Terry, also nearby, is a 43-year-old African-American construction worker. Like Raphael, his choice of mustache was influenced by his father. "My dad was in the military," he says, "and he looked very handsome with his mustache. So I grew one at 19. I added the goatee when I was 25, because some ladies thought that was sexy." Unlike Raphael, he spends considerable time maintaining his mustache's appearance. A mere eighth of an inch in width, it runs along the top of his upper lip, well below his nose. The black hairs curl up snugly against each other, forming a delicate line. Out at the ends, it is clasped by the upward-reaching arms of a narrow goatee. "It's a ritual. It takes me about 35 minutes. I trim and shave about every four to six days. I use soap and water and then a moisturizer for the skin and a hair moisturizer, which softens the mustache and keeps it from getting dry. I shave up above it to keep a little space between the mustache and my nose, and I use a little brush to keep the hairs lying down."
The mustache remains the same; what the ladies think, however, changes with his ride. "When I'm on my bike, it's like, 'Oh, there's a rough guy.' And when I'm not on my bike -- when I'm in my car -- they look at me like, 'Oh, there's a handsome guy going to work.' But my girlfriend likes my mustache."
A second Terry -- this one 60 and a mechanical engineer -- sports a goatee as well, but the mustache is far wider than the first Terry's, and far whiter. A well-gnawed cigar protrudes from beneath it. My notion of the connection between bikers and mustaches has thus far been confirmed, but Terry dismisses the idea. "I've been riding motorcycles since I was 16, but I didn't start growing the mustache until I was 30. I don't know why -- I just let it grow one day, and I've had it ever since. I just trim it every couple of days," unless he's going on a long road trip. Then it gets more careful attention, for purely practical reasons. "Last year, while I was going to Colorado, it just slapped the heck out of me because it was really long. It's like somebody is putting you in a sandblaster; it was stinging. As soon as I got to Denver, I went snip-snip and shortened it up."
Bikers, firemen...gays. One of my favorite moments from The Simpsons is when Homer starts leading a protest march against a bear that has wandered into town. He leads the crowd in a chant: "We're here, we're queer, we don't want any more bears." "Great chant, Homer!" someone cries. "Thanks," he answers, "I learned it at the mustache parade!" That was the '90s; Allan Peterkin, author of One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair, offers some account of what led up to that point. Back in the '70s, leather-clad gay bikers, their machismo confirmed by their mustaches and sideburns, formed one subculture within the gay community. But, he notes, "The look of the blonde, smooth, muscular type was also popular. By the end of the decade, a hybrid look known as 'the clone' appeared. Short, cropped, military-style hair, obligatory mustache, bomber jacket, beefed-up shoulders, and muscular butt under tight jeans."
But the clone vanished with the onset of AIDS, and Peterkin notes that the gay pornography of the '80s and '90s presented images of baby-smooth men. He opines that the look reassured viewers of the performers' purity and youth and, by extension, freedom from disease. Gay men flocked to salons for electrolysis and laser hair removal, a situation Peterkin finds dismaying. "Fortunately, by the late '80s in San Francisco," he writes, "men blessed with beer bellies, ample body hair, beards, and mustaches rebelled against the oppressive image of distorted physical perfection. These men adopted the bear as a symbol." Oh, those clever Simpsons -- the chant from the "mustache parade" being used to protest an invasion of bears.
When I meet Bob, a 39-year-old manager at Dixieline, he squires me through a gallery of mustaches popular in the gay community today. "There's the cop mustache -- short, straight hairs combed down flat across the top of the mouth but extended about a quarter to a half inch past the end. The Army or Navy mustache runs above the top line of the lip and does not come out past the end of the mouth -- it's only a tiny little thing. Then there's the Club Kid mustache, which is trimmed almost to the point of just being a week's worth of growth, almost prepubescent looking. Finally, there's the bear, a big, full mustache that really accentuates the mouth. I think my own beard and mustache -- although not necessarily nondescript -- is just a bear beard."
Bob has sported some sort of facial hair since he was a junior in high school. "I don't like my face without facial hair," he explains. "I have soft, flabby features and a rounded, moony face. I think a beard goes well with that. Also, I find mustaches and facial hair very attractive. My favorite mustache in history belonged to Captain Smith of the Titanic. His mustache and beard engulfed his face; it was big and fuzzy and furry. His mouth wasn't even visible until he opened it."
Before the bear beard, Bob wore only a mustache, one that began as a sort of plea for individual identity. "I was working in a big corporation where I was kind of assimilated in a way that made me uncomfortable. I wanted to make myself a little bit different. I had a full beard at the time, and I sat down in front of a mirror one day and spent eight hours" reducing it to a mustache. "I just plucked and plucked and plucked, one hair at a time, to shape the mustache. I wanted it to be perfectly shaped. I even plucked my sideburns. My face was red the next day."