filed in China on Sep.03, 2008
I came to a startling realization today. Peering into the bathroom mirror this afternoon, as I lathered and washed my hands, carefully expecting my appearance as one does when staring at themselves in the bathroom mirror, I noticed a small tuft of inordinantly long eyebrow hairs, sticking out at an odd-angle from my otherwise well-groomed and attractive eyebrows.
Normally, this wouldn’t have struck me as anything to worry about. I would have just pushed the rogue hairs back into line, dried my hands on my pants and gone on with my day. Hairs sometimes get out of place, no big deal.
But today was different. I had spent this morning wandering the crowded, winding alleyways of Xi’an, China’s Muslim District, one of those lost-in-time sorts of places where I imagine the people haven’t changed for 1000 years. The streets here are filled to the brim with proud old men, with stringy neck beards and white skull caps, hobbling down the cobblestone alleys, peeking their heads into the neighborhood shops, noisily greeting each other on street corners and congregating around the communal chess game in the square. And each and every one of them has his own matching set of crazy old man eyebrows.
You know the kind I’m talking about. The big, bushy, out-of-control type, with impossibly long hairs sticking out every which way, sometimes connected in the middle with a patchy bridge of even wilder hairs, to form a shabby unibrow. The kind you see in photos of 19th century railroad tycoons and giant red-and-white banners of KFC’s Colonel Sanders. A veritable salt-and-pepper forest hanging weightily above each eye, undoubtedly housing a fully-functioning micro ecosystem under its stringy canopy.
Crazy old man eyebrows are quite a distinguishing feature, and they were at their finest in Xian’s Muslim district. That’s not to say that the Chinese Muslim population has any more impressive eyebrows than aged men in other parts of the world. America is swarming with pairs of equally impressive eyebrows. They were just especially noticeable in Xi’an.
But regardless of location or race, it seems every old man from all over the world, at a certain point in his life, somewhere between middle age and retirement, grows a pair. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Crazy old man eyebrows are a symbol of age, of maturity, of wisdom. They represent years of learning, hard work, and life experience. They’re downright dignified.
But old man eyebrows have a dark underbelly, a second connotation that makes them anything but desirable – at least to 23-year-old men like me.
Bushy, unkempt eyebrows are a sign of insanity. If an old man is senile, chances are his eyebrow hairs are just as crazy. Old men who tirelessly wander the streets, calling after their imaginary cat, or re-introducing themselves to old friends every single day, unequivocally have crazy old man eyebrows.
At a certain age, maintaining one’s personal appearance takes a back seat to more important things. Things like prowling through farmers’ markets searching for a three-cent cheaper price on rutabagas, or sitting on the front steps and chewing endlessly on the portion of your gums where your teeth used to be. These things are what life is suddenly all about. Plucking one’s eyebrows falls somewhere on the list of priorities between listening to the latest gangsta rap album and sorting one’s canned vegetables by expiration date: not of the slightest importance.
Maybe it’s just a fact of aging, that your eyebrows grow long and your mind starts to go around the same time, but I can’t help but think that the two are directly related. I’m sure if they did enough research, scientists would find that an old man’s senility corresponds directly with the length and disarray of his eyebrow hairs.
I gazed for quite some time at my eyebrows in the mirror, examining the swathe of longish hairs sticking out incongruously against the grain, and a cold sense of dread crept over me. Was I becoming a crazy old man? Was this just the first symptom of a life of eating mung beans and reflecting glassy-eyed about how much better things were in the “good old days”? It couldn’t be!
I feverishly wet my hands and tried to smooth the rogue eyebrow hairs back into place. A shudder went down my back as the wetted hairs popped right back up like a bobo doll, knocked back with my mightiest of punches, but deftly defying everything I knew about gravity and inertia. I tried again, hastily, to smooth out my eyebrow – but it was no use. The hairs, almost mockingly, sprung back into their wild, elevated formation, as if it were the only arrangement they’d ever known.
My eyebrows were becoming those of an old man, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against old man eyebrows. I love how they show years of maturity and heaps of character. I think the men who bear them are endlessly interesting and amusing, and I’ve learned many a life lesson from my bushy-eyebrowed elders.
But not me! I’m still a kid! I’m too young to become a goofy, absent-minded old man. I’m not ready for the unkempt eyebrow stage of my adult life. I’m looking forward to the years of sane, normal-browed life I have ahead of me!
I pictured my eyebrows growing like a hedgerow, a tangled snarl of branches, like the kind a gardener would meticulously shape into an elephant or giraffe.
“How would you like them today?” the gardener would ask, pulling out his giant hedge shears, as I sat in a lawn chair, wrapped in a barber’s apron, my head weighted down by a forest of eyebrow hairs. “Do you want to go with the zebra stampede or the dolphins?”
“Oh, no, just the usual,” I’d say.
“I shoulda known,” he’d reply with a laugh, and then cut my hedge of eyebrows into twin gazelles, hopping through a lush grassland of eyebrow hairs.
Reflecting on my giant gazelle-shaped eyebrows, one thing has become clear: I don’t have to worry about going senile, because I’m already there. Where the hell was I going with this post? This is some weird crap ass crap I’m writing here.
Sorry you had to read this!