Thursday, October 18, 2007

Becoming Adolf

Hitler's Toothbrush mustache is one of the most powerful symbols of the last century, an inch of hair that represents infinite evil. The author had his reasons for deciding to wear one.

by Rich Cohen November 2007

I cut my beard on a Friday. I did what everyone who has ever cut a full beard does: I took it through every configuration. Like passing over the stages of man, or watching cultures rise and fall until the face of Hitler emerged. I went to the closet. What would the F├╝hrer wear on a sunny day? It does not matter, I decided. Because I am Hitler—whatever I wear, Hitler is wearing. A dozen Hitlers passed through my mind: Hitler in a sport coat; Hitler in a lab coat. Hitler in a Speedo; Hitler in a Camaro. I shook myself and said, "Get it together, Hitler—you're losing your mind!"

I wore the mustache for about a week. It preceded me into stores and hung in the air after I exited. It sat on my face as I slept. I was Hitler in my dreams. I went to the Jewish Museum. I went to Zabar's. I went to the Met. I went to the modern wing. I said, "All of this art is decadent." I stood on the corner of 82nd and Fifth. I stared into space. When you stare into space with a Toothbrush mustache, you are glowering. You can't help it. You're looking into crowds. You're looking at the names on the census that end in "-berg" and "-stein" while thinking, How do we get all these Juden onto trains? But in the end, my project, in its broader aims, was a failure. Because no matter how long, or how casually, or how sarcastically I wore the mustache, it still belonged to Hitler. You cannot claim it, or own it, or clean it as a drug lord cleans money. Because it's too dirty. Because it's soaked up too much history. It's his, and, as far as I'm concerned, he can keep it. When you wear the Toothbrush mustache, you are wearing the worst story in the world right under your nose.

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