I have a confession.
This seems to be an appropriate time to confess. The debate about Mark McGwire has brought up every repercussion of what he did in his major league career. Well, I'm a victim.
It's Mark McGwire's fault.
Let me start at the beginning.
When McGwire came up to the majors, I was 9 years old and just discovering baseball. Sure, I was a Giants fan, but growing up in the Bay Area, I saw plenty of the Oakland Athletics, too. And it was hard to ignore. Especially that first year.
It was hard to ignore how he looked back then. He looked like, well, a kid. You couldn't say that about young Giants like Will Clark and Matt Williams. They looked like they were 30 when they were 23, at least to a kid like me. But McGwire…he looked like a kid. The guy that lived down the street. Sure, the kid that towered over the other ones and made sure the bullies didn't pick on you, but a kid, nonetheless.
For a kid, like I was, it made him very likable. A lot more than that Jose guy. We didn't talk about it then, but there was something we didn't like about him, ever.
But as we both grew up, him through World Series and me through middle school, something changed. We all know what it was, but I've got to admit now that I look back at it, I can't remember when it happened. Or is it that I can't remember the first time when I noticed? Which is the more important one?
Either way, I did notice. And as I began dealing with finals and running to get to my next class on time and girls I had crushes on, I saw this guy, the guy that used to be the kid down the street. Now he was looking more and more like a grown up. Like a man, whatever that was supposed to mean.
It meant a lot to the kid who certainly wasn't seen as anything close to one, and didn't care that the fact he was 14 had anything to do with it.
It was at that point that I looked at him, and knew I wanted the same thing.
It didn't matter that I wasn't an athlete in any sense of the word. I wrote about them, even back then, and certainly idolized those who played (I had an ever-present bruise on my hand for nearly three years after that Kevin Mitchell catch in 1989). I had no aspirations to fame. For me, it was purely asthetic, and purely to impress the very small world I lived in.
Again, I don't remember when I made the decision, but it was made when I was around that age. However, I didn't start, not right away. I don't know if it was some old moral hanging onto me, with my father telling me that I shouldn't do anything ‘adult' until I was 18, or just my fear of my parents seeing it as I started and flipping out, but I waited. I decided to wait until my 18th birthday.
And I did that. I didn't start the day I turned 18 (that would be cliché, wouldn't it be?), but I started that summer.
It was interesting, waiting to see when or if people would react to what I was doing. The changes came around faster than I actually expected. It wasn't a matter of days, but weeks, and people started to look at me a little different. At first, it was the questioning looks. Then it was the pregnant pauses, the ones where you can tell they're about to ask a question, but they close their mouths to cut off the prodding questions at the pass. Finally, someone asked the question.
And I replied with a shrug. I didn't confirm it, but I wasn't going to deny it. How could I?
The side effects weren't what I expected, honestly. But the one that bothered me the most was the acne. I mean, I was doing this for the looks, and look what it was doing to me. It didn't seem like it should be happening. And it definitely seemed unnatural, where it was. It was the kind of acne that I'd pass by myself in the mirror in the bathroom every morning, and I'd stop and literally double-take at my image in the mirror as I had walked past. For a while, this very thing I was doing to impress the girls continued to make me shy around them.
As I look back, though, that wasn't the worst part of it. The worst part things seemed to grow unevenly. Not in an extreme, freakish sort of way, but it was noticeable. It just didn't look as full as I had anticipated, and the result was a very awkward look. I always thought it was just because I had started on it so young, and it would even out eventually. But the truth was that I knew guys who had started when they were younger than I had been when I started and it wasn't that way with them.
Still, I kept at it. I spent more and more time trying to take care of myself. I got over even the side effects of what I was doing, and I'll admit, it helped. Girls did change the way they looked at me. But after a few years, I got a little tired of it.
After about three years, I stopped. It wasn't that I was unsatisfied with the results, it was just that I was ready to stop. By now, McGwire had moved away from the Bay Area. It was actually in the middle of 1998, and he was in his home run chase. Sure, I cheered for him, but I was a die-hard Giants fan by then and it wasn't the most important thing in the world. If anything, I started to feel like what I'd done to mimic him was almost…copycattish. Okay, I had been a copycat. But now, with McGwire out of the shadow of that which is the West Coast twilight zone of sports news, I was looking like an obvious one. The appeal of it actually disappeared as he had become more famous.
So I stopped. As you can expect, it took more than just one day to get rid of entirely, but the sudden stop definitely showed right away. Again, most people didn't say anything, but they had to have noticed. But one person did.
It was a girl I'd known for a few years (mostly online), but hadn't seen in a while. We got together, and she was shocked. She noticed, but it wasn't just that. She'd known what I was doing and exactly why I had been. And she told me to start again. And she made it clear why she wanted me to.
Simply put, she thought it was hot.
By now, I wasn't some middle school kid who was afraid of girls. I was in the middle of college. I was pursuing a career. I didn't have any misplaced worship of childhood baseball heroes. And I wasn't afraid of girls anymore.
But I was definitely influenced by a girl who didn't play coy about what she wanted, and was pretty open about what she would be for me.
That decision to start again took much less thought than the initial decision.
Going back to the old ways was surprisingly easy. I already had most of what I needed, and getting the rest was easy because I knew where to go and what to do already.
This time, I stayed with it through the rest of school. I broke up with that girl, but I kept it and was dating steadily again very quickly. I graduated, and I moved to Los Angeles to try and start my own business. And I hadn't stopped.
But in Los Angeles, my perception really changed. Down there, it seemed like everywhere I looked, I saw someone who was doing the same thing. It wasn't everyone, but sometimes it seemed like it. Actors and businessmen. Guys in their 50's and guys in their teens. Heck, even parking lot attendants and fast food counter-workers. (Admittingly, those last two were probably also actors). But I didn't stand out anymore.
I didn't quit right away. Like the decision to start, the decision to stop (and stop once and for all) took time. It took long enough that I moved out of Los Angeles and back to the Bay Area before making the decision.
And one day, I stopped. I don't remember what day it was, and nothing in particular prompted it. One day, I just looked at myself in the mirror, and said "I'm done." And I was, just like that.
This time, the decision stuck.
It's been about 4 years since I stopped. I do feel much more…regular. But I'm older, and more mature and definitely more comfortable in myself.
Don't get me wrong. I don't regret what I did. I'm one of those people who feel that the things we do shape us into who we are, and I try to turn everything I did into a positive experience to build off of. I'm not about to go preaching to kids the downsides of doing it. I'm not sure I'd be a good person to do it. I had a few zits, but no other long term effects, other than a tendency to hide old photos of myself. That's not going to scare any kids straight.
But since the discussion about McGwire has brought back memories of what I did. And why it started.
It was my decision. But I admit, it probably wouldn't have occurred to me if I hadn't seen Mark McGwire as a kid.
So this is my confession, and it's McGwire's fault. It is Mark McGwire's fault that for the better part of a decade, I grew a goatee.
What? What'd you think I was talking about?
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