I have frequently told this story:
I had just returned home, after sixteen months, living in London. From the Toronto airport, I called my brother to ask him if he’d pick me up. He replied that, rather than picking me up, I should take a cab to his house, and he’d pay for the cab fare. I said okay. And that’s what happened.
Here’s what you need to know. When I left for London, my brother had a beard.
The cab dropped me off at my brother’s house. I dragged my suitcase up the sidewalk, and I rang the doorbell. My brother opened the door, and I saw him for the first time in months.
He did not have a beard anymore.
But I did.
I saw this – we both saw this – as a “Passing of the Torch.” In some surreal, Twilight Zone-type transaction involving facial hair, the beard had been magically transferred from his face to mine. It felt distinctly like a sign, Moses conferring the Sacred Covenant unto Joshua, saying,
“I have traveled as far as I can. You are the Future. Take this beard, and go forth unto the Promised Land.”
Historically, that’s pretty much what happened. My brother, mistaking spontaneous comic inspiration for an ability to write scripted material for Phyllis Diller, enjoyed limited success in Hollywood, ultimately returning to his previous trade of lawyering. I, on the other hand, experienced substantial success in the same arena, not the lawyering arena – I quit law school after five weeks – the Hollywood one.
For us, the iconic “Miracle At The Door” echoed with symbolism. I took possession of the beard, and I intrepidly went forth. It’s a wonderful story: Two brothers, theirs paths unalterably “Switched At Beard.” The only problem is,
The story is not true.
And only today have I come to realize it. When I decided to write this post, it was intended to be about my beard. But as my posts occasionally do, it took a left, and is now, instead, about memory. Or, more accurately, the disturbing faultiness thereof.
Did it ever actually happen that my brother had a beard and I didn’t, and when he opened his door, he didn’t have a beard and I did?
Did it happen when I returned home from London?
It couldn’t have.
I have evidence to back that up, but, being factual rather than imagined, it is not all that interesting. It involves chronology, or, and it goes like this.
When I came back from London, my brother’s Hollywood career had not yet taken place, nor had his starring role on his three-year string of CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) television specials, during which time, he wore a beard.
All that happened afterwards.
Also, a few after “The Miracle”, I started writing a weekly column in a Toronto newspaper, which included a not particularly flattering caricature of me. And guess what?
I was not wearing a beard.
Oh, yeah. One more thing. When I returned home from England? I did not arrive at the airport. Because I came home by boat!
Oh, man! What a mess!
Two possibilities come to mind here. One, when I left for London, my brother had a beard and I didn’t. While I was away, I grew a beard, and my brother shaved his off, leading to the iconic “Miracle At The Door.” Later, my brother re-grew his beard (for his stint in Hollywood, and the subsequent CBC specials), and I shaved mine off. Evidence: the newspaper caricature. Oh yeah. And then, by the time I went to Hollywood, I had grown my beard back.
So there’s that.
Possibility Number Two: The “Miracle At The Door” took place. But at a totally different time.
Which possibility seems more plausible to you?
Me too. The shorter one.
The problem is, if I abandon my original recollection, there is no “Miracle At The Door.” For that story to work, it could only have happened at that time – the time that it didn’t.
Tomorrow, the beard-related stories I was planning to tell today. Prior warning, however: They may or may not be true.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure the story today is true either.
Married thirty years. An unexpected milestone. And a truly happy one.
The rest is private.