By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
I may not be British, even though my favorite breakfast cereal is Cheerios, but for the past three decades, I have kept a stiff upper lip. Now, after all these years of hair-raising adventure, I am celebrating the 30th anniversary of my mustache.
I had never thought to grow one because mustaches are not common in my family. Two of the only relatives who ever had them were my Uncle Bill, who sported a dapper mustache, and my grandmother, who wasn’t dapper but had inner beauty and made a mean dish of spaghetti and meatballs.
Then, in 1979, I had surgery to correct a deviated septum, which in my case was like repairing the Lincoln Tunnel. For more than a week, I was wrapped in bandages and couldn’t shave. When the bandages came off, I had a mustache.
My wife liked the new look (anything was better than the old one), so I kept it.
Ever since, I have been told I look like Groucho Marx, who is dead and can’t sue me. In fact, I like to go out on Halloween dressed as Groucho so I can get candy and beer from startled neighbors. I also was once mistaken (by friends, co-workers and even my own mother) for the infamous Groucho Robber, who struck several banks in Stamford until his photo, showing him in a Groucho disguise, appeared on the front page of the paper. He was subsequently caught and I, saying the secret word ("innocent"), was exonerated.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I recently found out about the American Mustache Institute, a St. Louis-based advocacy organization that, according to its Web site (americanmustacheinstitute.org), is dedicated to "protecting the rights of, and fighting discrimination against, mustached Americans by promoting the growth, care and culture of the mustache."
"We are the ACLU of downtrodden mustached people," Dr. Aaron Perlut, the group’s chairman, told me over the phone, adding that AMI is "the only mustache think tank in the United States." Its slogan: "A mustache is a terrible thing to shave."
I quickly realized the immense value of the American Mustache Institute because, as I had long suspected, there is a lot of discrimination against mustached Americans. For example, the last U.S. president to wear a mustache was William Howard Taft, who left office in 1913. Perlut said that the last mustached major-party presidential candidate was Thomas E. Dewey, who did not, despite a famous newspaper headline, defeat Harry S. Truman in 1948.
Mustaches made a comeback in the 1970s, when, according to Perlut, "every man had three things: a mustache, a perm and a turtleneck." But lip hair suffered a big blow in 1981, when, said Perlut, two things happened: "Ronald Reagan became president and ushered in a clean-cut, corporate culture, leaving mustaches to the fields of nail technicianry, motorcycle repair and refuse disposal. And Walter Cronkite, who just died, God rest his soul, left the air. From that time on, it became unfashionable for TV newsmen to wear mustaches."
Now, however, mustaches are on the upswing. "When people like Brad Pitt and George Clooney grow them, it’s good for the movement," said Perlut. "And the fact that Attorney General Eric Holder has a mustache is very important to our way of life."
To keep the momentum going, AMI hosts the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Award. This year’s contest had a field of 100, including 18 finalists, and drew almost 100,000 votes. The winner was Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Clay Zavada, who sports a handlebar mustache. He beat out the likes of hero pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. I voted for journalism’s only representative, hirsute humorist Bill Geist, whose neatly trimmed mustache gets plenty of face time on "CBS News Sunday Morning."
Perlut, who has a doctorate in international studies and, he said, "nuclear mustacheology," congratulated me on the 30th anniversary of my mustache.
"Since you represent our way of life so well," he said, "you should nominate yourself for next year’s Goulet Award. And if you win," Perlut added, presumably with a straight, mustached face, "it won’t be lip service."
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima