In these days of a waning, warm summer, what would induce a man to cultivate what appears to be a large scented woolen scarf unraveling around his face and neck?
A trip to New Orleans to a beard promenade, of course.
Walter Cnare of Lake Mills wants to enter his foot-long orange beard at the National Beard and Moustache Championships Sept. 6-7. If the beard goes, so does he. To that end, he is soliciting votes in a Facebook contest to win a trip to the nationals. He plans on competing in the granddaddy of the 18 mustache and beard categories: Full Natural Beard.
His is a looker, sure to attract the most solicitous of whiskerinos (beard groupies, female). It is a flowing free spirit of a beard, a furry bib, with oiled, combed curls that are carefully tucked into his shirt at mealtime.
No one can doubt the dedication or ignore the good humor of Cnare and his bearded brethren in the Madison Beard Wearers Union Local 608, a club of facial-hairians that meets monthly at local bars, preferably and mostly at Mickey’s on the Near East Side.
The club has 80 people on its mailing list, no dues and few inhibitions when the topic of conversation is pogonotrophy, or beard-growing.
There is a certain obscurity that club members cultivate along with self-effacing descriptions of their follicle fealty. Six members — among them, three full natural beards, a (Giuseppe) Verdi beard, a (Salvador) Dali mustache and a Musketeer partial beard — manned an information table at a recent Concert on the Square. They were soliciting from bearded strangers votes for Cnare and new members for the club. Their polite, full-frontal approach puzzled some, but a lot of beard-wearers nodded knowingly — and their spouses tugged at their elbows — as club members explained their dedication to growing a beard, drinking beer and choosing the right conditioner.
“Most people (at the concert) thought we were talking about ‘beers,’ not ‘beards,’” said Ryan Lamney, club president. (Full Natural.)
Cnare, 40, is a forester for the city of Lake Mills. His 2-year old beard has placed well in “beard-offs” and other competitions, most recently at the High Noon Saloon. He also won the five-state Border Beards competition in Minnesota, and he has great hopes for a favorable placing in New Orleans.
At such contests, beards are judged on length, color and a gimmick known as “presence.”
“That includes your outfit and, well, pageantry,” Cnare said. “There’s a lot of peacocking going on. It’s kind of like a dog show for men.”
Beard events often include sideshows such as women’s competitions (they put on fake beards) and a special “petting show,” where — for a donation to a charitable causes — a person is allowed to stroke a favorite beard.
Cnare and Lamney said they have grown accustomed to questions from people who aren’t quite pogonophobic but are skeptical of the positive side of beards. These are not your “no shaving in November” or deer-hunting-camp beards. Keeping a quality beard takes some dedication to grooming and patience with those skeptics.
The three most-asked questions: Do you wash it? Yes. Is it soft? Yes. Can I touch it? Ask first.
Truly long-bearded men get used to tucking their beards into their shirts when they eat. Generally they will drink beer with a straw. Ice cream is a challenge, and hearty sandwiches? “You bite your hair off a lot,” said Cnare.
“Some people think we’re angry or intimidating, just because we have beards,” said Cnare, who couldn’t be more gentle or friendly. He described beards as “manly, but clean. They smell fantastic.”
(Experts recommend lemon or lime juice to neutralize strong beard odors.)
“Women? Oh, it’s about 50/50 I think. Some love it, some hate it. But I don’t grow it for women, I grow it because I think I look good with it,” he said.
Cnare has tended facial hair off and on for 20 years.
“I’ve done them all: goatees, sideburns, handlebar mustache.” For his first competition, his beard was not full so he entered, and won, the (Giuseppe) Garibaldi category.
It will be some time before Cnare and his beard are parted.
“That’s called ‘terminal length,’ or as long as a beard can grow, and I haven’t reached it yet,” he said.