I never had enough confidence in the steadiness of my hands to trust them with something like a blade near my throat. I had images of slicing through my jugular and my windpipe, gasping for air and spraying the entire bathroom with my blood as I suffocated and bled to death. With electric razors, you could fool yourself into thinking it wasn't really a blade, it was a tiny beard-hungry genie in there who would never even think of drawing blood.
This little fantasy served me well until one day my genie died, and the genie temp agency let me down. I picked up my razor and flipped the on switch. Nothing. I jiggled the plug. Nothing. I flipped the on switch back and forth several times, like the kid who thinks pushing the elevator button hundreds of times will make elevator come faster. Nothing.
Thinking perhaps the electric razor was totally jammed with little remnants of my old beard, I emptied out the beard collection reservoir in the razor - a task that admittedly I didn't do with sufficient frequency. A modest amount of beardage came out. I flipped the switch again. Still nothing.
Now it began to seem serious. I would have to do some serious cleaning. I went as far as disassembling the razor blades and the gear assembly and all that, looking for little bits of beard cloggage. I found next to none. Normally, I would've said, "Yay! I didn't have to clean!" But these were not normal times.
I plugged it back in, jiggled the plug, jiggled the cable, said a little prayer. Nothing. Oh man. Time for a new razor.
Normally, this would've been fine. I would've just gone down to the store and gotten a new razor. Problem is, there are no electric razor stores out here that I knew of. No genie temp agencies in the middle of nowhere.
Actually, I could've gone online and gotten one and waited a few days for it to get here. I think I could've lasted a few days looking a little scruffy. I could've gone the way of Anu and grown facial hair of convenience. In fact, I sort of did that last summer when I was in Taiwan for my grandfather's funeral, and local tradition involved not shaving during the mourning period. So I came back to the US looking scruffy. Uh oh.
I distinctly remember what I looked like. My idea of cool, long beardage evoked images of Gandalf the Wizard or Santa Claus. Aside from the fact that these images were all of *old* people who have long beards that were white and distinguished, I'd always thought of how cool it would be to have a long mane of hair grafted to the bottom of my face that I could stroke thoughtfully in that "Hmm...Very interesting..." kind of way.
I looked nothing like Gandalf or Santa Claus. I looked more like a homeless guy who just got out of a penitentiary. Instead of having a cool, stokable mane of facial hair, I had uneven patches of sandpaper on my chin. Not even good sandpaper. It was rough, but more like rough, course hair than hard, abrasive sandpaper. So much for volunteering my beard in the prison wood shop. So much for not shaving. That, plus I had meetings to go to with real people who might not exactly welcome the sight of a guy with sandpaper on his chin.
So I needed to shave, and my Norelco beard genie was dead or on strike. Plus, I had heard that manual razors give you a closer shave. I went down to the local Safeway and got a can of green beard goop and a Gillette Mach 3 (The best a man can get! How can you argue with that?). This felt like delayed development. Most people first encounter this grim ritual in the prime of their adolescence.
I got home and proceeded to stand in front of the bathroom mirror with my can of green beard goop and my Gillette Mach 3. There were no instructions. But how hard can this be? I mean, it's not like baking a cake! So I started doing what I saw them do in the movies. Inevitably, in the movies, you'd see them with little bits of tissue stuck to their faces. This scared me. But for some reason, I didn't care that much. I figured, if anyone asked me why my face was bleeding profusely, I'd just explain that I'd never used a manual razor before, and they'd understand.
The green beard goop goes on the chin sandpaper. Check. Dude! The goop gets all foamy! Excellent! The razor gets rinsed under some hot water that proceeds to get the room all steamy (presumably, a steamy room makes your beard softer and more obedient to the dictates of the Gillette Mach 3...) Check. Now the razor gets rubbed down the path of the sandpaper in the midst of the beard goop. Dude! I'm shaving! This is beautiful!
Periodically, the razor got all covered with white foamy beard goop. No problem. Rinse it off. While rinsing it, I noticed little clumps of beardage stuck to the blade. Excellent! That's the whole point, right? Water doesn't quite wash off the beardage? I'll just use my thumb to get the beardage unstuck...
Oops. The microsecond after reaching down and starting to rub off the beardage, the thought occurred to me, "Hey wait, these are sharp cutting blades! Maybe rubbing your finger across them isn't such a good idea!" That thought was accompanied immediately by pain, blood, and three parallel slits across the surface of my right thumb. Man. The irony of cutting your thumb but not your face while shaving for the first time.
Actually, I did end up cutting my face, but nothing nearly as bad as my wounded thumb. It came time to shave the sandpaper on my upper lip beneath my nose. I suppose most normal people would call that a mustache. I would never presume to give my upper lip stubble the noble title of mustache. To me, mustaches are long, cool, sculptable edifices of facial hair like what Salvador Dali had. Or at the very least, imposing tufts of facial hair like what walruses have.
What I had was stiff upper lip stubble that ended up becoming a razor cut magnet for my face. Somehow, the angle of the skin and beardage on my stiff upper lip was just so as to cause me to nick myself repeatedly. Yay! I cut my face shaving for the first time! I am now a man!
In retrospect, shaving with a manual blade and cutting yourself is kind of interesting. Lesson number one: You (or I, at least) have to do it slowly. Can't give in to the instant gratification desire to be clean shaven and rush it. It's almost Zen. (I don't know why I can say that, knowing almost nothing about being Zen...) Shaving every few days gives me that chance to slow down and do things carefully. I'm finding it very, um, meditative. You have to be focused. Can't let your mind wander, or you cut yourself.
Monks could have done this as spiritual practice. Although the Gillette Mach 3 may have been a bit before their time, for most of them in history. But hey! Monks for most of history would have been forced to use a Jack the Ripper straight razor or worse! So they would've had to be really careful and meditative about it, or else.
That makes me wonder something else. You see classic paintings of men, and a lot of them do have long beards. But not unkempt beards - just long ones. Does this mean they did in fact have to shave often to remove the bits of beardage that would grow outside their one true path of pleasing aesthetic facial hair? Or how about females who succumb to the cultural aesthetic of not having hair on their legs? Do they cut their legs or have other troubles? If you're a female or a male with a long beard (umkempt or otherwise), would you mind cluing me in? Dear readers, would you mind sharing your shaving stories?