Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mustachios

stache

Originally published in The Oregonian on December 13, 2007. Photos and text by Jason Simms.

Had you walked into Vendetta, a bar on North Williams Avenue, one afternoon last week, you might have thought, "That table of men, there's something about them. They remind me of Tom Selleck but also make me want to go home and make sure my kids are OK."

No need to worry. The 25 or so mustachios were all part of Portland's first crack at Mustaches for Kids, a loose organization in 16 North American cities that challenges people to grow mustaches and take pledges for charity when asked about their facial hair. Most cities, Portland included, donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

And, yes, ladies, they're single. "Look at us. We have mustaches. We don't have girlfriends," says 27-year-old Miguel Rivera when asked whether he's involved with any of the women sitting across from him.

The "growers" shaved Nov. 14 and since then have met once a week to compare progress. The third "checkpoint" at Vendetta proved Rivera right. Only one girlfriend and one wife were on hand.

Summer Money must be proud. Her husband, Scott, who works in the financial aid office of the Art Institute of Portland, is the leading fundraiser with more than $500 in pledges so far. He says most of his donations come from the fact that to join the competition, he shaved a full beard he'd had for years.

Is Summer happy to have had a smooth-faced husband for the first time? No. "I miss the beard," she says.

But just because Scott has made the most money doesn't mean his 'stache is the most impressive. Tim Brown, a 24-year-old travel agent, and Jeff McCaskey, a 27-year-old industrial designer, are neck and neck for the most growth.

McCaskey boasts of the density of his facial hair. "I found a tater tot in there I think was like two days old!" Brown is more down to earth. "I think it helps to have dark hair," he says.

Co-organizer Sarah Compton explains why there are no handlebars or other fancy 'staches in sight. "Corner to corner is regulation."

The growers will compete at the 'Stache Bash next week. There, they will assume a character to display their mustache (ideas include hot cop and the Unibomber). Then their work will be judged on aesthetics and tested for beer-foam retention. Oh, and they'll have to write mustache-themed haikus on the spot. The overall winner will be crowned Portland's Sweetest 'Stache '07.

While McCaskey and Brown are gunning for victory, George Klingerman is having a crisis over his pitiful mustache. "I look like an ugly guy," he says.

Klingerman's mustache is thin and light. He says people frequently try to wipe it off, thinking it's dirt, and pull their children closer as he walks by. He's 29 but is suddenly being carded for the first time in years.

But he keeps coming to the checkpoints to boost his morale. "Shaving in the morning is really hard," he says. "To not just..." he says, making a shaving motion toward his mustache. "But it's for the kids, so I can't give up."

The growers' progress - no matter how glorious or pathetic - is measured by a weekly mugshot that Compton and co-organizer Chrissy Purcell post on the Portland chapter's Web site, m4kpdx.blogspot.com.

Purcell's brother was crowned Seattle's Sweetest 'Stache '06, which led her to investigate how to start a Portland chapter. Compton, a college friend, was shocked to find out Portland didn't have one.

"It seems like a perfect fit," she says. "People already grow mustaches here just because."

The growers agree that Portland is mustache-friendly. Nate Kappen, who recently moved here from Napa, Calif., says Portland has the best mustaches of anywhere he's lived, including Italy.

Mitch Goldman, who founded the first chapter of Mustaches for Kids in Los Angeles eight years ago, was thrilled to have a Portland chapter, especially one led by two women.

"You can imagine how many times I've had to defend against charges of gender exclusivity," he says.

Women just have to get more creative. Compton says Portland's chapter has a few female participants, including one who's growing a "mustache" on her knee out of leg hair.

But the question is, was it all just a ploy to meet men? Compton says no. But how many men with mustaches has she kissed this month? "Zero, actually," she says.

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