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A bad-dude image is hanging by a hair

I was recently invited to be the celebrity judge of a Manly Mustache Contest held by a local charity. I considered it an enormous honor, inasmuch as I am well-known for my distinctive - and, if I may say, lush - mustache. The contest was held at a hot Washington venue, with hundreds of hot, hip people in attendance, laughing, drinking and dancing to hot, hip music.

It was not until I got there that I realized two important facts:

(1) Aside from the contestants, who had grown their mustaches specifically for this event as a humiliating fundraising stunt, I appeared to be the only guy present who actually had a mustache.

(2) My mustache was older, in years, than any other entire human in the room.

Now, I think of myself as a pretty observant individual. But, evidently, at some point when I wasn't looking, mustaches went seriously out of fashion. My family has just dryly informed me that, yes, this occurred sometime between when the Beatles broke up and the Shah fled Iran. I've been busy, okay?

Many black men still wear mustaches and look cool, but black men seem cool no matter what they look like. Basically, any black man. Steve Urkel: Cooler than me. But when you search the Web for an under-65 white guy role model with a mustache and no accompanying beard, this is what you get: Geraldo. Also, the Super Mario Bros.

And so I have had to come to the realization that when people look at me, it is as though they are examining a fossil. It's as though they are looking at one of those tacky commemorative presidential plates - specifically that run of jowly old coots after Lincoln, the guys with names like Rutherford and Chester and Grover, whose faces resembled the hindquarters of marsupials.

All of this has been hard for me to accept, because when I began growing my mustache - it was the summer of 1969 - facial hair was pretty cool. Even from the start, though - now that I think of it - there was something wrong: My mustache was two weeks old when I arrived at Woodstock, meaning that I looked exactly like a narc attempting to blend in. It explains a lot, in retrospect, including the fact that I wasn't invited into quite as many joyously festive communal activities as I had hoped.

The mustache I wound up growing in the 1960s is still pretty much the one I have now: a modified Fu Manchu, full over the lip, with dangly sidepieces. When I grew it, I was perhaps a little less of a solid citizen, as measured by the average number of federal, state and municipal statutes violated in a standard week. The mustache fit what I thought was my personality, and with the description of the fictional Fu, a brilliant, sinister criminal mastermind, as described by his creator, Sax Rohmer: "Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan. . . . Invest him with . . . one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu."

That was me, as far as I could see. A baaaad dude. And somehow, over the years, I have clung always to this mustache, and I suppose to that hard self-image, even when the rest of me softened, like brie left in the sun.

At the contest, one organizer asked me if I ever plan to lose this mustache. I actually have a stock, smart-aleck answer to this question that I have used before: I will lose it, I say, only to chemotherapy. I began to give this answer, but, in mid sentence suddenly remembered to my horror that the profits from the event were going to a children's cancer charity. Dr. Fu would have plowed right ahead. But my answer came out this way: "I will lose this mustache only to . . . ah, ah, ah, ah, uh, ah well, maybe a razor, I guess."

My point is, I'm keeping the mustache. It's all I have left.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at Chat with him online at noon on Tuesdays at

Washington Post Writers Group