In the winter, I decided to grow out my beard, this being the Epoch of Beards. This being the woolliest point in modern history, to an almost comic degree. Guys in magazines with the affectation of bear hunters and ax-men, but dressed in suits and scarves.
My beard has never been anything special.1 Under my chin, there’s a patch of bare skin the size of a silver dollar. When I was a kid, riding my bike, I hit a pothole, flew off, and smashed chin-first into the street. That’s been a bald spot forever. So I went on a quest, sort of. A journey, this time not on a bike, and without permanent injury. Was there a way I could learn to grow a great beard, if I’ve never been able to?2
Seeking professional guidance,3 I walked into Brick & Mortar, a downtown barbershop. A place so new it smelled pleasantly of drywall. With a candy-stripe pole out front. And a beard trim for a mere $15.
“This is what I would do, if I were you,” said Brandon Burdine, the shop’s owner, wearing an apron over flannel. He didn’t have a great beard himself. At 23, he had given up on it, hoping it would thicken as he aged—a guy cutting beards, unable to produce one. “If you grow it out, you can’t shave it evenly. Let the hair grow longer on your cheeks and chin to hide where it’s thin. Comb it everyday.”4 Burdine stood above me using clippers while holding the hairs of my beard in a comb.5 He rubbed in some oil by massaging it into his palms and crunching my facial hair between his fingers. The revelation6 was that a patchy beard could look nice.
One month later, at Warfleigh Barber & Supply Co. in Broad Ripple, two guys talked loudly while cutting hair, both laughing. Both with neat beards, forearms colorfully decorated with tattoos. I didn’t have an appointment. A beard trim was $10. “Free Bird” played inside the store. Cody Potter sat me down in a swivel chair. Similar thing: apron, clippers, comb. I told him my beard-life story: the bike accident. The bald spot. That if I stared under strong lighting, I could see the promise of baby hairs, even at 37 years old. “They’ll start coming in,” he assured me. He talked of oils and pomades. We joked about me eventually being able to grow a real beard, a hallmark of masculinity. My beard, trimmed a little shorter, was looking damn good. Thicker than ever.
“I’d recommend a lot of red meat now,” he said. “And rye whiskey. Keep growing it. Barber’s orders. I’ll write you a note to take home.”
1. When I usually let it grow, I have the feeling I look like an Amish boy.
2. And without having a beard transplant.
3. My wife makes fun of my side of the bathroom counter. The soaps, the hair products, the oils. And I’ve had beard oils before. One bottle that I would describe as smelling of … the outdoors, and one bottle containing hemp that straight-up smelled like weed.
4. My editor pictures Marcia Brady with a comb, see her rake and rake, until it shimmers—perhaps my beard, in a dream, ending up like that golden hair.
5. This almost felt like a facial massage. His hands pulling my beard hair together. I closed my eyes.
6. My wife—who requests that I never completely shave, because she thinks I look 13 without stubble—seemed to be very happy.
This article is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s May 2016 Shear Genius barbershops package. For more slick advice, a crop of local grooming products, and buzzworthy barbershops, click here.