Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Learning to Shave

I just turned 70 this year and I'm learning to shave. Now, stop that rolling (your eyes or on the floor) because I'm not joking--I am just now learning how to shave.

When I was a wee lad, I vaguely remember my stepfather shaving with a straight razor. It was quite a ritual. He'd hone the long, shiny blade on a leather belt called a strop. Then, he'd wet a little brush in hot water and work up a thick lather in this little cup thingy. After covering the lower part of his face with foamy lather, he'd do all kinds of contortions to scrape the stubble off his jaws. By the time I was old enough to shave, he and every other man I knew had switched to safety razors, so over time the images of that old straight razor, and the morning shaving ritual, faded.

Then, inflation entered the picture. That's right inflation, that dreaded word describing a situation where prices get on a roller coaster that doesn't seem to have a downslope. Here's what I'm talking about. Three years ago I bought a couple year's supply of refills for my razor. The 10-blade packs cost me about $6.00 each at the Naval Exchange (as a military retiree I'm authorized to shop at the base stores) in Bethesda; just about $2.00 less than the outside. For the past year, the few times I watch TV, I'd been noticing the increasing ads for a razor blade club, alluding to the price of blades. It wasn't until a few weeks ago, when I went to replenish my blade supply, that I understood the reason for those ads. That 10-blade pack that cost me $6.00 three years ago is now $15.00 to $25.00, and that's in the military exchange store. I'm afraid to even look at the price tag in CVS. My goodness! What on earth could have caused such a steep rise in the price of something like razor blades? No, I'm serious; that's not a rhetorical question. I'd really like to know.

While you're looking for an answer, let me get to the point of this story. I decided then and there that I'd go retro. First, I've been growing a beard for the past year, a goatee, as part of my campaign to rebrand myself. I'm no longer a buttoned-down government employee, but am a bohemian artist-writer. Secondly, to further reinforce the bohemian image, I decided to go completely retro and start shaving with a straight razor.

It took a while, but I found one; through, I found one made by a Chinese company. It cost around ten bucks, and looks like I remember my stepfather's looking, except for the decorations on the handle. That sucker's sharp though. Then, of course, I had to buy a strop, a brush, and a shaving mug. Amazon had them all, along with some really neat smelling hypoallergenic soap.

Next came the really, really hard part: learning how to use a straight razor to shave neatly without butchering your face. If you think it's easy, think again. The razor has to be held at precisely the right angle to the surface of your skin--which, by the way is not flat, so watch those curves and dimples. It has to be applied at just the right pressure as well. Too light (or at the wrong angle), and your face is left with patches of fuzz, making you look like a dog with the mange. Too heavy on the pressure, and--well, imagine the little nicks you once got with a safety razor--then multiply that by a whole bunch. This is, after all, nine inches of sharp steel we're talking about. It doesn't nick, it slashes, it gashes; it'll flay you like the drumstick off a Christmas turkey.

So, that first time, I wasn't too neat, because I could just see myself lying on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood. But, I persevered, and finally, this morning, managed to get cheeks devoid of those little dark patches of fuzz, and are fairly smooth. I even managed to get my Adam's apple and trim around my goatee, and if I do say so myself, did a pretty good job. My wife complimented me, and believe me, she's about as free with compliments as Scrooge is with his coin.

I imagine I'm not alone in this. I know there are a lot of guys out there looking for an alternative to mortgaging their houses to buy razor blades. Just saying, maybe going back in time is the answer. What do you think? I'd be interested in hearing from any readers who've taken the same path.

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