This is a tale I heard way back in Junior High when I was studying Spanish. It’s one of those things that’s stuck with me over the years as an excellent example of the things that terrify others can be overcome by changing the rules, or just by realizing no one else completely gets the rules.
Back in old Mexico, when banditos roamed the desert taking what they wanted and generally causing mayhem, there was one bandit that was feared above all others: El Guapo.
El Guapo was a bandito’s bandito. If a bank was robbed, everyone knew it was El Guapo. When a train disappeared and the desiccated corpses of the passengers were found months later, staked out in the desert and picked clean by crows, it was El Guapo. He was a vicious son of a bitch and he never shirked away from letting people know that.
Like all good banditos, El Guapo had a certain kind of panache. In addition to his amazing cruelty, El Guapo loved to taunt to the Federales with lyrical messages that explained not only why he killed everyone who crossed him, but why the Federales were impotent to stop him.
He was also known for his epic beard. In the annals of history, El Guapo’s beard is still the standard by which others are judged. The members of ZZ Top are only considered to have 0.8 El Guapo beards; that’s how amazing his beard was.
No one had ever seen El Guapo without his beard. Legend had it that he was born with the beard. In a single breath, people would praise the beard and feel sorry El Guapo’s mother who was said to have died in childbirth because of that glorious facial hair.
Well, as these things happen, eventually the Federales caught up to El Guapo and his gang in a small town dedicated to Santa Muerte, which was an appropriate place for a slaughter. For all his wealth and power, El Guapo couldn’t stand up to the combined might of the Federales. Bullets flew and soon the smell of gunpowder and copper filled the streets. The battle took a heavy toll on both sides, but it was El Guapo’s men that bore the brunt of the lead.
El Guapo himself lucked out and barely escaped the bloodshed, but he only had the slightest lead on the Federales. His knowledge of the desert helped him, as did his keen night vision as he guided his horse by the light of the full moon.
He’d always dreamed of going out in a blaze of glory, gunned down by at least a dozen Federales, but Santa Muerte had cheated him of his glory. So, he struggled to find a way to disappear into the world and hide out until he could be reborn.
In the first town he came to, El Guapo made a decision that he never thought could. Desperate times drove him to desperate measures and he sought out the barber shop.
After banging on the door for at least half an hour, the old barber finally answered the door. He nearly fainted when he saw El Guapo, dirty and bloody, on his doorstep in the wee hours of the morning. He knew he had to tread carefully, lest the bandito shoot him where he stood.
“Señor Guapo,” the barber stuttered. “To what do I owe this honor?”
El Guapo shoved his way inside the barber shop and slammed the door. “I need to you to shave my beard,” El Guapo said. “I’ll happily pay you three gold pieces for your troubles.
The barber was aghast. El Guapo without his beard wouldn’t be El Guapo.
“But,” El Guapo continued, “I have very sensitive skin. If you nick me while you’re shaving me, I’ll shoot you where you stand.”
The barber went white as a sheet. There was no doubt in his mind the bandito would pull the trigger. “Señor,” the barber pleaded. “I am an old man and my hands are prone to shaking. Please, let me get my assistant; he is much better at shaving anyway.”
The barber told his assistant El Guapo would pay him three gold coins for a shave – a king’s ransom! – but also had very sensitive skin and a single nick would spell death for the shaver.”
The assistant was talented, but even the most talented people find their hands shaking when threatened with death. “Let me get our young intern, Señor. He is young and without a family and his hands don’t shake at all.”
The intern was still yawning and rubbing his eyes when he was led to see El Guapo. “I’ll make you an offer, intern,” El Guapo said. “Shave my beard off without a scratch and I’ll pay you in gold. But, be warned, I have very sensitive skin and if you cut me, I’ll gun you down where you stand.”
El Guapo took a seat in the sole barber’s chair and motioned the young intern to come over. ‘Okay,” the intern said and shrugged his shoulders.
The young intern gave El Guapo the best shave he’d ever had. When he was done, El Guapo’s skin was smooth as silk and for the first time he could remember, the infamous bandito gazed on himself without the famous beard. He looked like a completely different person, gentler perhaps, but still living up to his name.
He happily gave the intern the promised three gold pieces. “You do excellent work,” El Guapo said. “Your hands didn’t shake at all. Weren’t you afraid you’d cut me?”
The intern shook his head. “Not really. If I’d cut you, I would have just slit your throat right then and there.”