In 1986, I was Ed Grimley for Halloween. The costume was simple. I wore a brown checked button-up shirt and black slacks pulled up as high as they would go. But I couldn’t get the hair right. I combed in Vaseline and coaxed the front follicles to a sharp spike. But the petroleum jelly made it heavy and limp. I was so upset. When my dad got home, he coated the little hair horn in Elmer’s glue. It was totally decent of him. He saved Halloween. I went into the autumn night with my hair sculpted into a resilient Grimley.
Fifteen years later, I once again groomed myself in the likeness of a Martin Short character. But this time it wasn’t for Halloween. In 2001, I entered the world everyday looking like high school theater director Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates. The funny thing is, I didn’t know the character existed until a few weeks ago when I first watched Get Over It, a teen movie based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Apparently, I shared a cultural cross section with the creators of Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates, because we both believed that thin sideburns and a soul patch were good ideas. However, they employed the facial hair features to create an exaggerated comedic character. I, on the other hand, wore sideburns and a soul patch because I honestly thought I was a hepcat about town. That, and I couldn’t grow hair anywhere else on my face.
My soul patch (flavor saver, lip chip, chin brow) grew in coarse, long hairs. A whale’s baleen, is how one friend described it. I can still imagine the feeling of biting my bottom lip so that the baleen lifted from my chin and pointed straight out, provoking me to stroke it with the tip of my index finger. This action often delivered me to a state of deep thought.
A few delicate flicks of the baleen, and I found myself pressing my face into the membrane that separates past from future, the definite from the unknown. The longer the baleen, the further I molded the mysterious membrane to the contours of my face. I became addicted to imagining the entirety of space and time. I was completely mental, under some Puck-sent spell, and in need of an Oberon figure to take pity and release me.
Finally, in 2003, I looked in the mirror one last time and summoned the courage to shave the baleen. Shards of hard hair shot into the sink, and I cried at the sight my naked lower lip, reborn and ready once again to redden in the sun.
I kept the sideburns well into 2010.
Though Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates and I cultivated the same patches of facial hair, we are markedly different people. Mainly, because he is a Shakespearean and I, much to my mother’s chagrin, know very little of The Bard (I had to Google, “Shakespeare nickname”).
A framed crosshatched image of Shakespeare’s mug hung on the wall of every house I lived in when I was a kid. The living room in Louisville, the study in Boston, the upstairs hallway in Greensboro. I passed it everyday with barely a glance.
Luckily, Get Over It taught me everything I need to know about Shakespeare, well, at least A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Love, confusion, magic plants, and a demonic fairy. It’s all there, as is the reckless casting of enchantment spells. If I’ve learned anything in all my years, it’s that you don’t go around spinning love spells just because the mood strikes you. There are real consequences to such behavior.
Just ask Elaine Parks, The Love Witch.
All’s well that ends well, but all does not end well for Elaine Parks. Or perhaps it does. If only Dr. Desmond Forrest Oates and his cast of high school thespians — including Kirsten Dunst, Mila Kunis and Sisqó — would put on a stage interpretation of The Love Witch. Perhaps then, through the vision of a former soul patch mate, I might have a shot at understanding whether or not Elaine Parks is happy with the outcome of her story.
It’s been 20 years. I’m beyond ready for Get Over It 2: Love Witch Lost in the Enchanted Forrest. I’d consider growing back my baleen for the premiere.
Give me a break.
I just looked up the crosshatched image of Shakespeare.
He had a soul patch.