Adam Bard's birthday neared, so he got a reminder notice in the mail. Time to renew his driver's licence.
It is a dreary task that more often than not results in a dreary photograph with which you have to live for five years.
On a lark, the Victoria computer programmer decided to turn the mundane into the memorable.
He'd pose for a pic that might get some attention.
Mr. Bard, who turned 27 on Sunday, has blue eyes, brown hair and a trim beard. He looks like a cross between a heavier version of the actor Gerard Butler and a trimmer version of the comic Zach Galifianakis.
He's no dummy. He has an electrical engineering degree with a minor in business administration. When he's not writing software for scientific instruments, he develops web pages, including spiffy looks for the Martlet student newspaper and Douglas, the local business magazine.
On the designated day, Mr. Bard shaved his beard. The right half of his beard.
He then drove to a shop inhabited by his favourite tonsorial artist. Burt's Barbershop is the kind of joint that only accepts walk-ins. The price list includes washes at $5, beard trims at $5, and "our b.s. – priceless." Mr. Bard negotiated to pay once ($17) for a haircut in two parts – he wanted only the left half of his head shaved to the scalp.
"I don't even have a name for that cut," said Burt Hill, the baffled barber. "We can call it the Half Man, or Half Off the Top."
Mr. Bard now had a crop of thick brown hair on one half of his head and a dark half-beard on the opposite side of his face.
The things a guy will do for a laugh.
Time to do the bureaucratic chore. But, first, lunch.
He picked up his wife at university and then went to dine on Ethiopian food on Cook Street. He was noticed. A post went up on social media about the dude with the weird look. Some passersby did double takes, while others pretended not to look.
"Lots of averted eyes," he said.
He entered the offices of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia mentally prepared for confrontation. "I could find no prohibition on hairstyle anywhere," he said. The civil servants barely blinked. One complimented his hair. Another told him his look was original. They must see lots of weird stuff at ICBC.
Mr. Bard posted before-and-after photographs on the online image hosting service imgur, as well as a notice on the social news website Reddit. The entry read, "I decided to do a novelty driver's licence. How did I do?"
In eight days, the photo album got 6,342,958 views.
That's six million, three hundred and forty-two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-eight!
The story got picked up by the British tabloid the Daily Mail, by the Daily Times in Pakistan, by the website Opposing Views ("There are some odd people up in Canada"), and then wound up on the front page of Yahoo.ca. That's where his mother saw it. She did not approve.
Nor was she alone in her opinion.
A majority of the online commentary enjoyed the joke, providing for many a laugh at the computer screen in the middle of the work day. Others thought a) he'd be beaten by angry traffic cops, and b) deserve it.
Mr. Bard sent me a note outlining his designation of the comments found on Reddit and Yahoo.
"The sentiment there seems to fall into a few classes: general disapproval ("What an idiot"); perplexing apathy ("Whatever"); weirdly misdirected political sentiments ("Take that ICBC");general approval ("Too funny").
He dismisses the criticism as the usual online noise.
This caper wasn't designed to gain him media notoriety, or to show the power of social media, or to challenge in a political or artistic way the humdrum business of holding government identification.
"I did this for my own benefit," he said. "I thought people would get a kick out of it."
His barber, for one, got a kick out of the stunt, though he's the only to have paid a price.
With his head now fully shaved and his beard grown in full, Mr. Bard no longer has reason to visit Burt's. The barber got a laugh, but lost a customer.