One of Baltimore's best beards appears in Anchorage today, seeking hirsute glory in the World Beard and Mustache Championships.
Mickey Fried, 39, owns the beard as well as Belle Hardware in Bolton Hill. He is the only Marylander who dared go whisker-to-whisker with fuzzy faces from around the world, or at least the only one willing to shell out for travel to Alaska.
The prize that lured Fried all that way?
"I think you get a piece of paper with your name on it saying you were there," he said.
To say nothing of the bragging rights.
Someone who never made the cut in conventional sports can letter in facial hair with a little patience, product and resistance to spousal entreaties to shave.
"The contest originated with the Germans," Fried said. "I think it was just a good excuse for a bunch of guys saying they're up to something when, in fact, they were sitting around drinking beer and eating bratwurst. They just needed a cover story."
Fried has sported facial hair for some time, but only recently for sport.
"I've always had some kind of whiskers, either mutton chops, beard, goatee, what have you," he said. This is why friends thought to give him a heads-up about 18 months ago when they learned about a beard contest in Oil City.
"I'm not really a joiner of things," he said. "I went to see how it went, see what the people are like."
What Fried saw reminded him of a dog show, but in a good way, with lots of furry creatures prancing about.
"You've got your sporting categories [in dog shows], you've got your toy categories," he said. In beard competitions, it's "full beard natural" or "full beard, styled mustache" or "freestyle," in which the beard is turned into a fanciful shape, like the Tower of London or a bicycle.
There are 18 beard categories in all, including two named for great Italians whose achievements in the arts and on the battlefield cruelly eclipse their contributions to grooming: Giuseppe Verdi and Giuseppe Garibaldi.
"I fall into the Verdi category," Fried said. "Might be on the edge of a Garibaldi. I don't style the beard itself. It is full and rounded - no hair spray, no mousse - but I style the mustache."
In the Verdi class, Fried is allowed to use wax on the 'stache, and he does.
"It's kind of brushed out to the side and a little bit forward," he said. "I do twist it in the points for the show."
Since that first contest in Pennsylvania, Fried has attended beard competitions in Virginia and Brooklyn, N.Y.
The New York event happened to fall on his third wedding anniversary. His wife, artist Jodi Hoover, tagged along.
"My wife is a really good sport," Fried said.
Hoover has accompanied Fried to Alaska, but strictly as a spectator.
"Some of the contests do have a ladies' category, but my wife isn't into it that much," he said.
Said Hoover: "There are limits."