This post is about shaving, so naturally it starts with a reflection on menopause. Among my favorite writers out there is Sandra Tsing Loh, who recently wrote "The Bitch is Back" in the latest issue of The Atlantic. It includes a marvelous anecdote of a father saying, "Kids, your mother may be going through some changes right now, and I want you to be prepared. Your Uncle Ralph told me that when your aunt Carol went through the change, she threw a leg of lamb right out the window."
I loved that! It's among the best stories of the perpetually in-progress Fuck 'em All but Six and Save Them for Pallbearers collection, not yet formally crowdsourced but no doubt slated for, say, Kickstarter. A good leg of lamb is, what, twenty-five or thirty bucks? The image of a woman looking at her family and heaving one out the window? Priceless.
I hate shaving. Over the course of my life, I can't imagine how many pounds of my DNA that have been rinsed down the sink and into the sewers. And I have to say there are times I want it all back, as though by doing so, the years will rewind and I can have a do-over.
This whole business started off innocently enough. What was I, fourteen or so when I'd gaze into the bathroom mirror at the thistling down on my chin and beg for just one strand to be thicker and darker than the rest? I think it was my father who said to not start shaving, because once you started it, your whiskers would grow faster and heavier.
Since I tended to do pretty much the opposite of what he said, I ran right out and got a double-edged razor and shaving cream. "What's in that Walgreen's bag?" my mother said.
"Nothing!" I answered as I skulked to the bathroom. No one skulks like a fifteen-year-old adolescent boy, except, maybe, a fifteen-year-old adolescent girl. At the time, Gillette advertised its double-sided razor on the (baseball) Game of the Week as having light, regular and heavy settings. No wuss, I, and I set mine on heavy from the git-go. Announcers Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese ignited my manhood.
I used this double-sided version until college, when I grew what would be the first of several beards. Beards were cool in the Sixties, and I'd already started to dislike the morning shaving ritual. And even with a beard, you still had to do it, unless you wanted to look like a werewolf.
On more than one occasion, I would try an electric razor. Sometimes, while commuting, I'd look at the guy in the car next to me and watch him fan his mug with the latest from Braun or Norelco, and be envious. But electrics never worked for me. They left my face looking like a plucked chicken and feeling as though it had undergone a potato bug stampede.
But it's not as though shaving didn't have its pensive moments. Many eureka revelations have bloomed through the haze of the autopilot morning ritual--the perfect endwords in an ABAB rhyme scheme, the solution to a nagging business problem, some new insight, some stark realization like Gabriel's, when he sees a woman absorbed in thought at the top of the stairs and realizes it's his wife (James Joyce's "The Dead").
I've often wondered what it would have been like to have scripted my life somewhat, where I could have decided what I wanted, understood what was preventing me from having it and neatly threaded it all into beginning, middle and end, with all the acts broken down into scenes and each scene neatly blocked. I swear to god, some people seem to have done this, even casting the damned thing.
But for the ninety-nine percent, that's not how it works. At least, it didn't for me. Looking back, there are lots of vivid memories and stories and anecdotes, but really, the thread of my life is an unedited strip of episodic events that seem to have propelled me to where I am today, and for the life of me, I can't really say what they all were.
The daily shave is a trope of all this. Looking at my face in the mirror every morning, I thought I always looked pretty much like I always looked. You look pretty much like you looked yesterday, and tomorrow you will pretty much look like you do today. But one day not long ago, I looked in there and thought, "Who the hell is that old guy?"
So it goes. As a boy, I recall gazing into the Milky Way one night and realizing that I'd be fifty-two when the year 2000 dawned. Fifty-two! That it would be close to, umm, forever. But now, it's eleven years past forever, and the time from then to now collapsed into some spacetime anomaly. Which means your movie begins in some distant haze and you're not quite sure when it will snap to an end.
Which is what I realized a couple of weeks ago when I renewed my supply of razor blades at Costco and it cost $47.95. $47.95! Christ Almighty anyway. I'm convinced they were $27.95 the last time I bought them. When I got home, I realized that if something didn't change, and fast, this is how it was going to be for the rest of my life. The kabuki dance with shaving had to come to an end.
My insurrection began with shaving the hard stubble surrounding my lips and blanketing my chin with an electric razor I'd received for Christmas years ago, and following up with a blade shave. That would add an extra four or five shaves to one blade. Take that, Gillette! Wilkinson blades from England were better than yours, you put Wilkinson out of business, gave your blades a shorter life and raised the price, but I'm fighting back, bitch.
Then I thought, what the hell? Why shave at all? I mean, some days, I don't go anyplace where I HAVE to shave, where looking like an ur-wino might engender whispered reproach amongst the laity. The spaniel doesn't really give a damn, and neither does anyone in the Gorge or at Farmers Market. Screw it. And if it turns out that my wife and I decide to go out or that I have to meet someone in a professional setting, I can always whip out the electric for a quick tuneup. Actually, I can get by with a blade shave a few times a week at most.
And it puts me in company with that woman who pitched the damned leg of lamb out the window. If I ever didn't get it, Lady, I sure as hell do now.
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