When you wear a mustache, you don't take any lip

Having forgotten my razor while out of town, I recently stopped shaving. When I returned home, my scruffy self became lazy, drew inspiration from the better-looking men in Esquire, and soon enough the whiskers morphed into a beard. It was my first. I spent two months fighting itchiness and an urge to move to Wicker Park, but soon grew wistful for rubbing a smooth chin. I realized I am not a Beard Guy. So I dusted off my razor. I did away with the facial hair. Except for the mustache. I come from a long line of Mustachioed Men. My grandfather once grew one. My uncle sported one for years. I think my dad was born with facial hair. In college, he rocked out a full beard, later trimming it to a '70s-era bushy mustache. That lasted until a few years ago when — gasp — he went cleanshaven. My mom said she assumed someone had broken into the house when she first saw him. My dad, ever the mustache snob, studied a photo of my first full 'stache and said I looked like the Unabomber. He urged me to put wax in it. I couldn't tell if he was being supportive. My mustache — a robust chestnut red — was a chevron (the most common, it's thick and wide and covers the top). I savored the unique mustache moments. Being mistaken for a cop. Drinking Guinness. Looking forward to glasses of milk. And while the mustache was well-worn with the start of Movember — in which men grow a monthslong mustache to raise awareness for prostate cancer — I discovered new enthusiasts. One of them said to never return cleanshaven. I scoffed at the possibility. (Then we did impersonations of Burt Reynolds characters). My mustache came to define me. It armed me with a conversation starter at parties. Colleagues at work found a new reason to talk to me (or pretend they didn't see me). Even something simple like paying the bills could not stay free of the 'stache. "How much electricity did that mustache use last month?" my roommate asked. On the street, my eyes would search for mustaches. My mind brimmed wild with questions: Why does that guy trim his? Is that man's mustache how he landed that beautiful model next to him? One day, I spotted Ryan Batey, 29, who said his mustache was his second. "Distinguished," he said of its effect. His friend, Soad Hamdan,36, offered perhaps a more inspiring reason for mustaches. "I think they're sexy," she said. However, being in public was also where I questioned myself. I imagined passengers on the train were thinking: "We know you're not really a facial hair person." One evening at a tavern, a mustached man wearing thick black hipster glasses and a baseball cap ordered a beer next to me. "Nice 'stache," he said. He urged me to "wear it proud." But a minute later he took to the stage for karaoke. I hate karaoke. Was it time to shave? I called Aaron Perlut, chairman of the satirical American Mustache Institute in St. Louis. It fights negative stereotypes and discrimination (such as how politicians and bankers generally avoid facial hair), and it annually honors the nation's best mustache. Last year, the group named Chicago the most mustache-friendly U.S. city. Perlut told me to dismiss my anxiety. "It's not a choice. It's part of who you are. It's part of your inner being." He added: "There's no such thing as a bad mustache. Only bad people who don't wear mustaches." He asked if I enjoyed a more satisfying lifestyle, one where I'm probably 30 percent more attractive. He said mustaches are signs of high intelligence and instill confidence. "You can walk into a restaurant, you can walk behind the bar and drink from a bottle of scotch, and the bartender says, 'Sir, that's against the law,'" Perlut said. "But you can tell him, 'That's OK. I have a mustache.'" Hanging up, I felt more confident. But it didn't last. I felt obligated to contact John Oates, the furrier half of the pop duo with Daryl Hall. After all, his iconic mustache now inspires many Halloween costumes, including mine this year. Also, his music is awesome. Oates shaved his 'stache in 1990, part of a larger effort to overhaul his life. It's returned a few times, but now he maintains only a soul patch.