By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, January 14, 1933
“I see by the papers,” said Jim Frise, “that whiskers are coming in again.”
“It’s about time,” said I. “Nothing but whiskers will save the world.”
“What are you giving us?” snorted Jim.
“I’m telling you,” I repeated, “nothing but whiskers can save the world. Whiskers went out of style about forty years ago. And since then what have we had? Just a series of mistakes, disasters, wars and calamities. A lot of women have been running the world. The razor is Satan’s cleverest invention.”
“How could whiskers help us?” asked Jim.
“Whiskers,” I said, “are the symbols of masculine authority. The trouble with the world these days is that there is no authority. Nobody is boss. All faces are bared to the light of day and each of us can see what poor, weak faces all the rest of us have. Now, God provided us with whiskers to disguise our true character. A man hidden behind a bush of imposing red whiskers can get away with anything. You can’t see his expression. It is the same as a masked bandit. You are impressed by him. You can’t see his lips trembling with anxiety or nervousness. He seems to be a rock of purpose and courage.”
“Maybe you’re not so far wrong,” admitted Jimmie.
“Just look at the past ten years,” I went on. “Just a series of bare-faced disasters. International conferences where a lot of woman-faced politicians revealed their true intentions to one another, and each world conference more useless than the last. Whereas, if nobody but men with whiskers had been allowed to attend those conferences, all entrenched behind their barricades of fur, with nothing but their sharp and clever eyes peering out at one another, I bet you the world’s problems would have been solved by 1925.”
“By gosh,” said Jim, “when you come to think of it I am a lot more impressed by Dr. Chase’s remedies on account of the late Dr. Chase’s whiskers than I am by President Hoover’s problem solving, just because I look at Hoover’s face and say to myself, nobody with an expression like that could think of anything new.”
“You’ve got it,” said I.
“The past half a century,” said Jim, “has been a period of revelation. Revealing everything, even our faces. No secret of nature or science too sacred to be yanked out into the full view. What we need is a return to concealment. I tell you what! I’ll start growing whiskers if you will.”
“M’m,” said I. “It takes time to grow whiskers.”
“What of it?” demanded Jim.
“The worst part of whiskers is what you might call the period of incubation. One time I grew whiskers for a month on a camping trip. I know about whiskers. They don’t grow the same length at the same time. Here and there they are thicker than elsewhere. It makes you look as if you had leprosy or the mange.”
“What do you care for appearances?” cried Jim.
“Well,” said I, “to tell you the truth, my wife …”
“Ah, there you go!” accused Jim. “There’s the secret! It was the women who robbed us of our whiskers, like Delilah did to Samson. And they will die fighting before they will ever let us get back our old glory and power.”
Feeling a Sense of Power
“I tell you what we might do, Jimmie,” I suggested. “We might, experiment a little. We can get very good false whiskers at these masquerade costume places. I’ve seen them. They put them on so cleverly nowadays that they would fool even a detective.”
“You mean,” said Jim, “we could go around and see what effect whiskers would have in increasing our authority?”
“I’m on,” shouted Jim. “Black whiskers for me and red whiskers for you!”
And that was how it came about that you could have seen walking along King street the other morning two gentlemen who might have stepped right out of the eighteen-seventies. Jimmie’s whiskers were a sort of blue-black, suiting his lean and oriental cast of countenance. They were wide and full, concealing not only all his features but his eyes and nose but also his necktie and scarf. They entirely transformed that genial gentleman, whom all bums instinctively salute for a dime, into a sinister and menacing Riff chieftain.
My whiskers unfortunately were governed by the fact that I have hardly any neck, and they were therefore reddish, short and bushy, and no matter how the masquerade costume man tried to make me look romantic or imposing all he could make out of me was a sort of bad-tempered man peering spitefully out of a fox-colored hedge.
“We ought to have different overcoats,” I said to Jim. “Our friends will know us by our clothes.”
“I wouldn’t know you,” said Jim. “In fact, I don’t believe it is you now.”
So we went out on to King street and started walking bravely toward the business district.
The effects of our whiskers were instantaneous. Instead of the casual glances of passing strangers, every person we passed looked at us with a most respectful and even a slightly shocked expression.
“By gosh,” said Jim, as two girls went by with scared averted eyes after one swift, wide-eyed survey of us, “I feel a sense of power.”
“Maybe,” said I, “it is one of those instinctive feelings of respect our whiskers inspire. When all these people were little they were brought up on pictures of the twelve apostles, and they all had whiskers. We are capitalizing on the early piety of the public. They associate whiskers with saints.”
As we got into the business section dozens, scores, hundreds of people passed and every one of them gave us a definite, respectful and awakened glance. I know how Professor de Champ feels now.
“Look who’s coming!” hissed Jimmie.
It was our editor. He is a wide-eyed and observant man. He saw us forty feet away and fastened his eyes on us. We stared back at him. He did not remove his eyes from us until we passed, and never before nor ever again shall we achieve such a respectful expression in our editor’s gaze.
“Boy!” breathed Jim, as the ordeal was over. “Let’s do all our conferences with him in these whiskers.”
In the next block, which was near the office, we passed six different men and two girls who are known to us and who know us. They stared at us and drew delicately aside as we passed.
Our friend, Horses Ayers, runs a tobacco shop in between writing times as a horse authority. He knows us better than a brother. He knows us as only a man can know those who borrow money. We walked into his store.
“Cigarettes,” I commanded, in my ordinary voice, naming my usual brand. I handed him a two-dollar bill.
“Yes, sir,” said Horses, in soft and polite voice. He gave me the cigarettes and change, $1.75.
“That was a five-dollar bill I gave you,” I said sternly, making my red whiskers bristle.
“I BEG your pardon!” cried Horses, diving into the till and giving me three dollars more. “I BEG your pardon.”
“Granted!” said I, splendidly.
Jim and I stalked out of the store and got out of sight and had our first practise at laughing in whiskers. It is rather a terrible experience. There you are looking at your friend yelling haw, haw, haw, and it is like a corpse laughing.
“Listen,” groaned Jim, “anybody that can take three dollars off Horses Ayers..!”
“We could make a good living out of short-changing in whiskers,” said I.
“It just goes to show you,” said Jim. “Whiskers give you power.”
Symbols of Authority
“What now?” said I.
“Let’s go up to the city hall and complain about the tax rate,” said Jim.
There is no need to give you the details of our journey all over town. We were received with remarkable politeness by the mayor’s office. They were extremely sorry his worship was out, but they took down carefully all we had to say about the tax rate. We went up to see Premier Henry, but he was out of town. Anyway, they were most cordial. Our complaint to Premier Henry was about the color of this year’s automobile licenses. Yellow again! Could they not think of any colors but yellow and white? Had they, no imagination at all? In sad times like these did they not realize the psychological importance of brightness? Why did they not make the 1933 markers a bright cherry red?
They took it all down and said the matter would receive the attention of the minister.
“Of the cabinet council!” said Jimmie, sternly.
“Yes, sir, of the cabinet council,” replied the official, his hand trembling with the pencil.
We asked a policeman where there was a good speakeasy in the neighborhood. He was sorry he did not know. A real estate agent drove us all over Forest Hill village and showed us through the fifty-thousand-dollar houses.
“Haven’t I seen your picture?” asked the realtor of Jim. “Your face is very familiar.”
“Doubtless, doubtless,” said Jimmie.
When he asked us our names we informed him that our names did not matter. We had seen his goods and if we wanted any of them we would let him know. Hidden behind those whiskers, with the tell-tale mouth and the expressive lines of the face all concealed, it is astonishing how rude and bold you can be.
“How about lunch?” Jim asked about one thirty.
“Nothing doing,” said I. “It takes a lifetime to learn to eat through whiskers, and then very few of them ever learn to do it well.”
“But I don’t want to take these oft yet,” said Jim, thinking of the painful operation of removing the gum that attached the hair to us.
“Let’s have an eggnog through a straw,” said I. Which we did.
“Now,” said Jim, as the afternoon wore on and we could think of no further ways of proving the power of whiskers. “Let’s go home and see what happens.”
So we went home. I do not know the true facts about Jimmie’s case. He says they just laughed. His wife is supported by four daughters, which is, of course, an unfair disposition of the troops in any case.
“Oh, they just laughed,” said Jim.
When I let myself in the front door the maid screamed and ran into the kitchen.
My wife came into the hall and stood staring at me.
“Are you hurt?” she gasped.
“How do you like me in whiskers?” I asked.
“What on earth are you up to?” said my wife. “I thought that was some kind of a fancy bandage you have on your neck.”
“Whiskers,” said I. “How do I look in them?”
“You look as if you had the eczema,” laughed my Delilah.
“Aw, go easy,” I begged. “Don’t they sort of give me a look of importance?”
“Boys,” called my lady, “come and take a look at your daddy!”
My various boys trooped in and all at once the whole scene became a rowdy pandemonium, with everybody dancing around me and dragging me into the light.
“He looks like Duke!” shrieked my mother-in-law. Duke is an Airedale dog of our acquaintance.
“Wait! Wait!” roared the oldest boy. “I know who it is! It’s Paddy Lone!”
Paddy being a feeble-minded gentleman who sits on the side roads up in our part of Muskoka.
I strode upstairs and removed the whiskers.
All of which goes to prove that whiskers do give a man a power, an authority he does not enjoy in his bare-faced condition.
Everywhere except at home.
Editor’s Notes: “Spinach” is slang for a beard. It seems to have been most in use in the intra-war years. Since the 1870s and 1880s were the high point of extravagant beards and moustaches, it would be older men who still sported them in 1933.
The “late Dr. Chase” is Dr. A.W. Chase, a 19th century “patent medicine” seller who sold home remedy recipes, under the title Dr. Chase’s Recipes; or, Information for Everybody. He would also sponsor popular almanacs that would still be sold by his company long after his death, and would be known in 1933. He had a very long beard.
Referring to Jim as a “Riff chieftain”, is in refence to the Rif War, a 1920s colonial war between the Spanish and French on one side, and Berber tribes of the Rif mountainous region of Morocco on the other.
George Stewart Henry was Premier of Ontario from 1930-1934.
Though 1933 Ontario licence plates were yellow, they did go with red in 1937.