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"Missed by a Hair"

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Always a bridesmaid, never a bride: It's the story of my life. But the hairiest part of the story is that I am the only bridesmaid I know with a mustache.

That is why I was not surprised to find out that I recently finished second in the Robert Goulet Memorial Mustached American of the Year Contest.

This was the third time I have finished second in a national competition. The first was in 1990, when I was runner-up in the Curly Howard Sound-Alike Contest. Was I thrilled? Soitenly! Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk! The second was in 1998, when I was second in the pasta sauce division of the Newman's Own & Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest for a dish I called Zezima's Zesty Ziti Zinger. Paul Newman himself tried it and didn't have to be hospitalized. That he is currently deceased is merely a coincidence.

But the mustache contest was special because I not only was up against some stiff-upper-lipped competition, but because I lost by -- you guessed it -- a whisker.

The third annual Goulet Award competition -- sponsored by the American Mustache Institute ("Defending the rights of the Mustached American community since 1965") and named for the late mustachioed singer -- was the largest yet.

According to the AMI website, americanmustacheinstitute.org, there were more than 300 entrants this year. In addition to yours truly, the 19 finalists included such notables as Minnesota Twins pitcher Carl Pavano, TV personality Pat O'Brien, filmmaker Morgan Sperlock, North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten.

I also was up against two inanimate objects: Paydirt Pete, a cartoon mascot, and Carstache, a mustache for cars.

Of the more than half-million online ballots cast, I got about 85,000 votes. For this unbelievable outpouring of support, I must thank my vast network of People With Too Much Time On Their Hands. My mother alone probably accounted for half of my total. I apologize to anyone who, as a result of constant computer clicking, has come down with RSI, which stands, of course, for Repetitive 'Stache Injury.

My supporters also can take pride in the fact that the Goulet contest raised money for Movember (us.movember.com), an international charity that not only helps fund cancer research but encourages men to grow mustaches.

"Your performance was clearly admirable and your chevron mustache is very impressive," Dr. Aaron Perlut, chairman of AMI and the self-described "most ruggedly handsome man in America," told me by phone. "It was nice to see that your supporters came out in droves. You have quite a following."

But not as large a following as the winner, Brian Sheets, a firefighter from Osceola County, Fla., who got about 120,000 votes. He was honored at 'Stache Bash 2010, which was held under the world's largest mustache, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, where he received the coveted Goulet Award and a $3 crown.

"I'm humbled," Sheets told me when I called to congratulate him. "When my students at the Central Florida Fire Academy found out about the contest, they nominated me. Then friends and family started voting. It spread like wildfire."

It was the only fire that Sheets, who sports a Fu Manchu, didn't want to put out.

"I've always talked about the power of the mustache," said Sheets, 39, adding that he will never shave his. "I burned it once, but I just trimmed the singed parts. I'd rather have my heart burned out of my chest than shave my mustache."

I must admit that Sheets is a very brave and worthy winner, which is why, even though he is from Florida, I won't demand a recount.

All I can do is start preparing for next year's contest and hope I'm not a bridesmaid again. Maybe I'll join the fire department and grow a Fu Manchu.

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." Visit his blog: www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.