Last month I had to endure a lot of manscaping jokes. Friends of mine who are not lucky enough to live here in the 802 — Vermont — kept bringing up the American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why? Because it showed that Vermonters spend way less time grooming than any other state in the country. Way. Less. Time. How much less? In one of the best articles I read about the survey, the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham referred to Vermont as “a notable outlier.” (Just for the record, “notable outlier” is the journalistic euphemism for “bigfoot” and “Grizzly Adams.”)
Green Mountain Boys — and Girls — spend roughly 28 minutes a day grooming. The national average? Nearly 38 minutes. To put this in perspective, we Vermonters spend 17 minutes a day less than New Yorkers making ourselves presentable. Good Lord, even Alaskans spend 31 minutes. (Okay, I know I just threw down the gauntlet with Alaska. But, seriously, if I lived in Alaska I would be far too busy shivering in the winter and fighting mosquitoes the size of Mini Coopers in the summer to worry about … grooming.) No state spent less time than we did.
Moreover, the idea that Vermonters devote so little time to our appearance was the lead in some news stories about the survey. Usually when people write about Vermont, it’s because of our ice cream. Our coffee. Our heroin. We’re not used to other people questioning our hygiene.
So, here’s a confession: I may have been single-handedly responsible for bringing down the state grooming average. If I were to share with you a selfie from this exact moment when I am writing this column, you’d see a guy alone at his desk at a little before 7 in the morning who hasn’t yet shaved. Hasn’t yet brushed his teeth. And hasn’t yet combed his hair. I look like a cross between Beetlejuice and a Nick Nolte mug shot. I have an 8.4 ounce can of Sugar Free Red Bull beside me. (I am drinking that Red Bull from a small glass. But all that does is make it look like Scotch on the rocks.)
In all fairness, I will brush my teeth in an hour or two, once I have made a dent into this column. I’ll even comb my hair. But there’s no guarantee I will shave. I only shave every other day if I’m not on a book tour.
Right now you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t his wife the lucky lady?”
Yup. Just for the record, by 7 a.m. she will have been to the gym, returned home, showered, washed her hair, and brushed her teeth. She will have combed her hair and put on a little lipstick, all to go upstairs to her studio where she will be working … alone.
So, I’m happy to take the bullet for this national grooming embarrassment. This one’s on me.
Of course, it’s also worth noting that we in Vermont spend a lot less time every day doing housework than every state but a handful. My home office is pretty clean, so this statewide housework humiliation? To quote Junie B. Jones — “I’m not involved.”
Now, in all fairness, this survey is a blunt instrument. There are some categories where the sample size for some of the states is simply too small to generate data. Exhibit A? Thinking and Relaxing in Vermont. Exhibit B? Reading in Vermont. But my sense is that we are a pretty literate bunch. And if we’re not grooming or cleaning our homes or — perhaps — reading or relaxing, then I am going to suggest we simply have other priorities. Heaven knows I spend a lot of hours every week during the summer on my bike. Heaven knows I have friends who spend a lot of hours every week during the winter on their snowboards and skis. This is a remarkably beautiful place.
So, I am going to cut us some slack. . .and, just maybe, get up from my desk chair and shave.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on July 13. Chris’s new novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, was published this week.)