A Not So Close Shave

Image from Der Golem.

I made the mistake of looking at Instagram for the first time in a year and was completely traumatized by the juxtaposition of beautiful meals and glamorous vacation destinations alongside posts by friend’s exes and children in hospital rooms. What bothers me most about social media is the pressure to curate an idealized, alternate self. These alternate selves remind me of the Jewish legend of the Golem, a kind of medieval robot made of mud and conjured into consciousness. Initially protective the Golem, in some versions of the story, ends up going on a murder spree. I’m worried that our online, alternate selves are forming a kind of Golem army. We can thank our Silicon Valley overlords for making an old legend a painful force-multiplied reality.

And yet, every time I look at social media it causes me to ask how am I also complicit in the curation of an idealized alternate self via this blog and our books? How many times have I presented some neatly tied up homemaking/gardening tip when the actual results were more ambiguous? Or, to go deeper with this, how often have I presented a “failure” as a kind of false modesty?

At the risk of doing the latter, and via a long winded media theory laden introduction, permit me update my ongoing struggle with shaving. Most folks don’t know that, long before the advent of social media deep in the bowels of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, our government developed the internet precisely for the purpose of creating divisive shaving forums. The thought was that arguments over the merits of modern safety razors vs. the manly art of shaving and sharpening a straight edge razor would so confuse our communist adversaries that they would throw down their AK-47s and embrace the joys of Pumpkin Spice Frappuccinos® and Logan Paul videos.

For years, not wanting to blow money on modern plastic razors, I’ve instead used an old-fashioned safety razor like the one above that has just one metal blade that lasts maybe two weeks at the most (you can flip it over and use the other side of the blade for another two weeks). To use it properly, you need to shave three times, down, sideways and up, lathering between each shave direction. It works great if you aren’t lazy and care about your appearance. The trouble is that I’m lazy and don’t care about my appearance.

The trouble is that when I wear my favorite stained and sawdust caked hoodie, I look like that police sketch of the unabomber. Looking disheveled can be charming when you’re younger but once you hit fifty it’s just creepy. In order to, at least temporarily, reverse this sartorial slide, I recently had a proper haircut rather than have a friend buzz my head. My hair-cutting professional took a look at my patchy facial stubble and pointed to his own face noting that both of us don’t have much in the way of beard hair even if we wanted to grow one out. He recommended something I’ve never heard about, shaving with an Andis Outliner II, a kind of electric trimmer used for close cutting. Men of African descent often use trimmers like this for dry shaving as a way of avoiding ingrown hairs.

Does an Andis Outliner II give you a really close shave? No. Would it work for those with prodigious facial hair? No. Would it be good enough if you worked at a corporate law firm or are in the military? Probably not. Can women shove their legs with it? Yes, but it leaves stubble. Does it work well enough for an aging Gen Xer who spends most of his time doing manual labor alone? Yes. It’s certainly better than looking like an escapee from a Victorian mental hospital.

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  1. My husband and I both use that exact razor! He loves it, but also says that he had a bit of a learning curve. He feels the trick is to use lots of water during the shave. He also uses Proraso shaving cream, which doesn’t get as super foamy as more mainstream brands, and he thinks that helps too (I think the sandalwood scent is the best. Maybe using more water would help you too?

    • Thanks for the tip. Next time I need to look decent I’ll give the more water idea a try.

  2. You’re absolutely right about the need to look more polished as one ages. Kids may be able to get away with the Goth look, but on older folks it just looks like a dress rehearsal for death.

    – As for the safety razors, the replacement blades used to be really cheap, but now they’re (in my opinion) unreasonably pricey. Is it that nobody uses safety razors and their thin double-sided blades anymore so there’s only one company left to make them?

    – ‘Der Golem’ is one of those creepy, inter-war, wonderful German movies which are so absolutely fascinating to watch. Include in that list “Das Kabinett des Doctor Caligari’, ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Nosferatu’. When the husband and I used to live in northeast Pennsylvania we would go to the 19th Street Theater in Allentown several times a year when the cinema (built in 1928 in art-deco style) would present one or other silent film accompanied on the (original and carefully restored) theater organ by the fabulous Don Kinnier. The audience was not only old people, either: ‘The General’ (1926, Buster Keaton) was completely sold out and at least half the audience was college age and younger. I thought it was the closest I’d ever get to experience a film the way my grandparents did.

    • One of my problems may be that I bought a package of cheaper singe-edged razors on the recommendation of the person running the store. I think that may have been a mistake. And thanks for the reminder about Buster Keaton. He’s was a genius.

    • Talking about Golems, I can still remember the Clay Men in “Flash Gordon Goes to Mars”. They frightened the life out of me when they slowly materialized out of the walls of that cave…and they were the goodies! I never want to go to Mars.

  3. This is out of context, but I wanted to let you both know how much I enjoy your blog. I’m not really a commenter but I’ve been following for many years. Thank you for your contributions.

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