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Wave Functions Don’t Collapse, They Just Appear After the Commercial Break

February 3, 2010

Okay, the dust has settled and after re-reading my live-blogging of the premiere diptych of LOST season six, I’m a little taken aback by how haiku-y the whole thing is. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun, but the sheer speed that the exercise requires precludes any really thoughtful asides. I promise this won’t become a LOST blog, but there’s at least one thing I want to get out there regarding these episodes and this new season.  

There’s been some anticipation, to put it mildly, regarding how the writers and producers of the show would be able to follow Ezra Pound’s dictum to “make it new.” The show has already twisted us around in so many directions, it’s hard to think of what they could do next that would be fresh and surprising. I’m going to go on the record that the new plot device is incredibly clever, and while not completely unprecedented, certainly a huge leap forward for prime time network television. I admire the writers for trusting the audience to be smart and keep up. At this point in the post, by the way, if you didn’t watch? Stop reading now.

Okay, if you did, basically it appears that at the moment our heroes detonated an H-bomb in 1977, reality split down two courses; in one world the crash of Oceanic 815 never occurred and life is proceeding as it would have sans crash and Island mayhem; in another world things are a little stranger, with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, and Sayid (Jesus there are a lot of characters on this show) no longer stuck in 1977, but still on the Island. I say this is stranger because while it’s pretty clear that decimating the Swan in ’77 would prevent Oceanic 815 from crashing, it’s not at all clear how a nuclear blast would lead to the second scenario. The fun, as always, will be in finding out how and why this has happened, and  how the two realities will interact or possibly merge once again.

Now, I’m sure that there will be the predictable legion of complainers who find the plot splitting and alternate realities too complex to follow. To those I say: Watch Something Else. Personally, I hope that the writers push this as far as they can take it. Part of the joy of LOST is the complexity of it all, and for this last season to live up to the promise that the previous five have shown, it had better be pretty whiz-bang.

I’m also, to be perfectly honest, doing a happy little nerdling dance about the new plot device because, really, I TOLD YOU SO. For further reading about the science behind the splitting realities, looky here and here.

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Live LOST

February 2, 2010

Stay tuned kids! Liveblogging of the season premiere of LOST commences in just a few hours.

The time is almost nigh, kids! Before casting your glance further, do be advised that spoilers certainly follow.

When last we left our three dozen protagonists, Juliet was hammering away at a hydrogen bomb at the bottom of a hole. The parallels between LOST and our current American polity run deep.

Previously on LOST! We begin with Jacob. The Previouslies are always awesome – a little puzzle-key to what happens next. “Free will” seems to be the catch phrase tonight. The hour-long Prev-Seen ends with it; Jacob reminds pre-stabby Ben that whatever happens it’s HIS CHOICE.

And we begin! We appear to be pre-815 crash! Did the plan work? Too soon to tell!

Oh no! Turbulence!

It seems to have passed! Series over!

Or not. Jack seems to have cut himself on an ice cube. Terrifying consequences ahead, to be sure.

Desmond appears! The time line has certainly changed. Jack has some deja vu, a natural consequence of shifting the entire universe about. Dezzy: “Nice to meet you, Jack. OR TO SEE YOU AGAIN.” Ominous scotch, brothah.

We’re apparently flying right over the ole island and are treated to a rapid-zoom underwater view of the ocean-bottom island, complete with Greco-Egyptian Anubis-type statue foot. I’m mildly disappointed with the CGI. Sort of expect Nemo to poke his cute little face out from behind the spooky statuary.

Wait. Now we’re back in 1977 again. Juliet is hammering away at the H-bomb. Something is afoot, kids!

Kate’s up in a tree. She may have seen a shirtless man up there; just a theory.

Wait, she appears to be deaf. I’m always impressed by the tightness of the jeans worn on the island. Sour dough starter anyone?

Miles! I’ve always liked Miles. He’s like Jin’s pervy bizarro self. I digress.

Hmmm. It appears that we’re back in present day. Jack and Sawyer are unconscious next to the Swan Station post-Dezzy explosion. Sawyer’s freaking out! Face kick! (First of many?)

Bloooooop! We’re back in the non-crashy time line! Methinks we’re dealing with a little multi-world scenario here. Kate’s a prisoner, and Hurley is the luckiest guy alive!

Zhooooooox! Back in Island world! Sayid’s bleeding! And? And!! Juliet appears to be alive beneath the rubble!

Sayid is bleeding an awful lot of tempera paint. The jungle rustles, and – of all things! Hurley grabs a pistol! We really are in an alternate time line.

Who is it? JACOB, BITCHES! It’s about to get all free willy up in here, you wait.

….and we’re back to non-crash time. BUTTON YOUR SWEATER YOU WHORE. Jin’s a charmer again!

Locke is gimpy again, but a survivalist all the same. Boone lives again! It’s interesting what small details have changed. Boone didn’t retrieve Shannon after all, and Locke appears to have done the walkabout. Hrmmmm.

Now we’re in…. Well, who the eff knows what timeline this is. Nemesis Locke is wiping Jacob juice off his Bowie knife and Linus is sniveling about the stabby.

Back on the beach in who-knows-when. Others are mixing with 316-ers. Linus, who is now Nemesis Locke’s errand boy, is summoning Richard Alpert (Google the name if you don’t know he’s Ram Das!) to toast marshmallows over the cheerily burning messiah/demigod (mmm – deity!). Oooh, Richard goes gorilla on Ben. Locke wants to talk to me? LOOK WHO’S DEAD BIOTCH. Actually he’s much more genteel, but he’s pretty mad.

Back in still-on-the-Island time! Sawyer is digging in the rubble and hulking out like someone buried his paperbacks and some pork rinds down there.

Hurley is going for a stroll with God – I mean Jacob.

God I love Hurley. “You’re dead? Sorry dude, that sucks.” The dudey aplomb with which he greets all adversity never fails to delight.

Poof! Jacob is gone. Let’s drag the Muslim around in the back of the van! “Jin take me somewhere random. I’ll show you were I hid the ranch dressing!”

Guess we’re making a pit stop to save Jules. Priorities, Jin!

Sawyer is PISSED. Because Jack stabbing him about 10 seasons ago didn’t make him mad, but buried girlfriend – you’ve gone too far, yankee!

Zooooooop! Back in non-crashy time. Charlie! He’s alive! No, wait. He’s ODing. God, he can’t catch a break.

Let’s save Charlie! Jack and Nurse Sayid to the rescue! Sayid should suggest torture. That’d wake him up!

Oh look. Charlie wasn’t ODing. He almost choked to death on a balloon of heroin! The irony. Drugs kill, kids.

Yeeeeeeeeex! Back in whatever the eff. Sawyer is screaming like a debutante who mixed up mace with her hairspray. AAA got the rubble off of Jules! She’s got spaghetti sauce all over her. Sawyer is going to rescue her one limb at a time.

Jules confesses that she actually blew up the bomb. Sawyer reacts like she just drank his last PBR. It’ll all be good.

Sayid is dying quick. Hurley can save him! Luckily we’ve been together long enough that any damn thing anyone says is believable. “I have to take him to the Temple. I’ll need 20 unicorn foreskins and some leprechaun gold.” “Okay, Stay-Pufft!”

Random machine gun guys are invading the temple! They’re really pissed about the whole Jacob is dead thing and they’re not amused by Nemesis Locke’s hijinks. Kerpow! Shots fired!

Nemesis Locke skitters away, though. And…. vanishes!

Holycrapsmokemonster!! I don’t think we’ve ever seen it this up close before. Smoke Monster MAD. If you did a bong hit of smoke monster there’s no way you’d be able to go see Avatar without losing your MIND, man. It’s a metaphor, kids. Remember, drugs killed Charlie. Almost.

Smoke Monster kicks ass (it always sounds like a dot matrix printer to me), then zoops away. Here’s Nemesis Locke. “I’m sorry you had to see me that way”??? Is Smoke Monster actually Nemesis? (That’s the implication; it’s a rhetorical question.)

Back! The sounds Sawyer and Jules are making while he rubbles for her are like a Transformer orgy without lube.

Jules wants a big Jimmy kiss. It IS gonna be an orgy! Actually I suspect that’s the “I’m about to die” kiss. She has something to tell you, Sawyer. Lean in close!

Oh, she died. Sawyer is sad, and I guess has to kill Jack now. I bet she was going to say “Rosebud.”

NON-CRASHY TIME. Charlie’s under arrest! And ungrateful. Dezzy appears to have disappeared, but no one is too alarmed.

Slow-mo sequence! Everyone is settling into the landing. Everything is normal, but they all seem to feel a vague melancholy for the life they’re not living, for the time line LOST. Charlie marched out in handcuffs. Kate headed to trial. Jack off to lay some nurses. Sayid looking for his torturewife. Hurley needs a snack. Locke is loaded into his wheelie.

And?

And?

Part two in a minute!!

And we’re back!!

Sayid is bleeding some more. They’re taking him to the temple while Sawyer prepares to bury Jules. Hurley isn’t answering any questions – he grew a big pair when the bomb went off!

Non-crashy time! Jack’s dad’s coffin is…. LOST!!

Quickly back to bleedy Sayid time. They’re at the temple, but Hurley is in charge. Apparently they’re going into the temple through the crawl space. There’s a copy of a Kierkegaard book in the detritus, and an armless corpse. Hurley declares that this trip will be teh awesome.

Spooky whisperin’s! Has Kate vanished? Jack’s about to get Sawyery.

THUD! THUD! Scuttle scuttle! Weird strangers have kidnapped them! More Others? How many arcane tribes can this island hold? The crew is hauled outside and… THE TEMPLE.

Back in non-crashy time! Kate’s picking her handcuff locks! She jumps the marshall! He’s down! Fugitive Kate resurgent, and of course she’s in the elevator with Sawyer! Mmmm. He wants her to be his 341.

Back in Temple Time. They’ve buried Jules, and Sawyer wants Miles to do his ghost whisperer thing and find out what she was going to say when she died. (I totally forgot he had that power.) WHAT DID SHE WANT TO SAY?

“It worked.”

Hmmmm. Did it? By “it” does she mean that she figured if she smacked an H-bomb with a rock she’d die? Because that seems to have panned out nicely. I’m sure it means something significant, actually. We all know the dying are preternaturally wise.

Hurley, Jack, Kate, and Jin are at the temple with the temple weirdies. They want to kill our friends, but Hurley’s all “Jacob sent me!” Quasi Asian temple chieftain busts open the guitar case, which appears to hold a balsa wood ankh, INSIDE of which is a wee note from Jacob. Haven’t these demigods heard of FedEx? That ankh would’ve been a nice Pottery Barn home decor piece, but now it’s toothpicks.

They’re going to help Sayid! Why? The note (apparently) says if he dies “they’re all in a lot of trouble.” No one wants a smokemonster spanking.

If you can send balsa wood notes after you’ve died I’m not sure what the down side is.

Back in non-crashy time! Jin’s getting busted for bringing a fat sack of cash into the country. He should’ve hid it in Sun’s sweater. Sun’s all “Me no speakee English,” but she’s pleased as punch to be rid of him. Now she can wear her hot pants and that low-cut buttonless sweater. WHO NEEDS TO BUTTON UP NOW, JIN?

Temple Time!! They’re taking Sayid to the “spring” for some healing, but it looks kind of like…. a big toilet. Seriously. Urine is resurrection juice? Too far, producers. Keep your weird golden shower thing to yourselves. Anyway apparently the mojo is gone. Quasi Asian Temple Dude cuts the crap out of his hand and dips it in the water to test it out. I’d probably have just pricked my finger or something. That’s gonna need some stitches, and now he’s got pee in it to boot.

Temple chieftain is agitated. “If we do this there are risks”? Like what? Dying? They take Sayid into the water, though the coveralls have to come off first. The tank top, apparently, is okay. Sayid gets submerged for a looooong time, and everyone gets upset. Because they know how the resurrection thing works?

Oops. Looks like they killed him. Sometimes that happens when you get shoved face down into a huge pool of urine for two minutes. Jack commences the totally half-hearted CPR he’s an expert at. I fold towels with more vigor, seriously. Who licensed this guy?

No, really, looks like Sayid is dead. And really wet. And probably smelly if that’s pee. Sorry, I’m obsessed, it looks GROSS.

Baggage claim! We really are in hell. Kate is, of course, skulking around. BECAUSE SHE’S A BADASS. Security people are all wandering around like she’s not a terrorist. Kate sneaks out through the employee section and gets in line for a taxi. Because that’s a good way to escape.

Yep. She’s busted. Now she’s in a high speed chase with Preggy Claire as her hostage. Wheeeee!

Back in temple time. It’s snack time by the massive urinal! Miles and Sawyer are hauled in, freshly knocked around.

Chieftain calls Hurley in for a pow-wow. Chiefy is apparently growing some killer weed back there. Hurley drops the bomb – Jacob is dead!

Everyone’s flipping out!! Shoot off the fireworks! They have to keep HIM out! WHO IS HIM? Is it Nemesis??

Back to the Jacob stabby site. Nemesis Locke is telling Ben about how sad and confused Locke was when Ben strangled him. It is a bummer to get the garrote, I’d imagine. Locke (real Locke) was apparently the best of the Islanders because he realized how sucky life was off the island. The irony? That Nemsis Locke wants to “go home.” I’m presuming he doesn’t mean Rockville. Based on the Satanic gleam in his eye I’m guessing it involves everyone dying everywhere.

Back at the Toilet Temple. Yep. Sayid’s dead. Hurley says “Later, dude.”

Kate wakes Sawyer up from his rock-smashing snooze. People on LOST get more shit kicked out of them. After six seasons you’d think they’d all have horrible scarring and disfigurements. I guess if the Island can make Locke walk again it can manage scar tissue, too. Seriously, though, no one’s broken a nose yet?

Jack looks like he’s got indigestion; Sawyer looks pissed. Dead girlfriend kinda pissed.

Non-crashy time! Jack is trying to explain to his mom how he lost his dad’s body. God, son – you can’t be trusted with anything. Jack tells Locke about the missing body and Locke tries to lay some wisdom on him. “They didn’t lose your father, they lost his body.” Deep, Lex Luthor!

Jack offers to heal Locke’s paralysis. Because that’s what he does.

Back in weird time! On the beach with the Others, the 316-ers, and Richard. They see the fireworks! That must mean that Toilet Temple Time and 316-er Time are the same! Thank god there’s only 17 time lines to follow now.

Nemesis comes stalking out and Richard knows exactly what he’s dealing with, because he’s been around a bajillion years. Also his eyeliner gives him powers. None of that helps him avoid the Nemesis ass-kicking though! Nemesis is MAD! He tosses Richard over his shoulder like some potatoes and carries him off, possibly for sodomy. Smoke Monster is one bad mofo.

Back in the Temple! Hippy temple dude wants a private word with Jack. Of course, them is fightin words, because nothing makes Jack Shepherd angrier than a private conversation, but before Jack can kick some hippy ass….

SAYID COMES BACK TO LIFE!

Fade to:

L O S T

O, Robot

January 29, 2010

I grew up reading science fiction. My dad was an English major, but sometime in the scant five years between his graduation and the beginning of my reading life he must’ve shed all of the canonical titles (he may very well have sold them for rent money, times were tough, kids). What was left on the shelves were acres of dime-store pulp. Today even the cheap reads you can grab off the supermarket shelves are printed on acid-free paper; these books must’ve had extra acid added, because there’s not one of them I can remember that wasn’t a toasty yellow-brown. The smell of them was luscious. I used to crack them open, bury my nose in the pages, and huff. The quality of the binding may have made the experience like trying to read a handful of dry autumn leaves, but I wouldn’t trade those books for a shopping cart full of eReaders.

But back to the SF. There were a lot of classics on the shelves – Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, Niven’s Ringworlds, Ursula K. Le Guin’s amazing Earthsea, titles by Frederick Pohl, Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, and a dozen others I’m missing – what counts today for a canon in its own right. I suspect that Dad’s tastes weren’t that discerning, though. He was (and is) a voracious and completely undiscriminating reader. I can’t remember a single one of his less than epic choices, but their name was Legion. For every classic or classic-to-be he must’ve had eight stinkers, most of which likely exist nowhere now beyond the shelves of some very rarified collectors or in moldering basement crates.

I began to turn away from SF when I reached middle school and discovered a world of books beyond those that lined our rec room walls. By the time I reached high school I was far too snooty to consider going back to those old titles; I had classics to read! I have sorrowed for years over the impossibility of reading everything that is worth being read before life ends, and no matter what my circumstance in those years that spanned high school, college, poverty, dissipation (phases one and two), and adulthood (such as it is), I clove to the task of reading everything that mattered, even though I know I’ll reach my end without completing the job.

Recently, though, I’ve begun to turn back. I have to credit Michael Chabon for the shove in the right direction. At a reading he gave in DC not long ago, when asked what he was reading lately, he mentioned Iain M. Banks, an author whose name I had never come across. Always on the hunt for new threads to follow, I picked up Mr. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, a stunning space opera set in an intricately imagined future universe populated by space-faring humans who live their lives entirely inside of constructed environments; hyper-intelligent, nearly immortal computer Minds; and a dazzling array of alien species. If all of this sounds hokey to you, trust me, I understand. The writing, though – the writing! Banks is a masterful craftsman, and while some of the novels in his Culture series fall flat (I’ve read them all now), it’s more than made up for by those that hit the proverbial ball out of the park. He’s a rare find.

Banks sold me, and I began to dabble into other SF directions. Dan Simmons is an author of spectacular power and capability and his Hyperion is gripping and masterful. Simmons led me to Harlan Ellison, whose name I knew but whose work I had never considered. Primarily a short story writer, Ellison is widely acknowledged as one of the leading voices of the 20th century, and has had a hand in more television and film writing than you’d believe if I told you. His classic short, “Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man,” is one of the ten most reprinted short stories in history. If that’s not enough for you, Ellison wrote “Repent, Harlequin” for a writing workshop in 1965, in one six-hour session. The printed version is scarcely different than what appeared on the pages he pushed through his manual Olympia typewriter.

If you’ve followed me this far, perhaps this will shake you off: In addition to my reading forays into SF, I’ve been seduced by the high-quality product being produced for the small screen. The cable channel Syfy (née SciFi – why on earth did they change it?) recently aired Caprica, a spin-off miniseries of the recently reimagined Battlestar Galactica franchise, and I am here to tell you that both are excellent. The premise of Battlestar is endlessly fascinating – there are no creepy aliens lurking about, no strange new civilizations to be encountered, no green women; the chief nemeses of mankind are the Cylons, artificially intelligent cyber-lifeforms who are essentially indistinguishable from humans. If there isn’t a cultural studies doctoral thesis about Fear of the Other being written about this yet, someone should get on it promptly. The show is gorgeously produced, and the acting is as good as anything happening on television.

All of this is by way of saying that science fiction seems resurgent these days. The new season of Lost (if you’re tiring of me mentioning it here, change the channel) premieres in a few days, and it’s pure science fiction once you wipe off the Hawaiian sand. Syfy has posted numbers to die for in the past couple years, increasing its female viewership by double-digit gains for two years in a row; it’s among the top ten most watched networks now, and ranks #5 among adults 25-54. New science fiction television and movie franchises are popping off the assembly line every day. Production values are high and as CGI comes into its own there’s no telling where we’ll end up. It’s not all about effects, of course. Battlestar has enough great space-battle action to make a thirteen-year old Pavlov in his pants, but most of the show takes place in real, human-occupied unmediated life and the writing is pristine. Avatar, though visually stunning, was essentially Dances With Wolves avec tall blue people. Mark my words, though, the day is soon coming when state of the art at an Avatar level will meet writing worthy of the spectacle.

I’m not sure what to attribute the science fiction trend to – maybe it’s because we already live in the future – but I’m happy it’s here. If you told me in high school that I’d be writing a novel in 20 years and toying with the idea of including robots I’d have laughed you out of the room. Who’s laughing now?

Out of Time

January 28, 2010

It’s likely that the upcoming season of LOST is to blame for my recent noodlings about time travel, but the topic’s been appearing with increasing frequency in pop culture of late. The newest Star Trek movie hinges on time travel; it’s been the focus of a few episodes of FRINGE; The Time Traveler’s Wife, anyone?

The trouble with time travel is that it mucks with our sense of orderliness and free will. You’d be hard-pressed to find a viewer more geeked out by LOST than I am, but I have to confess I have no idea what year(s) it was/is/are in tempore when the last season closed. Once you’ve traveled into the past, met yourself, sent yourself messages, given yourself advice on how to behave in the future, and altered your own time line, it’s hard to tell asses from elbows. We don’t even have the proper language to discuss these things, really: When are you? sounds like an incomplete sentence. At a time when technology has opened most of the world to instantaneous, nearly light-speed contact, time remains among the last impermeable, one-way media through which we travel. We live our lives frozen in the same glacier, lock-stepped. If you’re behind me, I can’t turn to look, let alone speak; if you’re ahead of me I can send notes, but you’ll never reply. Stepping outside of that fixed course edges on insanity; walking through walls seems perfectly sensible by comparison.

The stickiest wicket of all for me is free will. The Grandfather Paradox is a popular trot-out in time travel circles: Suppose you travel to the past and kill your own grandfather before he’s been fruitful with your grandmother. The death of your grandpa in the past eliminates the possibility that you were born in the first place, and obviously if you weren’t born at all you can’t very well make it back in time to kill gramps. Which means that he did make time with your grandma (forgive the pun), which means you were born and capable of going back to kill him. You see where this is headed. The only reasonable solution is that it’s just not possible to kill your grandfather if you’ve traveled from the future to do so. No matter what you do, grandpa is safe. Shoot him, and the gun jams. Throw him out a window, and a truckload of pillows is waiting on the sidewalk. Light him on fire, and he’s worn an asbestos suit. There’s literally nothing you can do in this model because, in a larger sense, it’s all already happened. This, of course, is predestination, which is anathema to our sense of independence and agency.

Following this line of reasoning it’s impossible to do anything in the past that would mess with the established time line, which essentially means that there’s almost nothing you can do, that there’s one narrow track down which you must proceed. Going one step further, what’s the real difference between the past and the present beyond “location” in time? Whatever it is that you’re doing now, there’s nothing you can do to alter what’s already happened in the future, right? Bye-bye, free will.

Preserving free will in this scenario, on the other hand, endows each individual with virtually god-like power to alter the path of the universe. Killing a person (or even just kicking him/her really hard in the right spots) creates a cascade of changes in the time line that are awesome in their scope and implication. Races die, civilizations fall before they’ve risen. Maybe you like this version of things, but frankly it frightens the piss out of me. Scariness aside, though, that kind of power just doesn’t make a lot of intuitive sense to me. Butterflies and hurricanes notwithstanding, farting in East Orange isn’t going to do much in the Greater Magellanic Cloud.

Then again, maybe time travel doesn’t need to make any sense. Aside from being a clever plot device and brow-wrinkler, why do we keep returning to time travel as a fictional device? There has to be a whiff of nostalgia, doesn’t there? We cling like castaways to our rafts of photos, videos, recordings, scrapbooks, bits of cloth and paper, mere ephemera. How sweet it would be to step backwards for a moment, to turn our heads to face those who came before us, to reach them palpably, to touch them. To hug your mom or dad one more time. To laugh again with a lost friend. To say what you ought. To undo what’s been done while logic and sense are chucked to the ground like torn wrapping paper.

I’m aware that these musings are completely uninformed. My core understanding of time travel is based mainly on old episodes of Doctor Who. I know much of this falls neatly under the grand category of Stoner Conversations, but the true language of time travel is math, really hard math, of which I speak about enough to order a beer and figure out which bathroom to use.

All of that said, friends, the danger,  impossibility and brain-splitting nonsense of it all confessed, I’d go back, if I could. Wouldn’t you?

Beard is the New Black

January 21, 2010

Did you see the Golden Globes? I’ll confess that I didn’t, but I had it on good authority that many of Hollywood’s golden boys arrived sporting enough facial hair to put a rabbinical conference to shame. Intrigued, I investigated, and there it was. Jon Hamm, whose face is now listed in Wikipedia under “1961, handsome,” could match chinny chin chins with Andy Gibb. George Clooney, possibly the only man on the planet I would tongue kiss, apparently has a hair line that begins at his eye sockets. William Hurt is either filming another Civil War epic or trying out for a hush-hush Muppet Movie remake. The list of the handsome bearded is legion now, friends. When did this happen? When did it suddenly become à la mode to go au sauvage?

It’s fair to say that the hair that grows on our heads plays a pretty important role in most cultures. Depending on your dress (or hat) it’s almost always visible, out there, available for public scrutiny and judgment. For men and women hair length, hair style, hair color (from Senator Silver to Neo-Goth Green), are instant-read thermometers, social signifiers if you will, whether you’re letting your freak flag fly or keeping it high and tight.

How much more so the beard? Stylish scruff, whiskers, five o’clock shadow, The Unabomb (my dad’s personal choice) – they all have something to say about us. When I was a boy, nearly every man in my parents’ generation had a beard or a mustache. Their fathers, who came of age in the Depression and into their full manhood in the clean-cut 1950s were, to a man, shorn. It’s an understandable choice; if I grew up during in the 1930s I, too, would avoid any style choice that made me look more like a hobo and less like a banker.

Sometime in the 1980s styles changed and the only young men you could find who wore beards were following the Grateful Dead. (These are forgivable outliers inasmuch as they weren’t really aware which decade they were in.) When I was able to sprout my own real whiskers not one boy in my school wore more than a wispy Fu Manchu, and I’m pretty sure that kid had a Robitussin monkey on his back. Observers more astute that I have noted that the 80s were the 50s all over again, only with two-tone jeans, leggings, and oversize Frankie tee shirts. On the whole, cheeks went bare.

In the 90s, Grunge arrived and liberated young men from the razor – to some extent. My memory may be cloudy (those were wild times, children), but if I recall correctly being unshaven was pretty commonplace, but going the Full Grizz was almost unheard of. Stubble, yes. Goatee, sure. Unshorn, though, pretty much equated to unwashed. I’ll be straight with you: I grew a goatee in the 90s. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t take it back anymore than I can my Flock of Seagulls bangs from 1986.

Somewhere close to the turn of the millennium, by whichever reckoning you choose, I shaved it all off. I don’t remember my exact reasoning at the time, but if I had to reconstruct it I’d say that it had something to do with the fact that every man my age and approximate station in life had a goatee. It was also about as much of a hassle to carefully shave the cheeks and neck every morning as it was to just scrape the whole damned face. There was another feeling in the mix as well, more akin to an awakening of character. I had spent close to twenty beard-growing years in careful consideration of how other men were shaving, wondering what it meant if I was clean-shaven (or not). What was the right length for a beard? How many days could I go without shaving and still go to work? Did the goatee make me look like a douche? Was shaving clean selling out? As I approached thirty I began to draw near to that blessed, nearly paradisiacal state of Not Really Giving a Shit. At least as far as my beard went. I was still pretty concerned about what my car meant about my social status.

And now, the beard is back. I didn’t time it with the decade, though looking back I seem to have. Why did I stop shaving, again? To be honest it began largely because I was nearly unaccountable for most of the holiday season, alone at my desk while the gentiles were away on holiday, or off traveling to visit family and friends. By the time real life returned in full swing the beard was in full bloom, and frankly I couldn’t be bothered to shave it off. Aside from sheer laziness as an alibi, I’m a Jewish man of a certain age, and while wearing a beard is hardly requisite for a Jew of my exceedingly liberal extraction, my rabbi always gives me a happy grin when I show up with more than a day’s growth. In the end though, it might just be that I’ve wandered farther into the promised land of Get Stuffed, that I care even less how any passerby might assess me based on the state of my facial follicles, that I’m becoming more of who I am and less of how I groom.

Then again, looking more like George Clooney never hurt a guy much either.