Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

J.L. Sousa, Register

I tried growing a beard in the 1990s, but the experiment was a disaster.

I hadn’t realized that beards suitable for a newspaper office require maintenance. Mine quickly became an unkempt mess. The experience became a painful memory.

In the decades since I’ve not given beards another thought. I was comfortable with my unadorned face. Not handsome, certainly, but I thought it conveyed a certain honesty and accessibility.

Then came The Fires of three weeks ago. After working ungodly hours those first two days and coming home to a house without electricity, I got thrown off my shave cycle.

By week’s end my face had become scruffy, which seemed appropriate. People were fighting for their very lives and whole towns were facing oblivion. This was not a time for prissy facial protocols.

This was the birth of the Fire Beard.

The early reviews were positive. Cheryl said she liked the sprinkle of dark hairs among the white. Coworkers began offering gratuitous compliments. Without my saying a word, people began calling it a Fire Beard, like that’s a real thing.

By week two, as the pressures of fire coverage lessened, I thought about shaving again, but hesitated. I was fascinated by the new me in the mirror.

Bearded Kevin appeared to be a more interesting fellow than bare-faced Kevin. He seemed like someone with an opinion worth listening to.

Not to sound ridiculous, bearded me also seemed more virile.

Cheryl preferred the term “masculine” to “virile,” but agreed that maybe I was onto something. And while we’re piling on adjectives, I looked more “youthful” too, she said.

A white beard “youthful”? How can that possibly be?

In your case it is, she said. Believe it.

For inspiration as to how my facial hair should be shaped and trimmed, we made a project of sizing up the beards we saw in public. A simple trip to the market could prompt a half dozen “beard alerts.”

Without a doubt, we’re living in the Age of the Beard. Millennials, Generation Xers, Baby Boomers — everyone’s beard crazy. I favored sticking close to today’s beard norm — trimmed close, above the neck. The wild growth on the L.A. Dodgers’ Justin Turner frightened me.

I shopped my new image around for more feedback. My daughter Jenny’s response wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. “The ‘old man in winter’ thing seems appropriate given the circumstances,” she texted.

Give me a break, Jenny!

She retreated a bit. She likened me to an “urban lumberjack hipster.”

My brother Joe thought the beard was a hoot. “Let your freak flag fly,” he said.

Hadn’t heard that phrase in years. Was I now a hippie?

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With a what-the-heck attitude, I bought an electric trimmer last weekend. Without professional equipment, I knew my fledgling beard didn’t have a chance of surviving.

The trimmer is quite the gadget. Every time it snips a hair, it emits a little click, like a Geiger counter.

Cheryl calls the result “Housian,” meaning the Hugh Laurie character in “House.”

“You’ve pulled it off,” she said. Not all men can.

I puffed up. This beard just might be my best move in years.

To deepen my commitment, I’m writing this beard column. I’ve even swapped out my old photo of clean-cut me for this new fuzzy me. I expect readers to hold me accountable.

Then again, the beard scratches and sometimes weighs on my face like a swatch of rough fabric. I like it, but do I really like it? Forever?

Another thing nags at me. While I may call this my Fire Beard and suggest that it shows solidarity with those affected by the fire disaster, I know the truth is something else.

This beard is pure vanity.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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