- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)



Rockvale, TN, July 2, 2012 -- I learned to shave in the Army. I was seventeen when I went in, and except for the peach fuzz, I didn't have a beard to speak of until a year or so later. Even then, throughout my term of service, my beard was still light and light-colored and I only had to shave once in a blue moon. Because of my job, I very seldom had to stand Inspection, which is when everybody gets into a line and some brass hat or other walks up and down it, “inspecting” each soldier. What they're looking for, or were in the old black-boot Army, anyway, is to make sure that each soldier's boots are shiny, that his brass is not tarnished, that his weapon is clean(and not loaded), that his hair in back doesn't hang over his collar, and that he is closely shaved. Not much of a problem in Korea, where I served two tours, as we had houseboys who took care of alla that stuff (except the weapons and the shaving).

I was separated honorably from the Army and came home to a new invention: the razor made of plastic and stainless steel. I wasn't very interested in shaving then, either, but I remember commercials where guys were saying to each other “I got 27 shaves out of mine!” The razor manufacturers soon realized that their invention was too good, as it ate into their customer base, and set about sabotaging their own invention.

Here's how they did it: they convinced shavers that if one blade was good, then two were better, and put out the new “Gillette Twin” or whatever. The idea they sold was that the first blade would not only cut off the beard hair, but would hold that sucker until the second blade came along right behind it and whacked it off even closer. They even had crude 1960s graphics demonstrating this phenomenon. Some people bought this malarkey.

To the great back-slapping relief of the razor pimps on Madison Avenue, the beard hair would get caught in between the blades, rendering them useless pretty darn quick. So that once again, Mr 5-o'clock shadow would have to trudge into the drugstore and buy lots of their plastic razors. You can now buy razors that have three and four strips of steel stacked on top of each other, two blades being good and four being obviously twice better.

I stuck with the one-blade razor, but soon they figured out that if they only used regular steel, then my stratagem would be rendered impotent because this blade became dull PDQ also. Consequently, I went for about forty years with the occasional missed patch of beard, usually at the mandibular corners of my manly jaw. I almost got used to it.

A couple of months back I was in reverie about my Army days (this was the Army you could get drafted into, unless you had trashed knees from high school football as well as “other priorities”, or you were a member in good standing of the Texas Air National Guard). And I remembered shaving. Back then we had what were called “razor blades”, and they were very thin pieces of metal that fitted into these heavy devices that clamped down on them and held them into place. These devices were what we shaved with. I remembered the reassuring heft of these items, and vowed to get one.

A few months before that I had sent off and gotten my very own badger hair shaving brush and mug. So I was well on my way to a Return to Youth and Manliness As Experienced In The Nineteen-Sixties.
.I found one of the old-type razors on ebay of course, but apparently they are now “collectibles”. And go for way more money than they originally did, even allowing for inflation. But there are some that are made in where.else.but China and can be had for about 6 or 7 bucks, so I sent off for one of them and a package of razor blades. Then I waited anxiously by my mailbox.

I cannot begin to describe the joy, the power that one of these hefty bad boys lends to you when first you draw it down your freshly-lathered manly jaw! Or the closeness of the shave that the girly-man razors they sell these days cannot provide! Why is that? I think it's because of the weight of this representative of steam-powered technology. Many times, and this is one of them, older is better than newer. And the babes love to run their soft hands down your freshly-shaven phizz. I gotta fight 'em off.

So what I'm proposing to those of you who've begun to believe that your patches of beard are harbingers of incipient old age, is that it's not too late to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, get yourself fitted out with a badger hair shaving brush and mug (I got mine from my local IHOP) and a mechanical razor and blades for it and don't forget the styptic pencil(look it up on wiki), because accidents will happen on occasion, especially when you first get into it, and you don't want to go around with toilet paper hanging off your face.

This kind of thing is why I'm glad I joined the Army. That and the completely inalienable right to shoot my mouth off anytime I like about the government. Which I think we need more of, by the way.