Rushing to perform the customary grooming of
his stache and goat, a man of sixty-eight in Fjord,
Wisconsin, neglected to correctly set the depth of
the comb on his electric trimmer, and, with a single
swipe from neck to chin, sensed the irreversibility
of his error.
In many years the man had not seen his naked
chin or upper lip, had not seen the sagging flesh of
his old-man neck, and had in fact never seen some
valleys, deep and asymmetrical, that had eroded since
he had last laid bare so much of the lower landscape
of his face. Nevertheless, he smiled at the unfamiliar
fellow who dimly smiled back from the ancient mirror on
the basement wall lit by a single bulb above the deep
double laundry tub now littered with gray hair.
The unveiling took a while. It took a lot of suds and
many careful scrapings with a blue-handled twin-blade
buy-them-by-the dozen razor, and even then some stubble
stubbornly remained. As he soaped and shaved his face,
the man began to recall a summer day, nearly four dozen
summers in the past, a few days after he turned twenty-
one, in June of 1970.
Uncredentialed at the time, unemployed, unaccepted when he
attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army (and therefore no longer
subject to the draft), the man, newly legally adult, shaggy-
haired and goateed, scarcely moustached though hed tried,
was living then in his parents home, a few miles outside of
Washington, D.C. On a Monday morning he answered a
help-wanted ad hed found in the Sunday Star and presented
himself to a Mr. Kenneth Brown, manager then of Arlington
Yellow Cab. Sitting at a cluttered oak desk, a few feet from a
tidy table at which a dispatcher murmured into a microphone,
Mr. Brown took a quick look at the application the young man
had filled out, raised his eyes, and asked, How attached are
you, son, to those whiskers?
You dont like them, sir? the young man asked. Theyre gone.
Mr. Brown wrote an address on the back of a business card and
handed it to the applicant. Get a haircut and a shave, son, he said,
and then go to the hack inspectors office to take a test. Come
back when you have your license and well find you a cab.
The old man, today, still smiling at the mirror, rinsed his face and
leaned close to inspect the stranger on the wall. His time of driving
taxi had turned out to be abbreviated, but he would ever look back
fondly at that start of a Checkered career.