SF Stories: Curly

'Stache Francisco

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GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY LISA CONGDON

46TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL Hi my name is Curly. I am a mustache. And this is the story of San Francisco as told by me, a mustache.

My kind has existed for centuries in the shadows of the city's history, creeping like a caterpillar up the peninsula's fog banks, limning the flux of its immigrant populations — all of whom seem to cling to us in one form or another, even when vigorously rejecting us in a fruitless attempt to "normalize." Men and many women of San Francisco! Lay down your Gillettes! You will never achieve the hairless blonde perfection of 1980s gay porn! Which, come to think of it, originated at San Francisco's Falcon Studios. But still: just let it grow, man.

Some people think I just hitched a ride here on some Catholic conquistador's quivering upper lip, but let me tell you I was here long before that. What do you think the Ohlone shaved with, sharpened oyster shells and kelp foam? OK, maybe. But have you seen the enviable set of whiskers sported by our native sea lions, dripping with delectable fish guts and lichen? Ew. The point is, I'm not just Don Gaspar de Portolà's gazpacho-strainer, K? So don't lay that colonial trip on me.

(Mustaches are pretty defensive.)

Anyway, then came the priests, with proto-Van Dykes worthy of their patron saint himself — they quickly established the Mustache San Francisco de Asís, commonly known as Mustache Dolores. But the Mustache fell on hard times, and was soon whittled down to a few strands of the faithful. This was during the Mexican-American war, part of which was fought with beeswax and special whalebone-handled combs, because you just know the officers of that conflagration weren't playing when it came to styling a 'stache before battle.

It took the bushy-bearded, spittle-stained faces of the filthy Gold Rush, followed by the stereotypical Fu Manchus — which were only known as "typical" at the time, and not as Fu Manchus at all — of the Chinese immigration explosion to once again make me the face of San Francisco. That was soon followed by waves of wild sailors, their Barbary lady ticklers all a-twiddle as they explored the darker crevices of our rocky coast. (Here I must drop props for our very own Emperor Norton as well, whose facial hair extended almost as far as his kingdom's currency.)

Playland-at-the-Beach bearded ladies and gentlemen dandies with handlebar wonders soon followed — it was our Gilded Age, when the Penny-Farthing bicycle was a major mode of transportation, and mustache rides cost half a cent! That's nothing compared to the 10-cent peak during the 1973 oil crisis, but back then it was rather stiff.

After that, those fusty, upside-down-walrus Imperial mustaches became all the rage — not exactly my taste, I felt like an inverse Victorian neckbeard. Luckily those soon dwindled into dainty chevrons during World War I, then to Chaplin-era painter's brushes (like the one he wore in Gold Rush, in fact) and finally to pencil-thin wisps, which persisted through the Beatnik era. But as the amount of our facial-hair expression shrank, its metaphoric import flared: for what is the Golden Gate Bridge but a giant ginger mustache, enlivening the placid mug of the bay?

The Flower Children swallowed us into a mass of facial Jesus-bush — who the hell knew what was going on in there, until the Hell's Angels and Castro clones dug us out again in the '70s and made us the center of attention once again. Unfortunately, this stage was followed by Miami Vice stubble, an era of pretty-boy repression which was avenged by the paroxysm of facial hair experimentation in the '90s. (It's probably best not to talk about the '90s.)

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