By Phineas J. Stone
When I was little, my aunts used to always have extreme disdain for their husbands carrying a beard – especially in the winter.
That’s because, for many a New England man, one of the best ways to deal with harsh winds and cold snow when we’re out shoveling the path or toiling in a job outdoors is to have a beard. In the winter, a longer beard serves as shelter and protection for the chin and cheeks.
No one wants to come inside or go to a function looking like a sunburnt Eskimo.
“Here comes Grizzly Adams,” my aunt used to say to my uncle. “You shoot a bear? Trap a skunk?”
They would so often say, “He’s going grizzly,” shaking the head in disgust.
The razzing was usually greeted with some type of grunt, and the beard always came off by spring. I mean honestly; who in their right mind would wear a scraggly beard to Easter Mass? No one in my family if the women of clan had anything to say about it.
The women didn’t understand the critical nature of the winter beard in Boston, though.
If you look around, most of the time guys who carry Dunks cups and wear Carhart gear will be donning sunglasses and a thick beard in January or February. You might turn around and see those same guys in July clean shaven or with just a short, well-groomed beard. The cold makes us want to let go, get more protection.
It’s a natural mask for the face in Boston.
I don’t wear a beard, but I learned about why so many fellas wear them in the winter when I had a job outside at Logan Airport on a particularly frigid winter, which we seemed to have much more regularly back in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the construction guys worked side by side with us and the electricians were under the gun to finish their job. That meant despite the fact it was negative 10 degrees for about 10 days straight, they had to be out in it for eight hours a day working with their hands.
If you’ve ever been to the airport in winter or to the South Boston waterfront, you know that the winds are ferocious during the dead of the cold season. While I was outside one day back then, I heard a guy yell at me from the group of electrons, huddled around a Roach Coach to get warm coffee.
The man approached me, but I had no idea who he was.
Turns out it was an old high school friend of mine that I hadn’t recognized – donning a beard.
I asked him why he had such a thick beard; it didn’t really fit his vibe – as we said back then.
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “If I didn’t have a beard out here, I wouldn’t have a face left on my head come April.”
He wasn’t kidding.
But now the beard is popular, and the regular guy practicality of it all has become en vogue all through the ranks of men in Boston, no matter what they do.
It seems everyone has a beard.
Men in suits have a thick beard with just enough open space for their mouths to poke out.
College kids all have a beard, and I see they’re wearing flannel again.
Even guys in warm climates like San Diego are letting the facial hair grow.
So often, what starts out as a necessary and practical thing, becomes a plate of fashion. So now everyone wants to “go grizzly” and be bearded gentlemen. My aunts would have died in their shoes.
Chester A. Arthur, eat your heart out.
- • • •
Mr. Boston has been challenged by more than a few readers lately to get out of the 1990s.
By that, they mean Mr. Boston needs a direct e-mail line of communication to the public.
I’ve heard that now twice in the last month, and it’s a point well taken.
The funny part of it all is that in the 1990s, when e-mail was very new and just breaking out, I e-mailed quite a bit more than I ever do now.
A lot of people never e-mail, though. And that’s to be considered.
I believe the late Mayor Tom Menino never sent an e-mail in his entire life. Business people or media folks would often ask him for his e-mail. It was greeted with a laugh, and most didn’t understand or comprehend that the mayor of the Hub had no electronic mail address. Sometimes he would play with them. I was told that he once told a cub reporter his e-mail was “ShishKebob.” That was his humor. I don’t know why it was funny, but as the reporter wrote down “ShishKebob” on her notepad, everyone supposedly had a laugh at her expense. The former mayor took her aside, winked at her and told her he didn’t have an e-mail; to just contact the press office for everything. I don’t doubt that happened as it was told to me.
However, I’m not Mayor Menino and this is Boston, the technology sub-capital of the world, and so this week we’ll debut the new Mr. Boston e-mail address. It is: [email protected] Easy enough, right? I bet most people can even memorize it.
It’s going to be a marvel of modern computer science, I promise.