Faces of Death
In this time of political uncertainty and world-historic conflict, Zeek's mission to see beyond the headlines is more pressing than ever. That is why, at considerable inconvenience and expense, we have obtained the following exclusive interview:
Z: Now then, your name is--
BS: Strop. Hieronymous "Buzz" Strop.
Z: And your job?
BS: I am the facial hair stylist to world despots.
Z: Mr. Strop, how did you get started in the business of styling despots' facial hair?
BS: It all began with my father, who was a barber back in the old country, in Germany. He was the only one in the whole Empire who could get the ends of Kaiser Wilhelm's moustache to stick up just the way he liked, so he became the court shaver. He ended up doing the whole Prussian aristocracy--and he was pretty good at it, too.
Z: How did he manage to branch out from that?
BS: Well, when things got tough during World War I, Papa snuck into Lenin's sealed train compartment on the way into Petrograd. He was clean-shaven and in disguise at that point--remember that picture of him on that forged Finnish passport? Anyway, Papa convinced him that he could give him the ultimate goatee. And it was true--you check the photographs, Lenin looks a hell of a lot more dapper after the Bolshevik Revolution than before. Anyway, between dictatorships of the right and the left, Papa had the authoritarian facial hair market sewn up by the Depression.
Z: And you inherited it from him?
BS: That's right, he passed it onto me. Dictators knew that if they wanted the best, I was the guy they had to call. And it's been a good living--demagogues really do pay better.
Z: Mr. Strop, what is it about your average dictator that makes him more apt to have, er, distinctive facial hair than a democratic ruler?
BS: Well, part of it is, I think, metaphorical--he has more to hide. Also, his face is on a million placards and posters, so any interesting feature that draws your attention to it is a plus.
Z: We're dying to find out: why did Hitler have that ridiculous toothbrush moustache?
BS: I'll make a confession--that was my fault. Hitler used to have this great big walrus moustache, and he was very proud of it. Then one day I was shaving him in the Reichstag barbershop when the razor slipped and took off half of that beauty just up to the nostril. I thought he was going to kill me for that--and I'll tell you, Goering was right there and he nearly busted a gut laughing at him. But then Hitler had a look in the mirror and got to liking it, so he had me do the other half exactly the same way. And it just stuck.
Z: Speaking of World War II fascists, why was Mussolini clean-shaven? Supposedly he was in competition with Hitler over everything.
BS: True, but Il Duce had this great chin that he'd always jut out when making a point. He thought it would be unfair to hide it. I think that was just about the only thing he and I ever agreed on.
Z: Did you do Stalin?
BS: Oh, yeah, I did Joe. Nice guy, except he'd never put his damn cigarette down. Made it a royal pain for me when it came time for combing.
Z: Why did he purge everybody?
BS: Are you kidding? He was jealous! Of their beards! Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, you name it--you had a beard, comrade, you got purged! That's why he kept Molotov; he only had a moustache. But that was still enough to make him lock up the poor guy's wife.
Z: It seems your services aren't in much demand by today's despots. Care to speculate as to why?
BS: Same reason you can't get a real espresso in New York anymore. People don't care about the finer things. I blame the hippies - so much hair, so few grooming supplies. I tell you what, though, the dictators are suffering for it. If that damn fool Milosevic would have returned my calls, he wouldn't be rotting in The Hague right now.
Z: The Middle East is one of the last great strongholds of dictatorial hair. Any thoughts about Saddam Hussein?
BS: I've done Saddam plenty of times, and Kuwait notwithstanding, he's basically not a risk-taker. His moustache is a pretty standard job, really not at all ambitious. I'll say this, though: he has got to do something about that five o'clock shadow. It's a good thing he never did a televised debate; he'd lose in the first five minutes.
Z: How about Bashar al-Assad?
BS: Well, people are saying that he isn't half the man his father was, and they're right. Hafez wouldn't have been caught dead with Bashar's feckless scraggle of hair under his nose. Then again, Bashar doesn't have his dad's comb-over. So maybe there's hope for him.
Z: And the Emir of Kuwait?
BS: Ha! That's a paste-on if I ever saw one! He probably got it from King Fahd!
Z: You've had such a long and remarkable career. Is there anyone you haven't shaved and wanted to?
BS: Castro tops the list. For years I've been begging him--"Fidel, just a quick trim! You look like a Brillo pad after Thanksgiving dinner!" But he never listened, as you can see. I'm amazed he's still in power. Oh, and also, back in the 70s: Khomeini . . . you know, Bill Casey offered him my services in the arms-for-hostages deal, but the Ayatollah had his heart set on Stealth technology, so I never had the chance.
Z: Anyone out there you wouldn't touch?
BS: Arafat. There's nothing to work with there but stubble. No wonder Israel's finally callling him "irrelevant."
Z: What's next for Buzz Strop? Is there any major challenge left for you? Anything you've been dreaming of?
BS: Do I even have to say it? Everyone's yelling for the head of Osama bin Laden. I just want his beard. It'd be the ultimate trophy--I'll hang it from my rear view mirror, like a raccoon tail! Call me, Osama! We need to talk!
The best guarantor of democracy is a vibrant, oppositional counterculture.