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The Whisker Rebellion

The ongoing and seemingly endless argument about a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown seemed the most absurd story of the day, but then we caught our first glimpse of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wearing his newly-grown beard.
Apparently we were late notice, as the beard looks fairly far along, and the terms “Ted Cruz” and “beard” yielded more than 5 million “hits” when we typed it on the Bing search engine. So far the beard seems to be getting decidedly mixed reviews, as beards usually do. Some find it rather dashing, others consider it ridiculous, and quite a few paid the backhanded compliment that at least it covers up a certain portion of Cruz’s face.
Cruz does have an unlovely visage, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to Al Lewis’ “Grandpa Munster” character on the old “Munsters” sit-com, and that has no doubt been an impediment to his political ambitions. It can’t explain his runner-up finish in the Republican primaries to President Donald Trump, who is by no means a matinee idol, but it probably had something to do with his relatively narrow win against the crazily leftist but youthfully handsome Democrat Beto O’Rourke last November. Our guess is that the close call prompted Cruz to grow the beard, as these days beards are thought to convey a hip and up-to-date style.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Benjamin Harrison all wore beards, while Presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft all sported mustaches, and President Martin Van Buren had some formidable sideburns, but back then facial hair was meant to convey the wisdom of age and an Old Testament sort of seriousness. Since Woodrow Wilson every president has been clean shaven, as until recently beards were largely associated with bums and beatniks, and except for Kansas Gov. Bob Bennett back in the mid-70s we can’t recall any politicians with any sort of notable whiskers. Former Vice President Al Gore famously grew a beard, and might still have it for all we know, as he hasn’t been in the news for a while, but that was after he’d lost the electoral vote to President Bush and around the same time he got divorced.
Beards are back in fashion, though, and might yet reappear on a presidential portrait. They no longer convey the wisdom of old age and a certain sort of Old Testament seriousness, but those qualities are by now hopelessly out of fashion, and we can well imagine modern voters preferring something more hip and up-to-date. Even so, we think the Cruz beard is a mistake.
To our admittedly heterosexual tastes few men look better with facial hair, and Cruz is not the exception. In his case a beard won’t fool anyone into thinking that he’s anything but a bookish and ideological square, and we still think he’d do better with that image. He can’t maintain the tough guy image he once sought to portray after so much obsequiousness to the victor who dubbed him “Lyin’ Ted” and ridiculed his wife’s looks and insinuated that this father was in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, and he’ll never be anybody’s idea of hip and up-to-date, and he’s unlikely to ever be president, so he might as well be the authentically clean-cut conservative that we hope still lurks behind that shiny new beard.

— Bud Norman

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Merry Christmas Eve

These days people tend to celebrate Christmas from Black Friday until the penultimate day of January, but we’ve always preferred to more fully focus our attention on Christ’s birth over a couple of days.
In our family we always decorated the house around mid-December but only began the festivities in earnest on Christmas Eve, when we’d share a feast of pizza and open all the gifts from family and friends, and sing carols and read from the Nativity scriptures, and then pose for the family portraits that Dad’s camera-and-flash-bulb timer always took several infuriatingly long attempts to get right. On Christmas morning we’d wake up with the brothers and greedily unwrap the presents that had been brought by Santa Claus — yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus — and then enjoy the traditional feast of turkey and ham and mashed potatoes with gravy and other all-American culinary delights, followed by televised football games, but at some point we’d sing a few more carols about that long ago Oh Holy Night and reflect on those scriptures that hinted at its ineffable meaning.
Over the the past many years we’ve added a tradition of attending the Christas party that our friends Art and Joanne annually host at our friend Stan’s house on the night before Christmas Eve, which is always the most swinging soiree one can hope to be invited to here in Wichita. Stan’s place isn’t much to look at if you drive by it up in North Riverside, but if you’re invited inside it’s as cool a bachelor pad as you’ve ever seen, and every year on the night before Christmas Eve it’s jam-packed with excellent people. Between Art and Joanne and Stan they seem to know every worthwhile beatnik and hippie and punk and musician and local media celebrity and ballet dancer in town, and it’s always nice to be reminded of how many of our friends are friends with other friends of ours in this small town of more than half-a-million souls. There’s always an open bar with a voluptuous barmaid, and no one’s singing Christmas carols or reciting Nativity scripture, but an appropriate feeling of peace on Earth and good will toward man always prevails.
We’ll probably wake up late today with a slight hangover, but as always with a realization that today is Christmas Eve, and that today is one of those special days of the year. We’ll have some sort of feast with our beloved parents at their swank retirement home, then maybe a beer with some of our weird friends at a nearby favorite dive of ours, try our best to ignore what’s going on with the government and the stock markets and the rest of the world, and to take a moment to reflect on the even better next world that Christ’s birth promises.
We suggest you do the same, and have a very merry Christmas Eve.

— Bud Norman