Sometimes facial hair grows in such a jumble of confused paths and detours that shaving with a straight razor feels like driving zigzag in rush hour traffic.
Since any attempt to reason with the unruly stubble is like trying to serve a bloody prime rib to a vegetarian, shaving it off requires an arsenal of well-tested manoeuvres in skin stretching and razor angle. In recent weeks, I have improvised a number of such moves to finally defeat the patches of revolutionary fuzz that have plagued me since I shaved with Louis XIV.
Tiny bushes of stubborn hair on my neck, for instance, sweep in a wild burst of misdirection without any obvious reason or logic. They jolly well go wherever they please despite my frustration. Some go this way, some that way. Hello . . . ? Trying to get a good shave down there without cutting your throat makes avoiding a heart attack a miracle.
All this has been cause to scratch my head occasionally and wonder why anyone in his or her right mind would choose a straight razor instead of taking the easy route and chugging along on a plastic cartridge razor. Well, that blasphemous thought has lasted about as long as a wet sneeze.
As if the mischievous neck were not bad enough, I also have a sliver of ornery stubble on the right side of my cheek which arcs like a scimitar northward from about the middle of the jaw to just below the sideburn. I’ve asked the Universe about the reason for such infraction on my Hollywood face, especially since most of the hair on the right cheek heads southward in a civil manner. Thus far all I have from the said Universe is an invisible shrug. Like that really helps. Could be because I generally sleep on my right side. Then again, that might make too much sense for the Universe.
Despite every imaginable variant on skin stretching in that area I failed to float off the shaving stage giddy with my fine performance. I managed slightly better results from the double edge razor, but hardly worth a big prize. Yet, there had to be a solution on how to mow down the rebellious scimitar. After all, it was not exactly research into isolating certain isotopes. It was just shaving. I tried. Tried again. And again. Then I found the answer.
The only way I could be rid of the blasted scimitar was to place four fingers on the cheekbone, in the first pass with the grain, and stretch the skin toward the uppermost part of the bridge on my nose — the little dimple that drops down from the forehead. That move, then, had to be reinforced by the razor’s angle moving horizontally on a slight diagonal with the point leading. Also, I lifted the spine a little more than usual. I finished off the scimitar on the second pass, across the grain, stretching from the right ear toward the back of the head and keeping the blade flexible to maneuver in microscopic variations.
It worked, by Jove. The day of my conquest I walked around gloating as if I had won the Nobel Prize for literature, with my right hand caressing my right cheek as if it were a lover’s.
But I was not done. There was still the neck area. I had already tried moves northward against the grain on a slight diagonal, which helped somewhat, but left me a long way to go. On the neck, just below the jaw line, the thick stubble grows toward the ear on each side. For heaven’s sake, what kind of nonsense is that? This was not much of a problem with a double edge: I came at each side of the neck horizontally from the ear to the neck. With a straight edge, that move tends to inspire a bucket of nervous perspiration. Yet it had to be.
By stretching the skin from the jaw line up and then angling it toward the earlobe, I approached the stubborn bush under the jaw with the razor placed diagonally and shaving in a horizontal direction. Here I had to take extreme care, especially with the “dreadnought” and the Spanish point razors, to avoid carving a bloody line into my neck. That worked, too, especially when I carefully inched the blade on the neck under the chin. I have not quite refined this move yet, but it seems to be the ideal solution for me to clear that spot.
For me, a straight razor shaving pilgrim, my technique evolves continuously. Since face, beard growth and razor technique are different from one shaver to another, I have also realized, after some years of shaving with a straight razor, the best move is what works best for the individual shaver.
Like jazz, the straight razor improvises around the theme.