The BEARDs of PDX
By J. Pete Fulford
April 27, 2014
“Let me see your face.”
The doorman reached out and grabbed my cheeks with one hand, then moved my head back and forth.
“A little splotchy,” he said.
I was sporting 5 days of growth. Didn’t have much to show for it though. We stood outside an old warehouse in the abandoned part of downtown. I looked up the street. No cars, no pedestrians, every other street light worked. Behind the doorman was a steel door with a camera above his head. The little red light was on. They were watching.
“I want to be cool, like you,” I said.
I expected him to smile, but the dude was all business. Besides, it was difficult to see his mouth behind all that hair. His beard was glorious, long and golden. It spilled out of his chin like a cascading waterfall. He wasn’t a big guy, but he had the look of Rasputin, of Tolstoy, a scruffy bearded maverick of masculinity, serenity, and wisdom. He wore a tight red t-shirt, skinny black jeans, and a yellow beanie. His name was Matt. I’d done my research.
“Got any evidence?” Matt said. “Photographs? Someone I can call?”
There was no one in my past that could vouch for my ability to grow a beard. Never had one. I was hoping he could see my potential. But Matt wanted proof.
“Come on man,” I said. “You know I got it in me.”
I spoke with a slack face, kind of slurring a bit. I leaned over to one side, let my eyes go half-mast, and thought of a Joy Division song. Matt had a pained look in his eyes. His brows were furrowed, moving up and down like they wanted to reach across the forehead and fist bump each other. I wasn’t fooling anyone. He read me like a McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.
“That’s not how it works,” he said. “You gotta be a member.”
I wasn’t getting anywhere with my weak ass beard, so I threw all my cards on the table.
“I know what you do here,” I said, looking down at the ground, kicking at nothing in particular.
“You do huh?” Matt said, lighting a cigarette.
“Yeah, I know about the Brotherhood.”
Matt laughed, and blew smoke off to the side. He was cool, but I sensed a kink in his armor. He laughed a little…too quickly.
“And you’re Matt Hennington. Originally from Detroit. Went to Art School there but came out to Portland about 3 years ago for a better life for your wife and young son Wolfgang, or, Wolfie as you call him.”
Matt dropped his smoke and took a step forward. His beard seemed to leap out in front of him, saying: “Step back.” I stepped back. Didn’t want that thing to smother me.
“Who the fuck are you?” he said.
“Bumble Bee Black Fish Interstate Madness. Time to save the world.”
That was the ticket, the secret password I’d thrown down $500 for. Matt’s eyes got big.
“I just want to be cool,” I said. “Like you and all the other Beards.”
Matt looked up to the camera, and shrugged his shoulders. The door buzzed, and he ushered me in. And there I was, standing in the halls of the most powerful and well-hid secret society in the world – The Brotherhood of Enlightened Artisans for Revolutionary Development (BEARDs).
Portland BEARDs are unlike any other brand of hipster. Brooklyn has some top of the line cool kids, as does Austin, Berkeley, and Seattle. But Portland Beardos are on a different plane altogether. They’re not exactly hipsters anyway. More like saviors of the world. Yeah, laugh all you want. You don’t know what’s going on behind all that facial hair. The Portland BEARDs may appear to be slackers, vain wannabes holding on to the grunge era by a few strands of facial hair. But in truth, they’re the only ones that can save us.
At the base of every one of the downtown Portland bridges are small underwater meeting rooms. These several hundred-year-old rooms have been meeting places for the BEARD Society since before the bridges were even built. Seems the Society had the bases configured long before the outside world had even thought of building bridges across the river. In fact, it was an early version of the BEARDs that introduced the concept that Portland would be the City of Bridges – an apt metaphor for their ongoing mission.
It all started with a young bearded engineer named Richard Ekin. Ekin was a sailor who made two trips around the world, formulating his philosophy from a wide range of wise men along the way. He came to Oregon as second mate in a ship commanded by Captain John H. Couch, arriving March 3rd, 1842. For reasons unknown at the time, Ekin jumped ship and settled in Marion County where he married and took up farming and saddle making. Ekin and another immigrant – John Casey – soon started regular secret meetups with an Indian warrior by the name of Buffalo Face. Buffalo Face – the only bearded Indian known in the Great Northwest – was somewhat of a celebrity within the tribes of the region. He also had a penchant for predicting the future. Together they formed the first band of BEARDs, which has since grown to 323 (324 if I play my cards right) members as of today.
The floor was buzzing with activity. Bearded men, and even a few women with facial hair, ran around with purpose as if a deadline was looming. No one greeted me or paid me much attention, so I was free to walk around and see once and for all what they were up to. The room was huge, a gigantic warehouse space. Along the east wall were rows of workstations where BEARDs stared at monitors and moved and clicked their keyboards frantically. There were forklifts moving large crates and golf carts carrying supplies here and there. There were BEARDs walking around with laptops attached to their torso. Others sat in the corner on top of boxes, working on tablets and in deep discussion. It was a bustling factory with sounds of hurried footsteps and a cacophony of conversations masking piped in music. Occasionally, announcements were made that made no sense to me – “Pipeline Hootie and the Blowfish in bad decline. Shareholders gather in Onus Dreamworld 569.” What the hell was everyone doing? None of it made sense. On the workstation monitors I saw maps with different colored circles in various regions. But every time I tried to look closer, the BEARDs at the computers turned their monitors away from me. “What are you all doing?” I finally asked.
“We’re saving the world,” said a voice behind me. “But you knew that already.”
I turned around and saw…Him. It was Him. Really Him. The legend was true. Him was radiant, magical, omniscient, but at the same time looked like a normal everyday slacker with a beard. It was very difficult to accurately describe this man – the leader of the BEARDs – the one they called Him. In my research, I’d read somewhere that he spelled his name H-Y-M-N. But I didn’t ask about that. I was too mesmerized. What a glorious man.
“So you want to be a part of what we’re doing here,” Him said.
He nodded and smiled. Two BEARDs stood on either side of him, staring at me with judging eyes. I felt like I was in high school.
“I want to be cool like you,” I said. “Like all of you.”
That was the not-so secret phrase that let the BEARDs know that you were open to their mission. Him smiled and took me in his arms. In his embrace I saw it all, and for a moment it was all so clear.
“The tragedy of our questing is that we know not what we are seeking,” Him said. “Do you now see our mission?”
“Yes. I do.”
I realized in an instant that they weren’t about saving our society. That would be impossible. Instead a whisper was needed when people were sleeping, a nudge or a subtle suggestion. It was the only way it would work. A little guidance was all they needed.
“Our mission is get people to wake up, to show them the truth in everything, in everyone. Soon they will realize that they ARE the truth – a vibrant, living universe.”
Him then pulled out a small mirror and showed me my face. My beard had grown 3 inches. I was one of them. I stared past my new hipster facial hair and into my own eyes, allowing myself to enjoy this moment. Mission One, infiltrate the BEARDs, was accomplished. Mission Two, initiate their downfall, had just begun.