There is a tumbleweed in Australia known as panicum effusum. Dubbed “the hairy panic,” its aggressive proliferation has resulted in cars and houses being buried in it. Whole properties are consumed by the tenacious scrub brush. Homeowners go to bed after admiring their spacious landscapes from the front porch, only to wake up and find the windows covered, the car buried, and the dogs howling anonymously from somewhere in the deep, weedy expanse. The dingo may have eaten the baby, as the saying goes, but the hairy panic has consumed everything else.
“The hairy panic” is a catchy nickname. After I had read the tumbleweed story the phrase kept rolling around in my head. A New York advertising agency couldn’t have come up with a better slogan. The great American marketing minds had been outclassed by some clever Australian farmer. “The hairy panic” would be a good name for a place that does bikini waxing. A great campaign jingle for Donald Trump. It would be a good reference to the underarms splayed out on European beaches. In fact, there were so many other things going on in the world for which the title “hairy panic” could be applied, that I began thinking of everything in those terms.
For instance it could definitely be used to describe Jimmy Savile, that strange albino BBC host that raped something like a hundred women and children over the course of four decades. One needn’t look any further than the disgraced star’s platinum, pageboy hair bob to know that the guy was an arrant freak, committing atrocities along the lines of Boko Haram. With a frighteningly creepy haircut like that it’s almost certain that all of Mr. Savile’s time off-camera would be spent raping the English countryside. What else would a person with that type of hair be doing with his free days? I haven’t seen a more vivid physical indication of a warped mindset since Richard Trenton Chase, the Sacramento Vampire, covered himself in blood and feces back in the mid-seventies. Even the title for Mr. Savile’s popular show “Jim’ll fix it,” had to be edited after executives quietly protested the original title, “Jim’ll fix it, unless it’s a hymen, then Jim’ll break it.”
There were other examples of “the hairy panic.” China, in response to air smog that is so thick that it can be described as hairy, has simply decided to shift the definition of what air pollution is. The criteria for gritty suffocation is no longer high levels of surface ozone, particle pollution and carbon monoxide. Bad air, according to the Chinese government, is now caused by pessimism, the internet, birthing daughters instead of sons, disloyalty to the communist regime, and support of fundamental human rights. A state-run investigation also found that the reason the air is so bad is because too many trees have been planted. Trees of course block the wind from removing the bad air that is already lingering. The study further insists it has not found any direct relationship between poor air quality and car exhausts, lignite, or coal burning, describing the evidence as “ as murky as the air we choke on.” Even so they have ramped up the torture of political enemies in an effort to uncover who is responsible for the foul smog. Probably that blind civil rights activist, Chen what’s-his-name.
The next example is one that hits very close to home. We have a new neighbor in our hood. He has aroused a serious curiosity among the busybodies because nobody has ever seen him. He comes and goes at night. Things just appear in his driveway, random stuff for which there is no explanation. A horse trailer, but no horses. A storage pod that is almost bigger than his house. His truck is an early 80’s Dodge Ram van, beige-on-beige, with drapes in the windows. Whenever we see it go by it is impossible to make him out behind the curtains, which are also beige. He has too much garbage for someone who just moved in, and not like the garbage that is discarded boxes and packaging material, which we would expect, but distended trash bags that would seem to suggest a whole lot of consumption in a really short amount of time. I happened to see a couple of my neighbors talking out in front of my house so I joined the group. I was just in time because they were talking about the mysterious neighbor. The woman who lives across from me had actually seen him. She gave us the alarming news.
“He’s got a beard.”
“Now, now,” I said, “a beard, in centuries past, was an absolute necessity if a man was to be regarded as intelligent and refined.”
“It’s not that kind of beard.”
What kind of beard is it? Is it unkempt or over-styled? Does it have ornate flourishes of the walrus or handlebar variety? Is it like a topiary exercise in shadow and light, emphasizing natural facial contours, something that takes two hours a day just to maintain? How about this, which famous cultural figure best represents the mode of facial hair our new neighbor possesses? Santa Claus? Satan? Dan Haggerty? Joaquin Phoenix from his rapper phase? ZZ Top? Rip Van Winkle?
“It is not groomed at all,” said my neighbor. “It is like it just grew uncontrollably all around his face and he is hiding behind it. I can only imagine what his yard will look like come summertime.”
“You are saying, it’s like it was introduced to his face from another ecosystem, and with no native species to keep it in check it has grown invasive?”
“You won’t even be able to see his lips move when he talks. A man like that has something to hide.”
“Have you heard of the hairy panic?” I said. “In Australia.”
“Australia? It is right here on our block.”
“I know,” I said, “in fact I can already feel my facial hair growing faster by the minute.”
“We’ll spray you down with some herbicide. You’ll be fine.”
More Alembics to come.