Shaving is a task that many men perform on a daily basis. Electric or razor, Remington or Mach III, the object is to remove the hairs on the face and trim up the bits where you deliberately want fuzzies.
A straight razor is a throwback to the ancient ages. A whip like ribbon of steel honed and stropped sharp that hasn’t changed much since Roman times. A straight razor shave is not always something you’re taught to do by Dad when you’re a young lad. But barbers of the old school know how to do a proper straight razor shave.
I keep my hair short, a Number 2 guard, all over the brain case. This kind of cut I can get anywhere. Even people with hooks for hands, just kicked out of hair cutting school can do a Number 2 all over, so getting that cut is easy in a strange town. Look for a First Choice, or SuperClips and you can get it done. I needed a cut, so over lunch yesterday in Indianapolis I spied a Barber Shop and rolled in for a cut.
Two barbers, both about nine hundred years old, one working and the other nursing a coffee, were watching TV and chopping locks respectively. Ron, the unbusy one offered to cut my hair. We gabbed for a bit while he buzzed away with the clippers. Then, as he finished up the basic chop-it-off, he used a razor to trim around the ears and back of the neck. Not an electric razor, but a straight razor and hot foam soap.
I remarked it was unusual to see anyone who still had a straight razor, let alone knew how to use it. He said he always did a neck trim this way, as that was how we has trained to do it years ago in barber school. Note the differentiation: Not Hair Cutting College, or Stylist Studies or Colour College, but Barber School. He had to learn how to shave a man, how to cut his hair, how to shine shoes and the hardest courses, Hygiene and Business.
Ron had been a barber all his life. It was his trade, profession or avocation. I asked when he had last done a real shave. He said a few weeks. “Men just don’t ask for a shave anymore. They don’t know what a proper shave is.” he said, quietly.
I stepped up. “How about a proper shave then Ron?” “Certainly Mister Smith.” He put the headrest into the barber chair and a length of tissue in the headrest. He leaned me back flat and asked if I was comfortable.
Ron started with a soap and water mixture, rubbing it into my face along the beard. Then a tap-water-hot towel, wrapping it around my face, covering my whole pie-hole, upper lip and all, pressing it into the skin. Hot, but not uncomfortably so. Then another towel, hotter still, letting it sit on the skin until just barely cooled. A third, hotter still, as I breathed through the hot, moist air. I started to relax, enjoying the moment. The towel came off and I heard the sound of a razor stropping across leather.
A light touch with his hand as he rubbed hot shaving soap into the beard, asking if I was ready. “Certainly.” I replied. The razor came close and started dragging my beard away with gentle, deft strokes of the razor. Holding the tip of my nose to one side, gliding away the stubble over the upper lip. Tilting the head back so he could concentrate on the neck, adding a little more soap and foam to get the best angle and comfort for me.
At the conclusion of the actual shave, Ron washed off the last of the soap with another hot towel, letting it set to cool the skin. Whisking the towel away, he massaged a mixture on my face. I asked what it was he was putting on me. “Just a bit of aftershave for you…” Smelled like a mix of Old Spice and Aqua Velva, a Man Smell. Stung a bit, but then again, it was supposed to, to close the pores of the skin.
Ron sat me back up, turning the chair to face the three way mirrors. A perfect hair cut. A perfect shave, as smooth as my face has ever been since the hair fairy brought me a beard. I stood up. He brushed off the stray hairs that might have penetrated the barber cloth and whisked away any dust or imaginary creases from my shirt, adjusting my collar to its correct position. “There you are Mister Smith. Just right.”
I paid, willingly, 25 dollars for a shave and a haircut. A haircut done by a craftsman and a shave with a whip of stainless steel, done by a craftsman who instantly became an Artist.