Lost By a Whisker

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An also-ran at this month’s World Beard and Mustache Championships reflects on what might have been.

By Joe Eskenazi

When Charles Barkley said athletes are not role models for our children, he was so wrong. As a lad, Justin Liszanckie had a role model – Rollie Fingers. And, like most children, he didn’t idolize Fingers for his 341 saves or three World Series rings. No, it was the mustache, a ridiculous, waxy double curlicue that Fingers could have quite reasonably claimed he stole from Dick Dastardly, if the latter weren’t a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character.

Liszanckie is a tall, wiry 23-year-old who lives in the Inner Sunset. He has fair hair and a ready smile, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember what color his eyes are -- just as men may have trouble recalling the hue of Pamela Anderson’s eyes. In short, I was distracted. In Liszanckie’s case, though, the distraction is 100 percent organic – a head-turning blonde mustache book-ended by a pair of three-inch waxy points.

His unusual facial adornment earned him a trip to Brighton, England for this month’s World Beard and Mustache Championships, a dizzyingly unlikely ascent into the upper echelon of worldwide grooming for a man who, admittedly, still can’t even grow a better beard than Chris Daly.

By the way, “dizzyingly” is a multi-purpose adjective.

“These guys grow facial hair and drink beer,” says Liszankie of his fellow contestants.

The Stanford grad still works as an administrative assistant down on The Farm, and, during a summer job last year at the school’s summer family camp he began his foray into excessive facial hair – “You do a lot of wild, goofy stuff when you’re secluded in the woods for three months.”

A couple of weeks before this year’s beard competition, a few friends e-mailed him links to Beard Team USA’s Web site as a joke. And, yes, Liszanckie laughed – but he also got to thinking. He half-seriously contacted team captain Phil Olsen and was shocked to be added to the team roster on the spot (Olsen, wary of weakness in the United States’ “English Mustache” representation, saw potential in the 23-year-old’s ‘stache). E-solicitations to about 30 friends netted Liszanckie the cash he needed for a ticket and, just like that, he was a member of the hairiest group of Yankees to hit the British Isles since “An American Werewolf in London.”

Liszanckie shakes his head and smiles at the rush of bewhiskered memories. “It was a social gathering most bizarre looking men you’ll ever see,” he says, still grinning.

As a late entry into the “English Mustache” category and with only a five-month growth, Liszanckie did not anticipate twirling a gold medal at the end of the day. And yet, on the day of the competition, after only three-to-five minutes of styling with his tube of Pinaud Clubman Mustache Wax and his miniature comb he pulled off “by far the best English Mustache I’ve ever created.”

He entered into a competition that resembled a “freaky beauty pageant,” in which he was paraded in front of two panels of judges and a “rowdy” crowd that grew progressively more inebriated during the day (the competitors enjoyed an open bar as well). And while he didn’t place in the top three, Liszanckie takes solace in the fact that he represented the United States to the very best of his ability (the rankings of the non-medalists were not released to the competitors or the public, but Liszanckie estimates he was probably around the 10th best mustache athlete of the roughly 20 competitors in his category).

Medal or no, it was an unforgettable experience for Liszanckie – if only because he met Jack Passion. Passion, you may recall, won the competition’s signature event, the “full natural beard” category (Passion told me that, since there’s no stylist who can help you out, he considers this the “purest” event in the tournament, the “marathon of the beard competition”).

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Passion, born John Passion Giles 23 years ago, tells reporters he’s from San Francisco, but is actually a denizen of Walnut Creek, where he graduated from Las Lomas High School. He says people get the wrong impression of him when he says he’s from Walnut Creek; unlike Ed Jew’s predicament, there’s no negative repercussions at the beard competition for altering your city of origin.

In Passion’s case, great beards are made and born. He’s been sporting facial hair since he was 13, but it was dedicated training that took him to a gold medal after a third place showing several years back in Carson City, Nev.

“Well, I keep it clean and condition it and keep after split ends. I brush it, keep it conditioned and, every once in a while, do a hot oil treatment. I’ll use a leave-in conditioner if I’m going to keep in the wind. And, oftentimes, when I sleep, I’ll bundle it up so I don’t grind on it all the time. It’s just like having long hair, except in the front,” he says.

Sure, it’s a lot of hassle, but “Nothing good comes without sacrifice.”

Passion said he might clip his mane if doing so could raise enough money for diet education and school lunch programs. Or, for the right price, he’s willing to go beardless -- $10 million. But he is willing to negotiate.

Liszanckie, however, is not waiting for a big payday. In fact, immediately following our interview, he grabbed an electric razor and headed to the café bathroom – only to emerge, sheepishly, a moment later when he discovered there was no electric outlet. But, rest assured, for Liszanckie it would be hair today, gone tomorrow. By the time he played with his softball team over the weekend, his lip was exposed to the sun for the first time in months and his teammates were forced to find a replacement for his old nickname – Rollie Fingers.

Photo of Justin Liszanckie | Joe Eskenazi

Photo of Jack Passion | Zach Ramey

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