Shaving notes

By Steve Proffitt, STEVE PROFFITT is senior producer for the NPR newsmagazine "Day to Day."

I HATE SHAVING. But what are the alternatives? Waxing is out of the question, and I don't want to look like Saddam Hussein emerging from his spider hole. So, I shave.

Because I have also reached an advanced state of baldness, and keep my hair cut short in a No. 1 buzz cut, I spend what seems to be an inordinate amount of time engaged in hair removal. I suppose I am lucky. I'm not nearly as hairy as a friend of mine, who is one of those guys with a line at his collar where he stops shaving. Marty once revealed to me that his yeti-like, full-body pelt requires 20 minutes to dry after a shower, but that's another story.

My grandfather, who immigrated to this country from Lebanon, never shaved. He had someone else do it. Maybe there was a lack of mirrors in the old country. To make sure he always had a skilled blade-handler at hand, he rented an annex in his restaurant to a barber. Part of the lease deal was a daily shave.

These days, all the servers at Google probably won't be able to find you a neighborhood barber who will lather up your face, strop a straight razor and begin removing your stubble. Still, science and industry offer us technology that might have persuaded even my grandfather to become a do-it-yourselfer.

Personally, I think three blades is enough on a razor, although I understand there are models with four, even five, finely-honed cutting surfaces. The first blade grabs the hair and trims it, allowing the second blade to cut even closer, followed by … ad nauseam. Surely this approach has limits, and surely they have been reached.

Still, I did fall for the vibrating model, powered by an AAA battery in the handle. It contributes nothing to the effectiveness of shaving, as near as I can tell, but it is strangely comforting. There's an on/off button on the handle, and I find myself accidentally pressing it while negotiating a tight curve along my jaw, causing the pulsation to cease and creating shaving anxiety.

Of course, before one puts blade to skin, one needs to apply some sort of shaving product. For years, I was a devotee of Barbasol, primarily because it cost only 99 cents and came in a barber-pole-striped can that made me feel good about my purchase. I tried gels but found them lacking any connection to tradition. Recently, I have discovered shave oil. And I like it — "revitalizing" shave cream that features "peppermint oil and marine extracts enriched with vitamin E and pro-vitamin B5." How evolved am I, former Barbasol man?

The secret to this stuff — and this is why I like it — is that it works best when you use a tiny, tiny amount. None of the slathered-in-lather look popular in TV commercials. I figure I can squeeze out at least a year's worth of shaving from the 5.5-ounce tube. And it really does seem to give a smoother shave, especially on those places on either side of my Adam's apple that always cause trouble.

BUT EVEN mysterious marine extracts can't make shaving go away. I still have to stand in front of the mirror, run the hot water, dab peppermint cream on my face, spread a thin film of it all around and then attack my skin with the razor in the prescribed short, quick strokes. Sometimes I remember the pre-pubescent male who looked into the mirror and strained to produce the slightest amount of fuzz, hoping to be more of a man. Then I rinse the razor and curse my beard.

But there is always hope. Perhaps somewhere out in the Big Pharma back forty, a keen researcher is on his or her way to developing a chemical that will redirect the pattern of my male-pattern baldness from my pate to my face. Then, not only will I be able to again complain about the high price of hair products and experience the joys of bed head, but my unshaven chin will be as smooth as a baby's bum.

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