Memoirs of a Mustache: What I learned in 24 Hours with a Furry Lip

  1. Men love mustaches

    The mustache harkens back to a more genteel time when pipe tobacco wafted through the air of a mahogany paneled room and bourbon was meant to be savored among leather-bound atlases and taxidermied wildlife. Perhaps one gentleman said it best when, upon seeing my mustache, he blurted, “Dude, that is awesome! My wife would divorce me.”

  2. Women hate mustaches

    For some reason, best known to themselves, women hate mustaches. One woman remarked, “Why would you purposely do that to yourself,” as if I mutilated my face by hacking off my nose because it didn’t go with my outfit.

  3. People assume you drive an El Camino or Camaro

    I was loading my groceries into the trunk of my Dodge Stratus when a teenage boy sized me up and said, “I would have thought you would drive something a little more vintage.” I followed his eyes and noticed he was smirking at an El Camino parked a few spaces down.

  4. Men with mustaches love men with mustaches

    It’s as if men are under the spell of some sort of mustache Brokeback Mountain, but men with mustaches love other men with mustaches. Perhaps it’s a sense of camaraderie that men feel when they happen upon other men bucking the trend, but when there are two men with mustaches in a room, mutual love and admiration isn’t far behind.

  5. Children are afraid of mustaches

    If you have a mustache be prepared for children to glare at you from behind their mothers’ legs. There is something about a mustache that frightens children; after all, every villain they’ve seen in a cartoon has a mustache. Or, maybe, children are merely frightened of Greek women.

  6. People assume you’re a stalker

    When donning a mustache, one mustn’t walk too closely behind another person. While on my way to the restroom in my office, one woman quickened her pace and continually peered over her shoulder at me as if I was going to have my filthy hirsute way with her right there among the file folders. Hitler and Stalin have done irreconcilable damage to the mustache.

  7. Don’t eat tuna salad

    Certain foods should be avoided when one has a mustache. After enjoying a very creamy tuna-salad sandwich, I spent the remainder of the day smelling of a Friday fish fry or a Red Lobster. One should also avoid barbeque; the sauce is like a henna rinse for your stache.

  8. You won’t stand out in a hipster bar

    If you’re growing a mustache to be different, don’t walk into a hipster bar or an Urban Outfitters—the mustache is essentially hipster camouflage. If you’re desperate to be noticed, you’d have an easier time sporting a pair of Dockers or reading an USA Today.

  9. A mustache demands a different name

    Sometimes your name simply doesn’t match your mustache, in which case, you must adopt an alias. While donning my stache, I insisted people call me Gary; the name Conor simply wasn’t worthy of a man with a mustache as regal and red as mine. Other possible names include, Steve, Dale, Wayne and Archibald.

  10. Only Tom Selleck can truly pull off a mustache

    I don't feel this one needs much further explanation. Unless you're Tom Selleck, you look like an asshole.

Stranger Danger, Childhood Abducted

I was swinging during recess at Mt. Zion Grade School in Mt. Zion, Ill. in 1987 when a suspicious van slowly and malevolently drove the perimeter of the chain-link fence that demarcated the safety of our playground from the outside world. Maybe it was instinct, or perhaps it was simply our parents’ cautioning put into action, but my playmates and I began to cluster around our teacher like zebras sensing an impending attack from a lion. Who first noticed the van, I don’t recall. I don’t remember if our teacher felt the same sense of alarm that we children did, but we knew: strangers can and will kidnap you.

Twenty-five years later I’m sitting in a restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa having a drink with a group of friends. We’re chatting about nothing in particular—who’s aged well and who’s selling their house—350 miles and over two decades away from my six-year-old self who huddled closely to a first-grade teacher on the steps of Mt. Zion Grade School and watched a white utility van dawdle by.

“You know, I was a paperboy when Johnny Gosch went missing,” my friend on my right leans in and whispers to the table in a tone meant to impart both his seriousness and apprehension in making such a statement. The chatter immediately ceases and I scan the faces of the men seated around me as each visibly struggles to craft a response. The atmosphere around the table has changed; what previously was loud and buyout banter has become hushed and contemplative. “His mother believes he is still alive,” the man on my left adds softly.

Until that night, I hadn’t heard of Gosch. I didn’t know he was a 12-year-old paperboy who disappeared from his delivery route in West Des Moines, Iowa on a September morning in 1982 leaving behind his dachshund Gretchen and a red wagon filled with newspapers. Nor did I know that this 30-year-old cold case was so fraught with conjecture and rumors of conspiracy that it would spur children of my generation to fear strangers and fuel tales of organized pedophilia rings and satanic ritual abuse.

Like many children who grew up in the 1980s, I was well versed on the topic of “stranger danger,” a concept that cautioned against talking to strangers, let alone divulging your name or accepting food from people you didn’t know. According to a popular public service announcement, a sinister man might try to lure me into his vehicle with the promise of candy or by claiming he needed help searching for his lost puppy, while another PSA advised me never to let a stranger know I am home alone.

The fear of child abduction had reached near mass hysteria and to keep me safe, my mother devised a secret code word that I was to ask for if she sent another in her place to pick me up from school. My brother nearly beat me senseless when he was sent to collect me and I refused to get into the car with him after he failed to give the correct code word.

Back at the restaurant, my friends tell me what they remember of the Gosch abduction and the similar disappearance in 1984 of Eugene Martin, who vanished while delivering newspapers on the south side of Des Moines. While authorities were never able to connect the two cases, many, like Gosch’s mother, are convinced the two are linked.

“Why kidnap a couple of paperboys,” I wonder aloud, suspecting a serial abductor, when my friend and former paperboy replies, “They’re alone at five in the morning.” The simplicity of his explanation smacks me, but he’s right.

These abductions remind me of a radio interview I heard with Nick Bryant, who authored The Franklin Scandal: A Story of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse and Betrayal. In his book, Bryant details an alleged nationwide child-trafficking ring out of Omaha, Neb. that furnished children to U.S. politicians and other high-level officials for both sexual and satanic abuse. If true, it’s explosive, but my friends seem dubious so I change the subject to the recent news reports of human feet mysteriously washing ashore in Washington state and British Columbia.

Returning to elementary school after summer vacation, one of our classmates was noticeable absent. Sarah, a mousy girl with long brunette hair, hadn’t returned and immediately rumors circulated among the monkey bars and teeter-totters that she had been kidnapped during the summer. One girl told me that Sarah fell for the old “would you like some candy” trick never to be heard from again. Sarah, in fact, was heard from again; I bumped into her at a party in college. She was alive and well and studying psychology.

Later in grade school, the police department lined up my classmates and me to be fingerprinted. A note went home to our parents a week before to inform them that we were to be fingerprinted as a precaution in case any of us would ever go missing. The officer explained to my class that our prints would help the police find us if a bad person ever took us. More likely, our prints would aid in identifying our bodies.

Police never turned up any serious suspects in the Gosch case, and 30 years later, they have yet to find a body. According to CNN, Gosch’s mother Noreen maintains that her son visited her early one morning in March 1997. Gosch, then 27, allegedly told his mother that he had been abducted and forced into child prostitution.

In 2006, an anonymous person left photos on Gosch’s mother's doorstep depicting three boys bound and gagged. According to CNN, Gosch’s mother believes one of the boys to be her son, but police are skeptical. Gosch’s mother states on her website “Johnny was subjected to severe trauma and torture of a satanic and sexual nature.” (I haven't linked to Noreen Gosch's website due to the graphic nature of the photos. A simple Google search will take you to her site.)

A moral panic erupted in the 1980s over allegations of satanic ritual abuse and media pundits convinced the public that Satanists, bent on abducting and indoctrinating America’s youth, had successfully infiltrated our schools, churches and government. At the height of the hysteria, rumors persisted that Satanists were making blood sacrifices in the woods near my home and a childhood friend of mine swears she would hear pounding drums and screaming emanating from those woods each Halloween.

By the 1990s, claims of satanic ritual abuse decreased as reports were continually disproved or met with skepticism. Still, given the prevalence of reports, one must wonder if there remains a kernel of truth to these allegations.

I leave the restaurant preoccupied by the tragedy of the Gosch abduction; this singular event is my childhood fear realized. Was Gosch abducted from his West Des Moines neighborhood only to be forced into an organized pedophilia network? Gosch’s case remains open at the West Des Moines Police Department and he is still officially considered a missing person. When Johnny Gosch went missing on that September morning in 1982, so did our security. Every time a child is frightened by an unfamiliar face at the door, or is wary of a car that drives a little too slowly, in some small way, it is a childhood abducted.


Curing Writer's Block

I sometimes suffer from extreme bouts of writer’s block and if you've ever had a stone trapped in your urethra of creativity, you know just how frustrating and painful it can be.

When ideas fail to freely flow, I’ve developed a ritual for inspiration.
  1.  I read

    Reading can give me inspiration, especially if I'm reading something boring. While reading a tedious tale my mind tends to wander and sometimes my mind may actually wander upon a great idea. If I'm really stuck, I'll read the Bible. The Bible has everything: blood, sex, circumcision...

  2. I sleep

    I let my subconscious do the work and hopefully by the time I wake from an Ambien-induced coma I'll be full of bright ideas.

  3. I troll Craigslist

    I know it seems crazy, if not seedy, but nothing inspires me like free TVs and sex addicts. If at any point you want to take the pulse of the current condition of humanity, browse Craigslist. Abraham Maslow would have appreciated the ample proof that is teeming among the personals and apartment listings to support his hierarchy of needs.

  4. I watch TV

    Watching TV distracts be from the anxiety and fear of not being able to come up with a clever idea and the constant self-loathing and doubt. TV helps me direct my inward rage outwardly toward television's most hated villains. And sometimes, by the time a GEICO commercial is aired for the 43rd time, I'm at peace and ready to write.

  5. I chat with Perry the Penguin

    Perry the Penguin is my most beloved childhood stuffed animal. Perry and I went everywhere together up until I was 17. Perry lets me bounce ideas off him and is always supportive. Strangely, he has a British accent and speaks in a frequency that only I can hear.

  6. I sit and wait

    If shootin' the breeze with Perry doesn't cure my writer's block, I'm forced to just wait it out. I'll let my mind go blank and see if any great ideas decide to pop into my head.