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|Let the men go without sideburns|
Oct. 30th, 2008 at 9:04 am
Some of you may remember me from my work in the BYU Standards office in the late-1990s. My title was “Councilor,” and I met with various student violators (a few of whom post comments here, and they know who they are), but early on I was selected to join an elite team of researchers, intellectuals, and all-around idea-men, tasked with producing pamphlets and other materials to explain the continuing need for dress standards at the ‘Y.’ We had our own offices separate from the other councilors, our own water cooler, and certain discreet preferences when it came to office refreshments.
One day I was quietly eating my lunch there, looking out over the crowds, casually monitoring them with my binoculars, when my colleague Len walked over to me, in his typically weary way. He seemed especially bent over, disheveled, and wild-eyed, as if he’d been up all night reading stacks of commentary on the Honor Code from the 1940s again. He was holding a plate loaded up with Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and assorted vegetables.
“That sweater sets your eyes off nicely,” he said, in his hoarse voice. I nodded, said nothing, yet I noted the bags under his eyes with some concern. Then a moment later he suddenly slammed his fist against the window, shouting out, “Let the men go without sideburns!!”
“Easy Len,” I said, “work on your vegetables.”
Such outbursts were not uncommon in those days. Why not? We were translating the dress code into different ancient languages (then as now), as well as our pamphlets on the principles of male grooming. We were revealing, through our efforts, all kinds of hidden knowledge. Many world cultures, for example, had in the past adopted standards of dress similar to ours, or that were even more modest, like the Lapps of upper Scandinavia. As if that were not enough, we were also uncovering statistics that showed men who wore shorts to work that were above the knee (such as boat repairmen and gardeners) earned significantly less than those who wore full-length trousers, such as doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. They also had demonstrably lower levels of education, and didn’t really seem to know the difference, when surveyed, between “play clothes” and “work clothes.” We had our charts and graphs and it was all pretty amazing.
My own contributions, I can say, were not unimpressive. I gave a speech to all the Councilors: “If Students Don’t Agree with Our Methods, Let Them At Least Think We’re Tidy and Well Groomed.” This touched a nerve, and provoked considerable soul-searching. I was heartened to see many approach me afterwards, furtively at first, and then openly and in large numbers, for tips on skin moisturizers, or reliable dry cleaners (as if, in Provo Utah?!?!). Eventually we all agreed to have 5% of our pay set aside for the purchase, in bulk, of various hair and skin products, so that we were all on the same page when it came to personal appearance. I think the results, in terms of our subsequent interface with student offenders, speak for themselves.
I also devoted considerable thought to the vexed question of when, why, and how students should report their friends for various infractions. I was fascinated with the moral crises faced by college males, torn between offering personal rewards for improved conduct, and filing a report. I eventually wrote a pamphlet for single males anguishing over such questions: “Do You Send Him to Standards, or Bake Him a Nice Treat?” It was a real hit in our reading room at Standards, and copies in the bookstore were literally flying off the shelves. Of course light always stirs up darkness; many of you probably remember the incident in 1998 when a student spray-painting the lawn underneath our offices in the ELWT with the words, “You’re so gay.” He was eventually called into our office and under the hot lights eventually confessed his wrongdoing, begged for mercy, as well as for a couple bottles of the hair product we kept in a table display in the corner.
Len was having none of this. He shouted from the back, “Let’s just pour the product on him, then toss a match!”
“Easy Len,” I said. The others also called for calm, yet in disgust Len tore his shirt in half, by now very sweaty and enraged. I thought this last gesture rather counter-productive, given the accusation against us on the lawn outside. Fortunately in those days Wet-Wipes were never far away; we handed one to Len and told him to pull himself together, and another to the student, still seated in front of us, now perspiring heavily.
I then personally walked over to the student and said, “You have to forgive Len, he’s just so angry. He’s a raging bull.” I smiled pleasantly and placed two bottles of hair product in his trembling hands, and I can say from that moment forward he’s been a reformed man. Yes, we broke him down, then rebuilt him in a matter of minutes–that’s how good we were. And we’ve remained friends; today he’s a Vice President at NuSkin, living up on the bench and banking $800,000 a year.