Before I moved to England for university, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself. A new life. A new me.
So I took the step that should have been obvious to anyone who had spent their formative years in the 90s: I grew a goatee.
Coolness didn’t wash over me in a localized tidal wave, but I kept it for a few years and it was seen as my thing.
A few people at the kitchen I worked at were growing moustaches for Movember, so I decided to join in. I grew my moustache north of my goatee, forming what is known in Bulgaria as a “padlock”. I felt silly and looked forward to going back to normal at the end of the month.
I shaved that moustache off on December 1st that year. My then-girlfriend and I had a single look at my newly exposed upper lip, and decided it should not be a thing on display to the world. So I stopped shaving it off, and eventually let the sides grow out, too.
At some point, driven by boredom, curiosity, laziness, and the fact I was now single, I stopped trimming my beard altogether. My manager at the kitchen looked at my increasingly unkempt face.
“Andrey,” she said, “You’re becoming a health hazard. We’ll want to get you a beard net soon.”
“If you get one for me,” I replied, “I would happily wear it.”
My plan was to wear the beard net once, then shave the very next day. The exchange repeated itself several times, but the beard net itself never appeared.
Six months passed. My beard was now long. I never measured it, but at its longest you could stick up to eight pencils in it, and none of them would fall out.
This was before hipster beards were in vogue, and way after pirate beards had been in vogue, so I was getting odd looks on the street. I decided to get rid of it, beard net or not.
I felt shaving off a beard this beardy was a special event, possibly of the once-in-a-liftetime kind. So I cobbled together an online quiz where friends and enemies alike could vote on my next facial hair style. Whichever one was picked I would keep on my face for twenty-four hours, no bamboozle. The styles were as varied as I could make them: a Hogan moustache through a Lincoln tuft, all the way to Viking plaits.
By an overwhelming majority, the winner was the Monkey Tail.
A Monkey Tail beard is one of those things you would only see on the Internet. It’s a thin strip of hair that starts from under one sideburn, wraps its way past the chin, then lifts sharply up and over the mouth, terminating just before forming a full loop. Kind of like a curled up monkey tail, if you squint.
I wasn’t happy, but a promise is a promise. With a heavy heart, I chopped my beard off, pared it down to a simian appendage. Twenty-four hours of Monkey Tail. No bamboozle.
By then, I was also working freelance, so I was due to spend my Monkey-Tailed day in a coworking space, away from the public eye. I was worried about the twenty-minute walk there, so I forced a coworker who lived nearby to walk with me in the morning. After all, a madman with friends is an eccentric at worst.
The walk to work was surprisingly all right. You see, a Monkey Tail beard only looks odd from the front. Had you seen it from either side, it would’ve looked like half of a perfectly legitimate facial hairstyle: a goatee when looked at from the right and a disjointed beard/moustache combo from the left. I scanned the faces of people we passed, and saw not a single smirk.
The morning at work went without a hitch, as anticipated. That day, hitch o’clock came in the afternoon.
The coworking space belonged to what was then known as Leeds Metropolitan University. As a recently graduated student who was also freelancing, I had been slated to appear in their newsletter along with a recent photo. The day for the photo? You guessed it.
“Um. Are you sure you don’t want to take this photo tomorrow?” I asked.
“Nope,” the guy said, grinning, and raised his camera. “This is perfect.”
So my mugshot made it in the official Leeds Metropolitan careers advice newsletter, complete with a full frontal Monkey Tail display. Not that anyone reads it, I told myself.
In the evening, I speed-walked back home, Monkey Tail on my face and metaphorical tail between my legs. Shaving my face that night was cathartic. I have never experimented with facial hair since.
Reflecting back on that day, I suspect I got off lightly. While the Monkey Tail was the clear winner of my poll, the second place had been occupied by a more widely known moustache. The one you could euphemistically call the “Charlie Chaplin”.