23 May 2007

You haven't lived a single day until you've had a straight razor shave

Find an old barber shop run by old men who look like they walked to Brooklyn on their hands from Ellis Island. If you've found the right place the barber shop should smell like newsprint and Clubmans shaving cream; if you're lucky there may even be a few coils of cigar smoke still woven within the wooden walls. Wait your turn, read the paper while you wait, talk about the Mets with the guy who's sorta slow that they pay to sweep up; every barber shop has that guy. First, turn your goddamn cell phone OFF. Ask for a straight razor shave. Don't worry about the haircut for now, save that for some other time. The barber will kick the chair back and suddenly you'll be laying down like you're flying first class on British Air. He's gonna bring out a hot fucking towel. He may just pour boiling water on the towel or he may have one of those old school chrome towel steamers; either way it's gonna be steaming hot and when it first hits your face you may even panic and feel suffocated for a moment; thats all part of the experience so, enjoy it. The hot towel is gonna open your pores and prepare your delicate manface for a good old fashioned scrape down.

Romantic machismo ideas, spaghetti Westerns and various American gangster movies have led a certain group of young men to believe that a shave with a straight razor is a ticket to Valhalla. This is 99% true. It's actually a ticket back to the old world where things meant something; and people took their time. The straight razor shave is, quite simply, a timeless ritual, a classic. Classic like a good hat, a good watch and some good shoes. Classic like holding the door open for a lady, waiting for her to sit down at a table before you eat and buying her moms some flowers.

Ok, so you're sitting there with your face wrapped in a scalding towel. You feel the steam opening your pores and breathing. After he takes the towel off your face will feel ice cold as it readjusts to the room temperature.

Now comes the hot shaving cream.

This step is 100% orgasmic; its your first make out sesh with the girl of your dreams; its sex with someone you'd die for. Trust me, it feels that good.

They've got some machine that makes the shaving cream warm. And when that warm glop hits your cool face, forget it. You'll hear angels and harps and your mothers warm coo when you were 6 months old. It's biblical.

All this hot / cold shit is done to soften the beard and the skin, readying it for kingdom come.

And now, the razor's first pass. Having previously softened the beard, its bristles surrender more readily to the razor like a hot knife through a pat of butter on a toasted garlic bagel. The face is kept moist with the application of shaving oil, meanwhile, to ensure the maximum closeness of the shave.

And let me tell you, when that razor scrapes those hairs off your manface, it feels amazing. Its like having an itch you can't reach all day and finally scratching it. A good scrape never felt so good. This is caveman shit, sit back and get in touch with your ancestors who used to shave with rocks and sand.

In fact, I never feel complete unless I leave with a nick or two. That means my shit got sanded down TO THE BONE; as clean and as close as it gets. Don't worry, the barber has some secret bottle with a liquid that stops the bleeding immediately.

Since the days of the barber-surgeons there has been much spirited debate on the merits and perils of shaving against the grain. Most barbers will get to it during subsequent passes of the razor, after a first, with the grain endeavor. Shaving this close and shaving against and across the grain is now possible because of the softening effect of the cream, the hot towels and the hot oil. And the only way you can get that baby's-ass clean shave is if you go against the grain.

Ok so you're almost done. See, I told you to savour it because now it's almost over, asshole.

The last towel of the shave, the coup de grace, is plucked from a tub of ice water and applied to the skin with a warning for you to brace yourself. The towel calms the skin, closes the pores and invigorates. Basically makes you feel like a new man.

You will emerge relaxed and invigorated, ready to conquer the world beneath your, hopefully, good shoes. Now go hold an umbrella for a beautiful girl and listen to some Bing Crosby and you'll be O.K.

The beautiful Art of Shaving stores sell some top-of-the-line stuff for home shaving. You can almost replicate the barber shave, almost.

Next time we'll discuss the famous red and white barber pole; what it means and where it originated.

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