The Face You Deserve
Abraham Lincoln said that by forty you have the face you deserve. But his was a harder age and I would up it to fifty. I had my photgraph taken at forty, for my mother--who doated on that sort of thing, and I was probably, like my mother was at the same age, as handsome as I'll ever be. Time had softened the over-angular cheekbones and jaw of a Highland and Belfast Irish ancestry, and experience had lifted the tendency in my twenties toward over-serious frowning, and had put a skeptical and mischevious glint in my eyes.
I don't think I deserved so good a face. I didn't bother to have a picture taken at fifty. My mother had been dead two years by then, and I had already grown the bushy grey beard which partially hides both my record of moral turpitude and my expanding double chin. Why, I said to myself, mess with a good thing?
But I do keep track in the mirror, just for the record. The hairline has receeded enough to reveal the dent in my skull from the doctor's forceps at birth. When that showed up in the mirror, I finally had an explanation of why it took me two years to learn how to balance a bike, to my everlasting mortification at five years old.
The lazy left eye still flutters inward when I'm over tired. A new furrow is graven in my forehead, a redder gash from the pressurized air mask I wear for sleep apnea. The gash wouldn't be as deep if I were wearing a new mask, but this is America, where my moral failure of having a limited income from honest work deprives me of health insurance. So my old, old mask is held together with heavy gage wire and duck tape, for the duration.
The eyes still glitter mischeviously in the mirror, but there is a harder and tarter edge to them, as there is in my writing, a little more of the pugnatious Irishman and a little less of the bouncy Leprechaun, than at forty. I have seen too many of the values I cherish pushed aside in this country and been too often on the losing side in politics to have retained much in the way of innocent merriment.
Knowing, ironic, and guilty merriment I still have aplenty, however. It shows in the mirror as well as in the postage stamp picture on my ID badge. Yes, I have an ID badge. Dosen't everybody? How else can we tell ourselves from the terrorists? Of course, everyone in town has virtually the same ID badge, so we can't tell ourselves, or our employers, from each other without inspecting the thing with a magnifying glass, but it makes us feel more secure.
In any event, the sardonic chuckles are still there behind the heavy-framed, old-fashioned, large-lensed, glasses and the bushy beard; under the mop of salt-and-pepper hair; and above the boldly patterned blue sport shirt.
So there I sit in my ID, looking for all the world like an outtake from Joe Claus goes Hawaiian. I'm much the same in my mirror; a walking advertisment for one of my deepest nuggets of wisdom--Life is too short not to wear loud shirts.
Such other wisdom as I have graces these virtual pages as well as my mirror. Such other foolishness, too. I'll leave you to decide what proportion of each.