Day by day, as the month progresses and her husband's upper lip transforms from darkened smudge to newly hatched caterpillar to fully forested manly mustache, Amber Leonti gets increasingly creeped out.
"He never does, like, a regular mustache," she says of husband Nick. "No, it's this gross handlebar mustache, like you'd expect a (porn movie) theme song to start playing every time he comes through the door.
"Last November, we had to go to three weddings. I'm telling people, 'Oh, here's my creepy husband with his porn-star mustache -- but it's for a good cause, folks.' "
Indeed, just as women have embraced October and all things pink for breast-cancer awareness, so, too, have men ripped a page from the increasingly crowded philanthropic calendar. They have declared this month "Movember" -- 30 glorious days to go from smooth-as-a-baby's-behind clean shaven to mustachioed to raise awareness and cash for men's health issues, primarily prostate cancer.
This follicly impressive display, truly a hair-raising activity performed by those saddled with Y chromosomes, has grown like, well, you know what, the past few years. An idea sprouted by some blokes in Melbourne, Australia, nearly a decade ago, Movember boasts 1.1 million hirsute adherents from Spain to Finland, Dubai to Mumbai.
These "Mo Bros" raised $7.5 million in 2010 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and other organizations, according to the organization's website, www.movember.com.
Nick Leonti's 25-man-strong Mustache Squad 2000 is so named because it hopes to raise $2,000 for the cause.
"We've already got about $1,000, much better than last year," Leonti says. "It helps the cause. All us men never want to go to the doctor, but we should. My wife's always telling me to go, but I never do. So that's (the awareness) we're trying to raise."
Movember, of course, is not a competition. But, being guys, the participants good-naturedly chide each other about the progress of their 'staches, as if growing a mustache were all about testosterone levels. (Oh, wait; it primarily is. Never mind.)
Most, however, keep a stiff -- and bristly -- upper lip as the kidding comes from teammates, family members and work colleagues.
"I feel like, if I'm going to wear a mustache, I'd better offend as many people as possible," says Patrick Harbison, 30, who has shorn his neatly trimmed brown beard in favor of a bushier patch higher up.
"The ladies haven't been too impressed, with the exception of my mom, who of course loved it," adds Harbison.
"The typical feedback is that the mustache isn't ideal because it's a little prickly. I told them they'll just have to wait it out. I'm hoping soon to be able to comb it with a fork or something like that."
This is Harbison's first mustache -- he had yet to be born when the 'stache became de rigueur in the late 1970s -- so he wants to make it memorable.
"I'm open to suggestions," he says. "I'm thinking a handlebar could actually treat me right. It'd be like, 'bow-chick-a-bow-bow' every time I walk into a room. But I'm not opposed to the pencil-thin John Waters creep-out style of mustache, either.
"I'm proud to report that, as one of the few Irish guys on the team, it's coming in surprisingly thick. There's a reddish hue, too."
There aren't many rules to Movember. But the edicts are ironclad. One cannot cheat and go with a trendy goatee or connect the 'stache to one's sideburns. A soul patch -- not touching the mustache proper, is allowable, however.
"I'm not sure the Movember police will come after you, but it's the spirit of the event, you know," Leonti says.
The men on Mustache Squad 2000, who meet for happy hour once a week during Movember to assess growth and talk style, look to Leonti for guidance. If anyone on the squad knows facial hair, it's him. He normally sports a thick black beard. That's gone now, replaced by the gray-flecked makings of a droopy 'stache.
Last year, to his wife's horror, the 34-year-old public-relations executive was ambitious and sought to emulate the look of eclectic and sartorially unique '70s rocker Frank Zappa.
"Mine was, well, it was kind of sad, actually," he said.
This year, he's got his sights set on another '70s icon, Tom Selleck.
"Yeah, Magnum," he says. "Away with the soul patch. Just straight across the full length of the lip."
Wife Amber is ... actually, kind of intrigued.
"I have to say I'm a big fan of Selleck," she says. "If (Nick) can pair that mustache with some Tom Selleck-length shorts, I'm all for it. I'll give him an extra donation."
(Contact Sam McManis at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)