I have never been a big fan of shaving, but I do like the feeling of smooth skin that results from it, so I take care to do it properly. But the act of shaving also exposes some of my fits and follies, and a secret affectation.
My mother told stories of how her father shaved, which was with a straight razor he sharpened with a strop. The shaving stories were always an off-shoot of a discipline story, in that he used the strop to beat the children when they were naughty. A strop, if you don’t know it, is a huge leather belt used to sharpen a straight razor by repeatedly stroking it with the razor. It’s also useful for beating the hell out of someone naughty, or so I’m told. I had this image of a cranky Eastern European guy, in his tank-top T-shirt, working that razor with his face lathered up. From early on, I fantasized about shaving that way.
I am something of a romantic about literary things, and, like so many people, I really fell in love with The Catcher in the Rye when I read it back in high school. That Salinger guy is a heckuva a writer. I mean I read quite a bit, and that guy is really goddam great writer. He knocked my socks off, if you know what I mean. He talks a little bit about shaving in that, but mostly it lead me to read Franny and Zooey, also by Salinger. In that book, there is a lengthy scene about shaving that I fell in love with. Lane spends, like, a lifetime in his bathroom, taking a bath, reading a letter, and shaving. He shaves three times, I swear to God he does, but it was how he shaved that killed me. He squeezed shaving cream out of a tube onto a brush, and then applied it to his face. That killed me. I swear to God, if you ever read about someone shaving with a tube, a brush, and an injection razor system, it’ll goddam near kill you.
So I bought myself a shaving brush the first chance I got. I even bought a travel version so I could take it with me. For whatever reason, call it lack of faith or even plain old stupidity, I stopped using it. Biggest mistake of my life (well, one of the biggest). For the twenty years since, I have been thrashing about trying to find the combination of shaving cream and razor that gives me what I want. I was unhappy for a very long time, but now, I believe I’m happy at last.
My father used electric razors. I have tried those a few times, but never liked how it felt afterwards. There is a downy softness to my skin, and that never excited me. Applying lotion afterwards helped a little. Still, it wasn’t right for me.
I whored around a bit with cheap Bic disposables. They were effective, but I cared so little for them that I stopped caring about the quality of the shave. It began to eat away at my soul.
When the Gillette Mach 2 razor came out, I was skeptical. I sneered at those who would spend more than a quarter on a razor. I used mine for upwards of two weeks, spending about nine dollars per year on razors, and two cans of Colgate cream. How big of an idiot was I to spend a grand total of $12 a year on my face?
The sneaky bastards sent me a complimentary Mach 2 razor in the mail. I tried it and loved it. It was like discovering the funniest TV show ever, but in syndication, which means you get to watch it everyday, over and over again.
I have upgraded the razors as they have introduced new models, and each time I have been amazed by how it really does feel better. After ten years, how can this love of mine keep surprising me? I don’t know, but it makes me love it that much more.
The one problem is that the tightly set razors often get clocked with the whiskers and shaving cream. Not only does it look messy, but it degrades the shave. So I spend a lot of time rinsing. It annoys me, but, like loving a great woman, you have to take the bad with the good. I have tried many different creams. Noxema is the worst: it seems to bind like super-glue between the blades. Gillette is a little better, but builds up and won’t rinse off. Colgate, the cheapest stuff on the shelf, is probably the best for not sticking to the razor, but I don’t like the feel of it.
On a nostalgic whim, I bought a soap cake and brush kit. I immediately loved the result. It was fun as hell applying the shaving cream with the brush, and I can control the density of the foam by adjusting the water I use. It rinses clean from the razor, and I get the satisfaction of recapturing a small part of americana every morning. My smooth cheeks remind me of it in the morning, and in the evening I begin to look forward to my next shave when my stubble starts to come in.