A Close Shave
What’s old may be new
By Clyde Edgerton
If I use a plastic drinking straw, I get grief from my family.
As I should. So I decided to stop using plastic straws and plastic razors — those disposable ones, usually orange or blue — and buy an electric razor.
My father, back in his day, used an implement that looked very much like a plastic razor, but his was metal, and when you twisted the handle about a quarter-turn, two little doors on the head of the razor opened toward the ceiling. He’d then drop in a thin, almost weightless Gillette razor blade. He’d twist the handle so that the little doors closed and the blade would be enclosed snugly, with its two sharp outside edges exposed.
He’d drip some warm water from the spigot into a mug that had a bit of soap in the bottom, then work up some lather with a soft round brush. He’d brush the white lather onto his face, and then carefully shave.
My grandfather did it the same way, except he used a straight razor, sharpened by sliding the blade along a leather strap, or “strop.” The strop looked like an extraordinarily wide leather belt.
Anyway, I realized I’d have to shop for a new electric razor.
For me, shopping often produces anxiety and indecision. I do it as rarely as possible. For example, I bought my newest sport coat before my very old cat was born. Cats don’t live that long. And I just found out that some blue jeans are black.
First stop: Target. I find the electric razor section. It’s as long as a gymnasium wall. My heart rate ticks up. I look closely and read packaging information: dryfoil, proskin, lithium ion, microcomb, flexible foil cutters, pivot head. I grab one in the mid-priced range: $69 — the going price of a sink, commode and bathtub when my father started shaving in about 1917. The brand is a Braun, and something extra is in the box. I’m not sure what, but I just want to get out of the store.
I take my Braun home and try to open the box with several kitchen implements. I finally open it with my chain saw, avoiding injury, get the razor out, and unpack the rest of the box. I find a thick booklet of instructions in English and many other languages, as well as a fairly large “recharging stand.” And inside the recharging stand is a small, clear plastic container. And . . . stay with me . . . inside that container is a container of some special liquid that every night will clean the shaver while the razor is being recharged and . . . no joke . . . oil it. I read that every few months I’ll need to buy more of that special liquid. A reasonable person might wonder if this thing will shave me like those vacuum cleaners that vacuum the house while you watch TV.
What happened next is I nervously decided to do a bit of research. What was I getting into? When I Googled “electric shavers” I got this many hits: 41,300,000. (Check it out.) And then because I Googled “electric shaver,” I now have a new electric shaver image pop-up on my speedometer screen when I start my car — the latest deal between Honda and Google.
Next stop: Target. I returned the electric razor. I bought a bag of disposable razors, the blue ones, and a can of shaving foam.
Soon, I’m going to visit my father’s grave as I sometimes do, and we will have a talk. I think I know what he’s going to suggest: mug, soap, soft round brush, and an old-timey metal razor.
Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.