Saturday, January 31, 2009
the mustache of wonder!
I've been a professional skateboarder for many years now. Once, while on a European tour, I found myself in the German town of Hamburg. This was only a few weeks after I had knocked a chip out one of my front teeth. We, my comrades and I, were doing a demo outside Hamburg, when a member of the crowd came up to me in an excited state. The man seemed to be in his early thirties, and in his best broken English, he tried to explain to me how he was a fixer of teeth, just out of academy (i assumed this meant dental college). And, as a fan of American skateboarding and me in particular, he was offering to take me to his office where he would give me a new front tooth for the price of nothing. I've been a lot of places and mostly when I am on tour I take some extra product with to trade with the locals for whatever i see fit. I've obtained two great hats that I wear often, and my favorite 'Clash' shirt, all out of just giving away my used boards. So, fuck! I thought, free dental work? let's do this. it seemed only moderately sketchy. A dude offering me a free tooth, this shit was expensive right?
Well off we go. He and his wife, speaking semi-understandable English to me, the whole van ride to the office. We get there, and I instantly find out that it's one of those little shop-fronts that is set up in the front room of a house and the back part is all sanctioned off as living space. This dude is covered in tattoos and I'm trying to figure out if this is a good or a bad thing. I mean, maybe in Chicago it's not really a big deal to be asking your dentist who does his ink, but here? Who knows. I was asked to sit down and straight away we get to work. "I'm trusting you dude", I say hoping he can detect my laced fear over the language barrier. I lay back, and with my mouth open wide, staring at the cracks in the dilapidating stucco that is the ceiling, I start to hear what, I think, is an argument. Another man had come into the room, he was older by the sound of his voice. He seemed angry, although I couldn't tell what was being said, I know a pissed off German when I hear one. I keep out of it, wishing I were back at the demo, and believing that this was, for sure, a mistake. The argument gets closer and closer to me while escalating. Finally, the wife comes over to me and insists that everything is fine. That the father of our dentist friend here is angry at something totally unrelated, and it will be resolved in a few moments. I have no phone, no way of contacting the other Americans I was with. I decide, out of fear, to call it off.
I go into the next room, where the father and son are quietly watching television together. The son was all the while trying to explain that the guy in the dentist chair in the front room was his favorite skateboarder and he wanted to fix the tooth of his favorite skateboarder. They were watching me on the television. Skateboard videos. I guess he really was a fan. The father turned around to welcome me into his home and in doing so revealed his mustache. It was like none that I'd ever seen in the flesh. The man had a sociological experiment on his face. At first I thought, this man must have lost a bet. Nobody would choose to stigmatize themselves this way. Then remembered, as I had to remind myself so often, that I was in a foreign land and the customs were a bit different here. But this? He is either some sort of social pariah with a mental deficiency who is mocked at every turn, or the leader of some secret society that is responsible for all of the important decisions ever made in the history of the world. As I rudely stood there in awe trying to figure out which on side of genius or fool the old German swayed, one thing was certain. This man knew something I didn't.
The mustache itself was magnificent. It spread across the width of his face in two coiled strands that were almost touching his ears. The hair was as red as could be with tinges of blonde at the tips. He looked like a viking who had just discovered pomade or a mental patient who had gotten into the arts and crafts bin, and was experimenting with copper wiring on his face. This was no semi-serious attempt at humor for this man. You could tell simply by the accuracy of the strands that this configuration had been resting on his face for years, maybe even decades. It had posted up like some great bird claiming a nest in an unwelcome tree. This was a lifestyle choice he had made. But why? Where in the land of Oz does this amazing distraction seem appealing? And to whom. There isn't a woman in the world who is going to think this is true essence of one's manhood. Think that this is something to be desired. All of the questions of the universe were rambling through my head as I stood in front of the family for, what must have been, five minutes, speechless. I had forgotten about dentistry, the rest of the team, even where I was. I was entranced by the mustache. Then the man spoke to me. He was speaking German. But in an unexplainable act of physics, I completely understood every word he was saying.
Not to say I understood German, but that I simply understood him. Every word made sense to me. How was this happening? It's as if there was some type of universal communication code locked inside my head which was being unraveled more and more with every sentence he spoke. The secrets of human collective consciousness were locked within this man's mustache. I've heard of people who get on stage at those variety shows and agree to undergo hypnosis for the amusement of the crowd, some clucking like a chicken and others being coerced into believing that they are Madonna, acting out the 'like a virgin' stage-show. And the ones who suddenly speak perfect French, having never taken a French class in their life. I dismissed all of that as a hoax. Entertaining the audience with their new found translation ability, all to disappear when the host claps his hands and says 'snap out of it'. But here I was, with a complete understanding of this man's foreign language.
I feel like this experience was something akin to all of those kids in japan having seizures while watching that specific sequence of flashes in a cartoon. The brain has the capability within itself to work true magic, it just needs some sort of key to unlock the subconscious and we never know what that key is until it hits us in the face. For me, in that exact moment, something about the exact shape of this facial hair met up with the synapses or neurons in my brain and triggered a reaction. I guess people get induced into a trance by watching a pocket-watch sway back and forth and I know about how you could possibly get put to sleep by zoning out on the snowflakes floating past your windshield while driving at night. But this didn't make me a zombie, It didn't turn me into a chicken. Just by seeing this mustache, I suddenly could understand any language in the world. As he spoke, he looked directly at me, and my ears were hearing the German words. These were all of the same German words that I'd been hearing all week, and they sounded the same. The difference was, I instantly knew what they all meant.
He knew that I was an American and that I didn't speak German. He told me that if I continue to look directly at him, I would easily be able to understand what he was saying. That it didn't matter what language he was speaking, he could be mumbling or even just humming, the intent of his words would still be understood. Although I was so in shock, I wanted to call NASA or something and get to the bottom of this, he seemed unconcerned with the magic that I was experiencing. He was more concerned with my front tooth and helping his dentist son work on this American skateboarder. He said that many people experience this phenomenon when meeting him and that he had actually grown tired of seeing the look of awe and surprise while they stare at him like a circus freak. I couldn't believe it. I could tell right away that, me insisting on us getting some scientists down here and figuring this out, just wasn't going to fly with this guy.
He said that, although he couldn't explain the reasons for it, the men in his town have had this ability for centuries. They have perfected the length and color and style of the curls in such a way that over time they had learned just to what precision to keep their facial hair in order to trigger the speech patterns in the brain to self translate. He reluctantly told me that I was one of a very few people from outside this village that had been exposed to this and the only reason I got to meet him and experience this, was that his son was such a fan of mine. He could have just as easily covered it up and none of this would have happened. I, in turn, was grateful and found myself looking at the world in a totally different light. This family secret, or tradition of ritual and village magic, will most likely, never be seen by many eyes.
I told them that I wanted my tooth to stay the way it is, chip and all. I felt that this surreal experience needed to be commemorated in some way, if only by me going the rest of my days with a crooked smile. Besides, I didn't really trust the son of a man who, by my assumption, could be making millions with this gift of wonderment, and chooses to live in the back of a dentist office in a town no bigger than ten city blocks. I left there, back to the tour with a story that none of my teammates would believe. And I even stopped telling the story by the time we got back to the states. It was so irrational who would even listen?
Since then I have grown my own mustache and attempted to recreate what I'd seen. I spend most days twisting and twirling the hairs on my face in certain methods, and then uttering useless phrases in Russian to the people around me. It never works, and I doubt it ever will. But I keep going. I continue working at it keeping the mental picture of the man in my head. The man with the secrets of the world's language right there on his face. And I keep hoping that one of these days I get the twist in the perfect shape. You never know. Since that day, since I met that old German, I feel like anything's possible.