03 December 2011

The Thrilling Perils of Shaving Like Your Grandfather

Shaving used to be an annoying chore for me. I regarded the task as a dreary necessity, a thrice-weekly loss of three to five minutes of my life that could have been spent far more fruitfully than in Sisyphean torment, eternally condemned to roll back the persistent incursion of facial hair. In fact, the only thing that permitted me to summon the energy to shave at all is that after about two or three days of itchy, uncomfortable beard growth, my own face dependably reminded me that my dislike of beards actually exceeds my dislike of shaving.

About a year or so ago, I discovered the pleasures of "shaving like my grandpa," as one article aptly put it.[1] I spent about a hundred bucks on the accoutrements: a Merkur Model 178 classic safety razor, a Tweezerman badger hair shaving brush (don't settle for the inferior boar hair brush!), a nice-looking wooden shave soap dish, a chrome stand, and of course, some double-edged razors and Colonel Conk shave soap. A hundred dollars might seem like a lot of money, but it's really not when compared to the crappy canned shave soap and high-tech multi-blade disposable razors (more than $25 for eight cartridges) that I used to use. It's true that I was stingy enough to use the disposable cartridges until they were as dull as butter knives, but I would bet that my investment in good equipment has already broken even. And even if it hasn't, it is completely worth the cost.

The real benefit to my new shaving habits is not monetary but psychological. It certainly takes more time to shave than it used to--it has increased to about eight or nine minutes--but somehow it's much more pleasurable. It's no longer a chore. To take a minute to whip up a lather in the bowl; to feel the vigorous caress of badger-hair bristles on the cheek and neck; to pause, lean toward the mirror and then back away, to contemplate, examine, and proceed; and, not least of all, to maintain control while being at every moment thrillingly and perilously close to a momentary lapse of discipline; to risk--nay, to invite--the consequences of diverging one's hand even the slightest amount from a direction precisely orthogonal to the cutting edge, which lapse results in a wound that will bleed off and on for the rest of the day--all of these considerations, plus others I have not even thought of (or are too personal to divulge), have made shaving a private celebration. A dreary duty has become a selfish ritual, an indulgence. For a few minutes, the close, humid fog of dissipating shower steam and a clean, invigorating, soapy scent transport me to another time and place, one in which men wear hats, hold the door open for ladies, and speak quickly, wittily, and sparingly. In essence, I am carried away into a black-and-white movie starring Humphrey Bogart.

To all my male friends out there who are, perhaps by default or inertia, currently using the latest triple-bladed gizmos advertised during football games (or worse, using electric shavers), I certainly recommend rethinking the shaving process and considering some older technology. As motivation, I'll leave off with a link to a video demonstrating that the breathtaking perils of shaving are not limited to bloody slips of the hand. 


1. Brett and Kate McKay, "How to Shave Like Your Grandpa," The Art of Manliness, http://artofmanliness.com/2008/01/04/how-to-shave-like-your-grandpa/.


Anonymous said...

Shaving will always be a chore, no matter how comfortable or precise and mentally demanding or carefree the experience, for the same reason a zillion other chores, that offer all sorts of pleasures and challenges, will be. The reason is that to the person who has some serious and personal work to do, whether it be at one's job or a hobby or partially at both, all the little day to day things are on some level a distraction. Some recent accomplishments of mine include writing my first two short stories, finishing War and Peace, and discovering the greatness and immersing myself in Beethoven's music. The greatest shaving experience in the world is a distraction from working on these tasks.

Plus, the naturalistic, rough, casual, free, facially busy physical feeling that comes from the feel of facial hair (no matter how itchy it can get) and of not having to shave is highly liberating. It's like being super tired and comfortable lying in bed or on the couch, but not having brushed your teeth yet. Sometimes, you need to give yourself a natural, deeper sleep and not ruin it by getting up and doing the chore. That calm and satisfaction and rough approach needs to sometimes be experienced, and chores have to temporarily go out the door.

Stephen Bourque said...

Yes, certainly if the shaving experience is unlikely to yield any pleasure for you, it is best to simply be efficient about it and get it over with as quickly as possible. If I recall correctly, one of my favorite Objectivist philosophers once wrote that he figured out how to shave with two razors simultaneously in order to streamline the process! So, that is an example of two rational men (he and I) arriving at totally different strategies for achieving the same thing: making the best use of one's time.

Congratulations on writing your short stories, Jason. That sounds terrific. Any chance of you publishing those somewhere, on a blog or elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

Well, shaving with too razors, or any way of doing it more quickly/efficient/streamlined, is going to make you more likely to cut yourself. I cut myself all the time when I rush, even sometimes when I don't rush. I like to take my time and I like the feeling of a clean face and the experience of moving a sharp, metal blade on my face. It's very calming. But a chore's still a chore.

I sent one to Harper's and got a rejection letter, and heard nothing back from The New Yorker on it (they did get back to me on a different piece I wrote with a rejection). For now, they're posted on a blog of mine.

One story is called "Shave or die": http://jasongoldsmith.blogspot.com/2011/07/shave-or-die-short-story.html

The second is called "The Moon": http://jasongoldsmith.blogspot.com/2011/12/short-story-moon.html

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the links, Jason!

Anonymous said...

Sure. Feel free to lemme know what you think of them. The first one has a definite plot, it's like a mini thriller, I have a feeling you'll like it more. The second one is more of a character piece, they're just people I liked imagining.

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