Thirty-seven years ago, I was thirteen and watching the first show of what would become an iconic television series – Saturday Night Live. I have no recollection of that show save for one skit, the mock television commercial for the “Triple Trac Razor.” Schick or someone had just that year come out with the revolutionary Twin Trac Razor, the first major advancement in razors since the disposable was invented. In their relentlessly humorous way, SNL described the advantage of the “Triple Trac” by describing how the first blade pulled the hair away from the skin, the second blade catching the hair before it could snap back painfully against face, and the final blade delivering the coups de grace by shearing the hair unbelievably close to the skin. I had not begun shaving by that time, but I was an avid watcher of my father shaving (he had to twice a day, king of the five o’clock shadow was my dad) and I couldn’t imagine a three bladed razor. The thought was ludicrous and hilarious to me. However, in the nearly four decades that have followed which has seen the boom of personal computers, the coming and going of pagers, the rise of the internet, a cell phone in every pocket, addiction to texting, and advent of tablets; science has far outstripped my admittedly meager imagination and razors can now be purchased with up to SIX blades.
I used to use the twin blade razors but when triple blades actually showed up on the market I retreated. I didn’t feel that I could ever keep up with the blade race. I was daunted by myth become fact, and fell back to embrace a legend. I was in an antique store and saw an old safety razor in perfect condition, and bought it before someone else snatched up the treasure. In twenty years, I have never looked back. I in fact now own four safety razors, treasuring each.
What is a safety razor? It was the next generation of razor to come after the bare bladed straight razor. I would never own a straight razor, they scare me, and nostalgia will only carry me so far. I first saw the safety razor when I would intrude upon my father in his boxers at the bathroom sink, he staring at his face in the mirror preparing to shave. When I first started watching, dad had a shaving mug with soap, a brush for application, and a safety razor to do the actual deed. I loved to see dad lather his bristled face with that brush. Mesmerized I watched the stainless steel head of dad’s razor drawing through the thick suds, leaving a trail both clean and smooth in its wake. I would stand in fearful awe while watching dad remove a dull blade and shove it into a mysterious slot in the back wall of his medicine cabinet. Where did it go? Would that space ever fill with blades? How could he do that and not cut his fingers?
I was enraptured. In shaving there was mystery (blade disposal), danger (blood beading on throat or cheek, a styptic pencil to stem the flow), and machismo (if I had known the term at that young age). I loved to watch my father shave, a play in three acts – lather, shave, aftershave. I close my eyes see it, and the smell of Old Spice will flow back to me. I cannot help but think of my father each time I look into the mirror and lather my face from my mug filled with bay rum scented soap.
I think there is something almost primal in the act of a man shaving. It is as if we are saying that (opposable thumbs not withstanding) that the willing removal of facial hair is what civilizes us and keeps us several rungs above our more hirsute cave-dwelling ancestors. The deep interior nature of shaving can also be seen by the fascination a young boy first drawn to the act of watching father, or grandfather, or brother shave, yearning for the day when he might have his own razor to shave his own face – a rite of passage.
A father myself, I will never forget the day sixteen years ago when I bought my son Michael his first razor. I was so filled with pride, I went to the mall and bought him an expensive set with mug, brush and razor, bringing it home and demonstrating its use. I am in part helping to pass on shaving to my grandson as well. I think he was three or four when shaving came across his radar. He would watch me shave, and once even asked if he could shave me. I said yes. On his first stroke he nicked my throat and wanted to stop because he believed he had hurt me. I just smiled and calmed him and let him finish the job. It wouldn’t do for him to fear something so basic to manhood that in not too many years it will be a daily part of his life.
Even with the beard I have worn since I turned twenty, I shave almost every day, cleaning up my throat and my cheeks. Making myself less scruffy, more civilized. One might think that it would become drudgery, but it has not and it never will. I am a romantic when it comes to shaving. I am a believer that it keeps me grounded to my manhood, linked back in time to my father, and tied to the future through my son and grandson.