There aren’t many neighborhoods in Dallas where you can literally stumble into a facial hair competition. North Oak Cliff is one of them.
The rain had just ceased, and the clouds were barely parting as a few of us approached the south end of the Bishop Arts District for the neighborhood’s celebration of Bastille Day. The competing scents of crepes and andouillette sausage filled the air. The street was packed, and most people had already downed a goblet or two of French wine.
I couldn’t help but notice the barrel-shaped man with long, stringy gray hair, a matching beard that reached his sternum, and socks inside his back-strapped sandals. The facial hair didn’t stand out to me (I’ve worn a rather untidy orange beard for nearly four years now) until I saw the guy next to him: a thick man, at least 6-foot-2, with a backwards Rangers cap and a thick, pillowy, red beard that crested somewhere near the middle of his t-shirt. The red hairs of this man’s mustache appeared to be bound, twisted with wax, and turned upward like an angry walrus’ tusks. Next to that man stood another man wearing a beard, this one wavy and brown, shaded by a well-shaped cowboy hat. Looking from face to furry face, it was clear all of the men gathered there, between a small wooden stage and the sidewalk in front of Hunky’s hamburgers, had one thing in common: they all appeared to be growing small woodland creatures out of their necks. The spectacle was as fascinating as it was disturbing.
One by one, they introduced themselves to me. I can’t remember a single name now, but I can still see those beards. There was the wide, deep-black one jutting out at the chin, topped with thick-rimmed glasses and a black ball cap. There was the long, stringy brown beard that seemed to roll into soft curls beneath the neckline, attached to a man in a giant straw sunhat. There was a foamy, protuberant Abe Lincoln beard on a skinny guy with a shaved head.
They assumed I was there for the contest. When I looked confused, they explained that part of the Bastille Day activities included a mustache competition. There were two categories. Some of the men had waxed their staches to shape them, while others were competing au naturel. The man in the Rangers cap explained that there weren’t many waxless competitors. “You might be able to say that you have the third nicest natural mustache in Dallas,” he said by way of enticing me to compete.
The chance to win such an honor seemed too strange to pass up. I got in line. There were no tickets, no numbers. One by one, an announcer with a microphone said each beard owner’s name, and after he raised his hand, the crowd cheered proportionately to how much they liked the facial hair.
While waiting my turn, I learned there are actually several beard enthusiast groups around North Texas. They often meet over beers and discuss their love of beards. There is apparently a friendly rivalry between the Lone Star Beards and the Beerds DFW. They hope to settle it at some sort of ultimate Bring It On for beards in late September.
As it turned out, I didn’t stick around long enough to hear who won. After the announcer called each name, a few daring (read: inebriated) women in the audience wanted to cop a feel. When I heard, “Oh, wow, they all feel different,” I shuffled away, into the crowd, wondering what exactly had just happened.