that surprised me was that there was a moment—and it really happened more or less overnight—where suddenly the facial hair acquired a sponge-like power to hold water.

MacLeod: Yes! It’s incredible, you can perform your ablutions and be out on the street before realizing there’s a shot-glass full of water under your chin.

Scocca: Of all the various points in the process of not-really-having-facial-hair turning into having-facial-hair, the moment I realized it was trapping water was the one where I understood things had really changed.

The other revelation was that the chin part is no-joke gray.

MacLeod: Well you got blond hair, so how gray can it look, and is that bad? My wife tells me I have a good color of gray hair, and I started out with brown hair on top and a red beard, basically I had a calico face. Now it’s almost all white.

I have a friend who has gone the JUST FOR MEN GEL route, and he looks like the dudes in rock bands who are in their 70s and all have jet-black hair. It’s a look!

Again, I can’t render a complete consultation without a visual.

[Receives photo from Scocca] Har! PECOS BILL is perfect.

Scocca: A prophetic painting by the late Tyler Rush, possessor of an emphatic beard in his own right.

MacLeod: You have a totally perfect Wild West vibe going on, which some folks would admire to possess!

But I think I’m with you, the ’stache should go longer. On the ends.

Scocca: I was going more for my native Baltimore dirtbag vibe, but if there's one thing I've learned these past few weeks, it's that the beard does what it will.

MacLeod: Well, you are your beard, there must be acceptance.

Scocca: I need to keep it around for professional reasons for another week or so. After that, I guess, comes the reckoning. Either the clippers or the clean shave!

MacLeod: Personally I would let the chin grow more pointed and you could easily trim with scissors on the sides of the goatee-area.

But like, you totally have a Look, for sure!

I would police that upper lip zone though just saying. And you could also easily scissor-trim the “mosquito” you got going on under the lower lip. So that there’s coverage but less chance of catching some latte foam or whatever.

That is completely wild, you got a Painting that predicted your face!


Dorian Blond.

Scocca: Tyler was a visionary.


New York City, November 30, 2023

★★★ The morning moon was a little higher and a little smaller. Daylight had a sparkle to it, trading gold tones with the surviving leaves. The outerwear cycle had switched back to the hoodie, and for a moment, in direct sun, even that seemed warm. Light got into the drifts of leaves under the benches alongside the Park and poured into the Park itself as if it were a basin for catching the brightness. Even drab brown leaves glittered. A boat cut an ivory-colored wake down the gray middle of the East River, and long after the water flattened out again, a path of light blue remained, edged in white.


Indignity Morning Podcast No. 174: Enormous accomplishments.

Tom Scocca • Dec 1, 2023


Impulse buys in the grocery aisles

More consciousness at Instagram.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from Light Entertaining: A Book of Dainty Recipes for Special Occasions, edited by Helena Judson, Published in 1910. This book is in the Public Domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Take equal quantities of chopped figs and almonds. Make a paste by using a little thick sweet cream. These sandwiches may be rolled or cut into fancy shapes. Figs may be cut with a pair of floured scissors, or the chopper may be floured to prevent sticking.

Remove the pits from dates and also the fibrous white lining. Chop fine with an equal quantity of pecans or English walnuts. Use cream or a little wine to form a paste and spread on thin bread, as usual.

Equal quantities of crystalized ginger and candied orange peel should be chopped so fine as to make a paste when mixed with a little cream. If the flavor of orange is liked, a little of the juice may be used. Spread on thin white bread, roll and fasten with a toothpick, or tie with tiny ribbon which comes for the purpose.

Scented sandwiches, such as clover, nasturtium, rose and violet, are made as follows: Trim the crusts from a loaf of bread, put it into a large soup tureen in a bed of clover (or any highly scented flower); wrap the butter in a piece of cheese-cloth and put it also in a tureen; cover with clover. Next day butter and bread will be filled with the flavor and odor of clover.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to


HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

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