I have spent the past week feeling like Death’s asshole, and then, on Friday, we got on a plane. I genuinely felt bad that I might be infecting everyone around me with my swamp flu, but I tried very hard to cough and sneeze discreetly into the in-flight magazine.

On the plus side, we flew first class. On the minus side, we flew to Chicago. So it’s a bit like when a dentist tells you how pretty you are when he’s in the process of yanking your tooth. Why first class, you ask? Apparently first-class upgrades are the only thing that you can use frequent flyer miles for anymore. (I mean, I suppose if we’d wanted tickets to someplace really undesirable…”Yes, roundtrip to Bangalore. Oh no, economy is just fine.”) Because of all this bureaucratic spoilsportsmanship on the part of the airline industry, it meant that nearly nine-tenths of the people in first class were, like us, economy class interlopers with the same idea. On our flight home we sat adjacent to two gigantic Midwestern Hairdo types who were traveling to NYC for a doll convention. They blathered loudly nonstop the entire flight about nothing at all and for the first time in my life I felt grateful that my eustachian tubes had swollen to their usual Hubba Bubba proportions.

Chicago is a great city, by the way. We spent under 48 hours there, so here’s my precis: Hotdogs and city corruption and buses as the main form of public transportation. Oh, and a steadfast determination to chase all the black people out so that more upwardly mobile folks can move in. Kudos, Chicago! (To be fair: Here’s something interesting about Chicago you might not have known: Chicago had more anarchists than anywhere else in the US. This was before Food Not Bombs, even!)

Sadly, because we were out of town, we missed Emmanuel Carrere‘s La Moustache which played this weekend at IFC.Based on a book also written by Carrere, here’s the story:

One day, while waiting to join some friends for dinner, Marc decides to shave off the thick mustache he’s worn all of his adult life. They go off to dinner, but no one — neither Agnes nor their dinner companions — says a word about the major change in Marc’s looks. Could they really not notice?

[CUE Orff’s “O Fortuna”]
Agnes: Tu blague! Tu n’avais jamais eu d’une moustache!
Marc: [CRIES, LOOKS DIRECTLY AT CAMERA] “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Carrere, but this movie has received a lukewarm reception thus far. (Though they liked it at Cannes, so who knows? The French, they love their moustaches.) Carrere has a talent for intelligent, understated horror. He’s also great with suspenseful nonfiction too–The Adversary, a bio of Jean-Claude Romand (who makes James Frey look like an amateur) held me rapt one Christmas while I was avoiding familial obligations. He’s also written stuff about Philip K. Dick and Herzog*. Yeah, he’s commercial, but he’s no intellectual slouch. How is he as a director? Yet to be determined.

Back to La Moustache. Every single man I’ve ever met who’s grown and kept facial hair has developed an irrational, sentimental attachment to it. My father had a handlebar mustache for 30 years and confessed to me that he was, in fact, afraid to trim it–to trim it, mind you–because it was a part of his persona. A symbol of his individuality and personal freedom. One of my exes kept a hideous, proto-hipster gay porno ‘stache for a year–I think that was partly to annoy me, though. I believe this because he endured the constant pick-up attempts at Squeezebox and the strange man behind the counter at the pet food store comparing mustaches with him in a flirtatious way. “Rex,” he would say**, “Your mustache, it is so full and healthy.” And he would reach out and caress his cheek. When he was feeling petulant, he would threaten, “Rex, that’s it. I’m going to shave it. I’ll do it!”

I think that pet food store is now a falafel restaurant. I bet it’s still owned by the same people.

*N: Which Herzog do you mean?
Me: Werner, of course. Who else?
N: Whitey Herzog!
Me: Werner Herzog’s the only Herzog you can refer to sans first name.

**My ex’s name wasn’t actually Rex, but this was either the nickname he’d been given–perhaps a Syrian term of endearment?–or a mangling of his Western name.

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