Incantation for 
Beard Reattachment by Lee Klein

600x384 Klein

Jenn is someone I like, mainly because of her affection for Alex. She’s the rational one. Alex is the artist, though he now restricts his art to carpentry and the preparation of gourmet tacos. He’s always had an effeminate quality about him, accentuated in college with long tresses every woman envied, as well as a delicacy of features and depth of brown eyes and deep olive skin inherited from his Mexican mother. In college, he was really good at improving the looks of any room he entered. He was also eminently affable, free-associative, and good-naturedly easy, a demeanor leavened with moments of self-doubt and introspection inherited from, and mostly dealing with, his jazz-pianist father—a deceased, alcoholic Irishman. Despite having been a young, intelligent, artistic, affable guy with extraordinarily good looks, he lacked the instincts of a sexual predator. Cluelessness about what he could do if he wanted to do it (with who knew how many women) further advanced the sense that he was a righteous dude—yet without ever being annoyingly righteous, in part because of good looks, humor, controlled mania, and the occasional emotional and psychological squall.

It was therefore surprising when, after college, he moved to Chicago and developed carpentry skills. He cut his hair and grew a bristly sort of beard. The affable artist transformed into a bearded, short-haired carpenter in a burly Midwestern city. He was trying to overcome his innocence, protect himself, push himself toward maturity—in a word, masculinize. Over time, he became more serious, more rational, but I still saw in him the irrepressible flightiness of youth. As we moved deeper into our thirties, after the ecstatic turmoil of our twenties, he and Jenn relocated to his home state of Texas, where he builds custom houses and cabinets. Jenn is a career counselor. Together, they make enough money to live a well-considered life that is not exciting, but it is, they believe, wondrously sustainable. That’s been their relationship’s keyword: sustainability. It’s like they’re an endangered environment, liable to succumb to the pollutants that stricken most attempts to turn two distinct people into a single couple. Two cannot become one, however; therein lies the dark matter between galaxies.

 One night, Alex and Jenn went to a movie. After the movie let out, as Alex unlocked his bike, he noticed a beard on his sneaker. He asked Jenn to confirm that a beard was on his sneaker. She raised a hand to his face, then slipped into a store, and uncharacteristically asked for a plastic bag. Alex stared at the beard on his sneaker. This was not its usual spot.

“Drop it here,” she said.

He lifted his beard as though it weren’t his and placed it in the plastic sack. Did he feel okay? Did he feel like any other important appendages were about to fall off? He said the beard never felt like it was about to fall off, not even right before it fell off.

“It’s sometimes felt like I’ve wanted to shave it off, but not this.”

Opting for watchful waiting over immediate medical intervention seemed prudent, plus he didn’t want to endure an uninsured trip to the emergency room, fielding questions he couldn’t answer, spending the night, he and Jenn together, in some obscure psychiatric holding room. They agreed it was best to keep quiet for now.

It wasn’t far to walk their bikes. Two miles home. Enough time to engage rationally whatever afflicted Alex’s face.

Before the movie, they’d listened to friends relay facts and stats announcing the inevitable and most likely imminent end of the world. Jenn had kept quiet but Alex played devil’s advocate, spokesman for an unfashionably optimistic Satan. “It all could be much worse,” he said. “The mega-volcano that formed the Indonesian Lake Tobo killed everything in the Pacific and the Far East, filling the atmosphere with sulfur. That was a long time ago, admittedly, and so was the asteroid that offed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when it hit the Yucatan. Nothing in this country’s recent history compares to World War II, the Holocaust, Dresden, A-bombs, not to mention the extermination of Indians or the enslavement of Africans. You cannot compare the swine flu to the Black Plague. Things aren’t great now,” he said, “but they could be way worse.”

Jenn was hesitant to admit it, but she also largely believed in optimism. Pessimism is easy, stable, she said. It’s like a solid oak table on which everyone can stomp and dance till the fiery end. But optimism is like an orchid coaxed from a single seed. It’s fragile and often solitary, and its instability—its perishability—makes it beautiful. Solitary orchids sure sound nice, but they’re no match for friends sowing oaks of pessimism like doomsday Johnny Appleseeds. As such, with reserves of optimism weakened by the onslaught, Jenn and Alex went to a movie, and then his beard fell off. 

The beard safely secured, they made it home, and then Jenn put the beard-filled bag in the freezer. It’s where they keep everything that might stink in the garbage, like chicken bones and melon rinds, and so she thought they should keep the beard there, either to submit it as evidence if the mystery unfolded or bury it once the weather warmed up. It was late January.

They had shared an unbuttered medium popcorn for dinner. The walk home exhausted the adrenaline, and now they were hungry. They boiled water and tossed in whole wheat pasta from a place that made it fresh. It came wrapped in butcher paper, not in a box with a cellophane window allowing a view of the mass-produced rigatoni inside. They heated tomato sauce, homemade from local organic ingredients. In the freezer were the bones of chickens not fed antibiotics or hormones before slaughter. They tried to minimize their impact on the earth, but sometimes they couldn’t resist the urge to devour animal flesh.

“Do you think people deserve it sometimes?” he said. “Like I did something wrong?”

She ran cold water over the steaming pasta in the colander. “An unusual punishment, don’t you think?”

“They used to let houses burn because they thought God was punishing sinners with fire.”

“You’re saying someone we don’t necessarily believe exists is punishing us?”

“I might’ve changed my mind about Him,” he said.

“Him?”

“The angry old dude with the big white beard.”

“Ha,” she said. “You’ve got beard envy.”

“It’s really the best sort of beard, isn’t it? The God beard. Like a snowy mountain peak turned upside down. A Snows of Kilimanjaro beard.”

“Which is disappearing, too.”

“My beard’s preserved in the fridge.” The way he said it suggested theological and environmental relevance.

Because they never put a legal matrimonial mess between their current state and breaking up, slight fissures caused great anxiety. They could neither lean on the solidity of their vows nor rely on the shared experience of surviving the tension of planning the ceremony, completing it with poise, then wholeheartedly enjoying a role neither could naturally assume as life of the party. In short, their relationship was as beautifully perishable as their optimism.

The movie they saw wasn’t entirely to blame for the beard’s detachment, but blame needed to be placed. Blame was roving free-range. Something needed to be blamed to help them overcome the fear that now seemed pervasive. Fear seemed to have replaced Alex’s beard. So why not strap the movie down on the chopping block and totally blame it? The fear-mongering movie they saw was mostly churning water. Waves roamed the ocean floor, occasionally surfacing in the middle of the sea. Rogue waves: the Hells Angels of the ocean. Totally unstoppable. These waves had no conscience, so they didn’t know that wiping out poor fishermen was not a positive moral choice.

In grand cinematic style, computer-generated waves destroyed Japanese whalers, blue-blooded yachters off the coast of Maine, oil tankers in the Arctic sea, among a dozen other vessels large and small. The real achievement wasn’t the special effects but getting the crowd to root for the waves as quasi-divine walls of moving ocean water, reminding moviegoers that we are nothing special. A Navy expert—the film’s hero—tries to track the waves’ movements as he petitions unresponsive authority figures to allocate millions to a program involving hi-tech buoys that transmit warnings of rogue-wave activity. A skeptical politician asks him if data can be manipulated to pin these waves on the dominant party in Congress. But our hero stares him down with homicidal intensity, as if to say this is something so far beyond human origin, so far beyond politics.

 In the absence of God, we take the blame for acts of God.

 That was the theme of the movie. It had a pretty strong existential undertone about taking responsibility. Theoretically, the movie was promising, but sitting through it was one long special effects–addled anxiety dream, all churning water and meaningless arbitrary death. The previous night, Jenn had dreamed she’d slipped in the kitchen and smashed her teeth on the countertop. The movie did nothing to wash away the worry sluicing through her, but it had no blatant visible effect on her—unlike, for example, what happened to Alex’s beard.

 

Right around this time, a similar incident occurred to another friend. Not a friend from college. This was someone I met when I moved to Brooklyn ten years ago. When I first met Bryce, he was wearing a watch. I remember the watch more than anything else. It was a calculator watch. A nerd-chic timepiece, way ahead of its time at the time (1999). His arm hair was dense near the watch. I thought maybe the solar mechanism that powered the digital calculator somehow made his hair grow more thickly there. He assisted an artist who worked with film, sculpture, text, painting, anything, really, an artist so busy he needed someone with a calculator watch to hold it all together. Bryce did not have a beard at the time, but his hair was flaxen blond, and he demonstrated the natural emaciation of the NYC art geek. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of him.

Weeks after we met, Bryce introduced the concept of glass-bottom airplanes. 

Commercial airplanes—Delta, US Airways, Continental—whichever first offered glass-bottom airplanes, they’d corner the market, raise prices, whatever. A hugely profitable, surefire hit. Instead of doing everything possible to keep passengers from experiencing the 37,000 feet between their seats and the earth, they’d feature the distance, televise it, provide a view of the world like no other. For an added fee you could lie facedown, with arms extended like Superman, in a specially molded area of the glass-bottom floor, and feel like you were soaring at hundreds of miles per hour. All they had to do was merge air transportation with an amusement park mentality. No big deal. Glass-bottom airplanes! Genius, I thought. Exactly the sort of thing I’d hoped to hear when I moved to the City. 

Ten years later, Bryce e-mailed a yard-long description of what happened to his beard. But first, I’ll describe the beard. Bryce is from the same town in Florida as Andrew Jackson, and he had similar muttonchops, but his was more of a classic Tom Petty thing—white-blond, puffy sideburns—with chin and upper lip clean, usually. It’s not a look most people can pull off, but something about the puffiness of the chops and thinness of hair made it work for him. (It worked for Neil Young, too.) For the holidays, he let a goatee fill the hairless spaces of his lower face. At first he wasn’t comfortable with the look, but once a full beard grew in, compliments were so numerous he began to understand them as earnest. It definitely made him seem a bit more manly, burly, this guy who for ten years sacrificed his own artistic- and relationship-related yearnings to fulfill the demands (and live off the renown) of a more ambitious, uncompromising, super-successful artist.

Bryce was flying to Australia to install a video project at a gallery in Sydney. It was not the first time he’d flown across the Pacific. The artist he worked for had many connections in Japan and spent a month each year in the Eastern hemisphere. This was Bryce’s fourth trip across the Pacific, and he looked forward to it. His own work dealt with interstitial spaces, like the strips of yards between houses in suburban housing developments. What more overlooked shared territory was there than a transpacific flight?

Glass bottoms had, sadly, not been installed on airplanes yet, and terrorist attacks and fuel costs made it all the more improbable that a commercial airline would try to boost revenue in creative ways. It was night, and he had a window seat. He could see stars if he blocked the glare from the overhead light of a woman reading nearby. Everyone else seemed asleep. He could hear the quiet breathing of his neighbors, their gentle snoring. The video display showing the flight map on the seat in front of him had gone out long ago. Who knew where they were now. Over the Pacific, hauling ass for Australia, where he had the cell numbers of freckled, enticing women who lapped the Brooklyn allure off him like he was candy coated.

Eyes shut beneath the sleeping mask provided by the airline, he wondered what it would be like to drive around Sydney wearing one of these things. Doesn’t know the roads, the traffic patterns, and unable to see because he’s wearing his Brooklyn Driving Mask: he smashes left and right, so consistently glancing off other cars it seems they know he needs to be politely dented toward his goal. He immediately understood the fantasy as a symbol for his recent behavior, his ambitions, everything! Only he doubted that all the unsuccessful applications he submitted for grants and art colonies and film festivals, all the failed relationships, the ache of unrequited longing, all these forces were nudging him in the right direction. If he somehow maintained blind faith in the process, would a series of missteps one day amount to a giant leap?

Awake, eyes covered in a slightly padded silken fabric, an unobtrusive elastic band around his head, it seemed he was having a bona fide epiphany 37,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. And then something terrible happened that should never happen to anyone who has ever mused about glass-bottom airplanes. Between his seat and the non–glass bottom of the plane were a few dozen feet. If he fell through the seat cushions and the floor, past the luggage to the metal hull of the aircraft, it would hurt, but he’d survive. No big deal. But then he thought of the sheet of metal between him and the 37,000 feet to the ocean below. His head began to spin. He thought of people falling from the burning towers. How long it had taken to fall. It’d be about 37 times farther. He was almost 37 years old. It correlated, time and distance. He could do the exact math on his calculator watch. But he held his eyes tightly shut beneath the sleeping mask as—against his will—the distance between himself and the ocean and the time since his birth compounded. These straight-shot trajectories seemed bridged by an arcing, abstract hypotenuse on the now-sweaty palm of his imagination. He sensed that if he discovered where the line ended, he’d know the day of his death.

He lingered in this state, distraught, turning over in his mind frustrated ambitions, failed relationships, the inevitability of having lived a worthless, lonely life dedicated to fruitless striving, then he forced himself to focus on a moment of glory: a night he’d picked up a Czech woman at a Brooklyn bar, then made out with her on my living room couch. That memory always served him well. His fail-safe security blanket. A blond vampire with immortal breasts. Memories of the transcendent hook-up raised his spirits, momentarily, before they crashed and burned, shot down by an arcing hypotenuse of fear. Unprotected, a nervous surface of skin stretched to contain a rapidly expanding emptiness inside him. He would soon pop. He released a slow whistle of breath, then slept, exhausted, and when he woke to an announcement concerning tray tables, he pulled off the Brooklyn Driving Mask and saw that his blond patchy beard had fallen wholesale to the blanket pulled to his chin. He tucked the beard into his laptop bag. No one seemed to notice. It was the price he paid for surviving the night. 

Now he had a story to tell the Aussies. And when they called him out for talking shit, he would simply open his laptop bag. If this didn’t get him laid, nothing would—though now he wasn’t so confident that new memories, no matter how transcendent, would ever again do the trick.

 

For years now, life has seemed like an elaborate campfire. At first, we were amazed when flames crackled from the kindling and grew so warm we needed to sit farther away or else singe our eyebrows. When we became accustomed to the heat, we sang songs and passed bottles of intoxicants and achieved a glorious feeling of interconnection. Sensing that this communion would not last, that the flames would dwindle once pleasurable effects diminished, couples moved from the fire to engage in private entanglements of intimacies. Such pairing off hardly limited the number around the campfire. Songs were sung as loud and the communion seemed everlasting. Over time the songs trailed off, and fewer people sat around the campfire drinking and singing, and those few around it watched the fire lose heat and looked at those remaining, their eyes filled with the worst sort of disgust, that is, self-critique directed at others. Those remaining around the campfire loathed that they hadn’t accepted invitations to leave the campfire or had left it but after awhile returned, nostalgic for the heat. That’s what it felt like for me. At times it seemed like an impossibility, ever settling down with someone I might love and trust for more than a few months. And then, inevitably alone, I would desire not another short-term relationship, or even something with someone with whom I’d happily share my life, but instead I hoped that loneliness transformed into solitude. I sensed that only if I achieved the ultimate goal of solitude would I one day attract a suitable human to engage in a serious, sustainable entanglement of intimacies.

I am neither an ogre, alcoholic, unemployable slacker, nor a lecherous wreck. I hide no aggressively chronic health concerns and never really manifest psychopathic tendencies of concern to others. I am well adjusted, adequately employed, taller than most, in better-than-average shape, and slightly graying, but not at all going bald. And yet, when I see couples ride by on bicycles, I wonder why not me? When couples pass with toddlers in aerodynamic, all-terrain strollers, I do not think the horror, the horror. I think why not me? One day? I have once been part of happy, childless couples seen by others on the street. I have made out in public with objectively gorgeous women and then felt self-conscious for openly expressing affection when lonely sorts might see us. But inevitably, while walking the urine-stained sidewalks with a woman, where Broad Street diverges at City Hall, I take the busted alley toward the Delaware, and she takes the upscale avenue toward the Schuylkill River. More recently, as I tread the wavering tightrope between loneliness and solitude, at times alone and happily baking pork chops in spicy Asian sauces, at other times hugging my comforter in bed as though it were a long-lost beloved, the campfire metaphor returns. And that’s my signal to reenter the world and find someone who wouldn’t be put off by all my various adequacies. 

But then, out in the world, tattoos abound to such an extent that for the first time in my life I have become self-conscious of my un-inked flesh. Everywhere: neck tattoos, elaborate sleeve tattoos, tramp stamps on exposed lower backs. Always some design peeking from a collar or cuff. People tell me it’s selective attention. Or, that if I moved to a better neighborhood I wouldn’t see so many tattoos. I say, “But my rent is so cheap.” And they respond, “You get what you pay for.” But still. I imagine that saving on rent and hoarding as much money as possible is the best long-term bet. But then I also consider using some of the money I’d spend on higher rent in a nicer neighborhood on a tattoo or two. I wouldn’t center a cat’s ass around my navel so it looks like a pretty kitty’s anus. Nor would I reposition my armpit hair so it was centered between the Virgin Mary’s legs. And I probably wouldn’t tattoo my penis so it resembled the neck and head of a terrifying dragon. But whenever I try to think of an elegant, acceptable tattoo, I flail. Maybe I could tattoo the word loser on the gummy, concealed flesh inside my lower lip? Maybe a tasteful galaxy of stars upon my perineum? Not sure. The decision is too important, too permanent, too potentially embarrassing, like a yearbook quote lifted from a song by Elton John.

It was around this time, overly conscious of tattooed flesh, that everywhere I looked I saw men wearing full, untrimmed beards. A beard seemed easier and cheaper to secure than a tattoo, plus I’d save money on the progressively expensive multi-blade shaving innovations that drugstores guard under lock and key. Also, whenever the mood hit, I could end the experiment with an old-fashioned grooming session at the bathroom sink. 

Last winter, I let it grow. Once it came in, I felt an unacknowledged communion with the local community. Everyone had beards. Everywhere I looked: beards! A new sort of mathematical proof emerged: the better the beard, the more alluring the lady with the bearded dude. Miraculously, women now found bearded men sexy and virile, thought beards defined the features of a man’s face, spoke of beards as a serious turn on. 

If one is not altogether freakish or going out of the way to grab attention, attractivity can be defined by the frequency and duration of stares. Bearded, I could tell that without taking any appearance-enhancing steps other than not shaving, I was doing much better in terms of attractivity. Or, maybe I was more confident while bearded. Or seemed less fearful. Whatever it was, I used its power to my advantage. Little did I wonder if I were a weak conformist, bearded only because it had become a heterosexualist requirement in certain subsections of urban America. And then, when my identity seemed most entwined with my facial hair, my beard fell off.

I had just ended a six-month relationship with a perfectly suitable woman. She didn’t want kids. I did—one day. She often ate raw garlic and made fun of my somewhat longer nipples. In short, spending time with her began to make me sad. We had removed ourselves from the campfire, warmed each other for a time, then fallen asleep, and over time, grew cold and made our way back to the fire. Friends said they liked her. Friends said they’d liked former girlfriends. Friends proclaimed that I had a problem: “too high standards.” I responded that, when it came to something as important as one’s potential mate, scrutiny better be strict.

It was around this time that I went to bed early and woke with my beard on my pillow. Who could I show it to? I looked in the bathroom mirror. I was wondrously clean-shaven. No more beard. Or, actually, I still had a beard, only now I held it. Hmm. 

That first morning of beardlessness, I let the beard sit on my desk. There’s no sense trying to explain an inexplicable oddity as soon as it occurs. Such mysteries are revealed over time, solved months later by an obscure element of a dream that, upon waking, is understood as the obvious key. I also knew a bit about scientific method—results such as the sudden, intact detachment of a beard needed to achieve reproducibility to be considered anything more than an accident. Therefore, I set out to grow my beard back. At worst, I had a full beard of human hair to loan to friends in need of a disguise. Two days later, my face was still wondrously clean shaven, the skin even seemed moisturized, its tone as pink and tender as a slice of smoked turkey. Three days later, four days, five . . . the same: it was like elementary school all over again, though now without the preadolescent peach fuzz. I started to worry, thinking that what I had thought was an inexplicable follicle phenomenon on my face was actually a clinically diagnosable dermatological condition that would soon spread to every part of my body.

I cut a large elastic band and tied an end to each sideburn of my beard. Then I placed it over my face and tightened the elastic knots. Maybe if I tightened the knots well enough, the beard would take root in my ridiculously healthy facial flesh? I looked in the mirror. The beard was only hanging in place, flapping off my chin. So I chewed a piece of sugarless gum, stuck it an inch below my lower lip, and pressed the beard down.

I could see young-looking flesh beneath the beard. The tighter pores of youth. When I was young, what had I feared nothing as much as the catastrophic effect all-over baldness would have on my prospects of ever finding someone with whom to share my life, not to mention a casual night? Before I even conceived of that campfire around which everyone sat, what was the worst fear? School? Tests? Dragged by my mother on a T.J. Maxx bender? Receiving jeans with a button fly instead of snaps for Christmas? The odd infestation of tormenting crows as I walked to school one autumn? Neighborhood punks burying me to my neck in the woods? Distantly, distantly, there was the threat of nuclear devastation, but even that seemed limited by words like “mutually assured destruction,”—words that had no more daily relevance than seeing the Death Star explode—a jolt after which summer days stretched toward the new school year.

I stared myself down in the mirror, identical heavyweights before the title bout. I wouldn’t be the first to blink. Instead, I chanted a list of words and phrases: failure, poverty, hunger, hopelessness, loneliness, sexlessness, childlessness, terrorists, illiterates, idiots, SUVs, MTV, obesity, indulgences, selfishness, worthlessness, FOX News, blues, anxieties, insecurities, hypocrisies, carcinogens, condescension, sharks, allergies, reckless drivers, asteroids, emptiness, wastefulness, shallowness, Vegas, vegans, vulgarities, tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, bumper stickers, omnipresent flags, the NRA, CIA, PT Cruisers, bad eyebrow jobs, old television aerials, popped collars, starched shirts, Capri pants (Capri cigarettes), motorcyclists, airborne litter, rising hopes—and, as I chanted, it became clear that I was a judgmental bastard, as were all of my friends, mostly, an army of opinionated pricks, but being considered “judgmental” was not really a fear. More so, I was most afraid of not being judged, of no organization of otherworldly or societal entities presenting me with detailed, quantifiable proof of my successes and failures as a human being.

I wanted a sentence handed down, a grade, a number evaluating all characteristics from kindness to hotness to degree of difficulty and execution of my dive. Not too much to ask, was it? But in response there was only that same old existential sine curve, rolling hills between limitless, endlessly deep oceans . . .

So I visualized a human composite of all the words and phrases I chanted. At first this little imaginary golem stood in the sink, a small monstrous person-type thing, but as I chanted it grew until it was larger than life-size. It muscled its way out of the bathroom and camped in front of my turned-off television, aggressively posturing like it had just sacked the quarterback in the Super Bowl. I wanted it to put me in my place.

“Judge me, damn it!” I said. “Come on. Judge me!”

But it just stood there trying to look tough, this figment of my imagination. 

I can only describe what roared through me then as a churning disturbance, a visceral leap of faith. Twisted scintillating fields of color rose to fulfill an unknown need. Every aspect of my being—physically, emotionally, psychologically—blended together, paroxysmatically. If in worse shape, the force of it may have snapped my neck. 

I was close to the kitchen, and without thinking about what I did, I retrieved a long, purple Korean eggplant from the refrigerator. I held the vegetable in my fist like an organic dagger. I was about to attack the embodiment of my fears, stab it till my floor was covered in an imaginary bloody mess. But then I shifted my grip and held the eggplant as though shaking hands with it. Dagger transformed into magic wand, and then I cast a slew of questions to enchant the beast.

Why must we endure the yoke of multimedia fear-mongers? Why do we inflate with emptiness? Why must we forever live a loveless life alone, totally beyond judgment? With each question, I gestured with the eggplant wand, zapping the scowling monster. Why would only beards fall off? And why only my friends’s beards? What about women? What about their beards, figuratively speaking? What’s it all mean? Now, with every interrogative volley, it seemed my monster more solidly turned to stone. Is this some sort of rite of passage? Are we canaries in the coal mine of a fragile existential ecosystem? 

The embodiment of all my fears shrunk to a bowling ball–sized rock. Maybe the imaginary monster’s ambition had always been to be vanquished with questions. 

For safekeeping, I rolled the rock under my bed, then tossed the Korean eggplant in the trash, as though it were filthy from doing such dirty work. And then I decided to take a stroll with my beard upon my face. I nodded to the old Vietnamese guy who says “Hey, Chief” when I pass him as he sits on his stoop. I bought a coffee at a café and had a similarly cordial interaction with the barista. Otherwise, no one glanced at me long enough to notice that I could remove my beard in an instant, and probably no one would have cared. Other bearded men passed. Did they also fear not being definitively, quantifiably judged? Were their beards also attached with spearmint gum?

I wasn’t about to go around tugging strangers’ beards, but I walked and walked some more, and upon returning home, slightly sweating despite the chill, I thought I’d shower. 

 As I undressed, I tried to remove the beard. On my chin, no trace of gum. The elastic was gone. “Ah,” I said, “at last I’ve found you.” 

 

 


Lee Klein is the author of The Shimmering Go-Between: A Novel (Atticus Books, August 2014),Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck: Rejection Letters from the Eyeshot Outbox (Barrelhouse Books, March 2014), and Incidents of Egotourismin the Temporary World (Better Non Sequitur, 2004). His writing has also appeared in Agni, The Barcelona Review, Barrelhouse, The Black Warrior Review, Canteen, Full Stop, Ghost Town, Hobart, The Normal School, Swink, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. He lives in the Cheesesteak Gardens neighborhood of South Philadelphia.