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Wisdom From a Beard? Patience, Patience

I’ve noticed that ever since I began growing a beard, things seem different.

My wife no longer criticizes me for watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the dog doesn’t growl at me when I walk in the door, and friends ask my opinions on subjects ranging from Euclidean geometry to Martha Stewart’s new image.

There is an assumption of wisdom attached to my beard, and those who once dismissed me as a buffoon are now pleased to invite me to participate in discussions on the impact of facial hair on the national economy.

I have accepted the new position of wisdom, even though I don’t know a lot about very much. I have learned to simply reply, “Patience, patience,” and it is accepted not only as wise but extraordinarily quotable.

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The other day I heard a friend whisper to his wife that I had said, “Patience, patience,” and she almost cried. Someday the phrase will be right up there with “I am not a crook” and “I did not have sex with that woman.”

A few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner and sat next to Paul Boyer, an enzyme specialist who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry five years ago. While I wisely avoided any subject involving science, I was able to converse with him without appearing to be a babbling fool. I even managed not to spill any red wine on my white linen jacket. I’m sure it was the power of the beard.

When we got home and Cinelli asked when was I going to stop drinking more than anyone else at the table, I raised my hand in the manner of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and replied in hushed tones, “Patience, patience.”

I began growing the beard about two months ago, not because I wanted a beard but because I didn’t want to shave. I realized during that period of growth how easy it was to just let my chin hair have its way. It is one of the few achievements in life that doesn’t require money and doesn’t cause dry mouth.

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Some might recall that in a previous column, I mentioned Kai Cofer, an actor whose name I found in a Web site on beards. It was his goal, according to the Internet page, to grow the longest beard ever. I, of course, made fun of his minimalist ambition, and suggested that it was at least something for him to think about during long periods between acting jobs.

To my surprise, he called and graciously thanked me for mentioning his name, but assured me he was working all the time because of the beard. That intrigued me enough to meet with him and to enjoy a pleasant lunch discussing facial hair.

Cofer is a good-natured man of 40 with a 16-inch beard. Contrary to my suggestion, he works regularly on History Channel presentations with biblical themes, and has had parts in television series such as “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Even Stevens” and “Lizzie McGuire.” While unfamiliar with Lizzie, I’m sure she’s a sweetheart.

What Cofer discovered was that the beard set him apart from other actors and got him roles while his colleagues waited tables. Whenever he grew the beard, he worked. When he shaved it off, times were lean. So the beard stays in a “partial-full state,” which is somewhere between those worn by Geoffrey Chaucer and Vlad the Impaler.

He laughed when I asked about growing the longest beard on record, then said he’d given up that ambition long ago. Someone named Hans Langseth holds the record by growing a beard 17 feet, 6 inches long. Poor Hans is dead, but his beard lives on at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

I guess it was the conversation with Cofer that convinced me I should keep the beard for the time being. While I don’t intend trying out for a biblical role on the History Channel, I could end up among the wise men on “Face the Nation.”

It occurred to me, as I researched the beard, how many famous people have worn them throughout history, including such luminaries as Santa Claus, Jesus Christ and Buffalo Bill. Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut wore a fake beard, believing it would enhance her ability to rule an empire. Al Gore apparently had the same idea. In some depictions, God also has a beard.

A book by Allan Peterkin called “One Thousand Beards” contains more information about facial hair than anyone really needs to know. But if you’re a beard person, it’s a bible. Peterkin is also the author of “The Bald-Headed Hermit & the Artichoke: An Erotic Thesaurus.” I don’t even want to know what that’s about.

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I did learn from him, however, how many different types of beards exist, ranging from the Poet’s Beard, worn by such members of the cognoscenti as Bob Denver, star of “Gilligan’s Island,” and the Cathedral Beard, featured on Leonardo da Vinci, who, while he had no role on “Gilligan’s Island,” did manage to achieve in other fields.

As my own beard grew, a light of sorts shone down, endowing me with the wisdom I now possess, a spirituality in tune with the universe. Feel free, therefore, to seek my advice on any subject. I will stroke my beard, nod my head, as wise men are inclined to do, and reply, “Patience, patience.” Can you think of anything better?

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Al Martinez’s column appears Mondays and Thursdays. He’s at al.mar tinez@latimes.com.


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