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Saturday, July 04, 2009

For many, a risky challenge performed daily

By Dick Hirsch

I believe I speak for most men when I claim that we despise shaving. It consumes valuable time and requires concentration, usually at a period in the early morning when concentrating is more difficult than it is later in the day.

Those who let their minds stray from the task at hand often regret it. They cut themselves and spend more precious time attempting to stanch the bleeding. Usually the wound is on the upper lip or the chin, although the area in the neck around the Adam’s apple is also highly vulnerable.

The styptic pencil, one of mankind’s unheralded but very significant inventions, usually can stop the bleeding and create a clot. Among those who ignore the benefits of the styptic pencil, the favored treatment is the shred of toilet tissue to blot the site of the damage. The paper adheres to the wound.

Just the other day I had a mid-morning conversation with a man at the office who had a small shred toilet paper dressing festooning his chin. He must have forgotten to remove it as he hurried to the office. It was almost 10:30. Could it be that no one had mentioned it to him? Did I have to be the bearer of bad tidings?

“Tom,” I said, trying to sound casual, “you must have cut yourself shaving and you forgot to take off the toilet paper when you left home.”

He didn’t seem embarrassed. He thanked me, successfully removed the paper with a dainty yank, and immediately launched into an embittered denunciation of Gillette, the major manufacturer of razors and blades.

“Gillette is screwing us with their ridiculous claims and blade prices. They have made shaving more complicated and expensive than it needs to be. I would never buy their damn razors.”

I won’t bore you with additional details of his raging allegations, but I did agree with some of his claims. Each time I go to the drug store to buy blades I shake my head in wonder at the prices. I buy a packet of five Gillette Mach 3 blades for $12.99, which amounts to over $2.80 each. Forgive the observation, but the Mach 3 is no longer regarded as cutting edge technology; although once considered revolutionary, it has been surpassed by the Mach 3 Turbo, the Fusion, and who knows how many other variations that Gillette has added to its branded lineup. Each cartridge for the Fusion contains six blades, five for the beard and one for trimming sideburns, mustache and other areas where precision is required. A package of eight retails for around $22. Schick markets its own brands at comparable prices. Shaving is no longer the cost effective personal care effort that it was when grandpa used the legendary Gillette Blue Blades.

Yes, I was startled to learn that Tom, despite his rancorous comments about Gillette, admitted he did not use their products. I inquired about his shaving technology and the instruments he used, a topic that is frequently discussed in the locker room.

“I use disposables,” he replied. “I buy them at the dollar store.”

That may have helped to explain Tom’s condition, and the fact that he had several times in the past been seen with a scab the size of a dime on his chin or jowls.

“They’re all made in China, anyway,” he added, as he pivoted and strode off toward the men's room to examine his wounded chin in the mirror.

Have you ever wondered why most men at one time or another consider what their life would be like if they grew a beard? There is a good reason for that: the growth of a beard frees the man from daily shaving, a task that is onerous and sometimes controversial. Men are always receptive to new methods. They may not change, but they always consider. Some endorse electric razors, insisting they produce a result comparable to a wet shave. Most men have tried both approaches and made a decision which they consider irrevocable. Once they change they rarely return. Yes, I realize that women shave, too, but I know so little about that activity that I can’t discuss it with any expertise.

Among both men and women there continues to be an enduring argument over direction. Should shaving be done with the grain or against the grain? With the grain is said to be faster and safer; against the grain is considered to be riskier but yield a smoother result. Contrarians often shave against the grain.


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