During the 1980s, it occurred to me that there were a couple of things I didn’t know how to do. The first area of ignorance was how to tie a bow tie. I had mastered a few necktie knots (the full Windsor, the half Windsor, the four-in-hand, and my favorite, the Shelby), but I didn’t have a clue as to how to go about tying a bow tie. That problem was easily solved. My mother-in-law at the time gave me a bow tie for Christmas one year, and so I was forced to learn how to tie the thing. Even in those pre-internet days, instructions were easy to find. I believe the set of instructions I used came from Parade magazine, the glossy rotogravure supplement inserted into most Sunday newspapers. I am now quite proficient at tying a bow tie, even though I try to avoid all occasions that require me to wear either a necktie or a bow tie.
The second area of ignorance was how to shave with a straight razor. I have wanted to use a straight razor (a.k.a., cutthroat razor) ever since I saw the 1959 Hitchcock masterpiece, “North by Northwest”. [If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading now, and go watch it.] Advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for spy George Kaplan. Forced to flee the Bad Guys, he escapes New York via the 20th Century Limited train to Chicago. He spends the trip in the company of beautiful Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), who appears to be working for the Bad Guys. I know, this is getting complicated. I’ll cut to the chase. In Chicago, Thornhill pops into the men’s room to shave. He uses the very small shaving brush and microscopically-sized double edge safety razor that, we are to assume, Kendall uses on her legs. Standing next to him in the men’s room, also shaving, is a beefy son of the Midwest, face lathered completely, removing his whiskers with a straight razor. The contrast between the manly straight razor and the tiny lady’s safety razor is obvious.
I nearly bought a straight razor in the 1980s, but I was prevented from doing so by a fluke. The nearest shopping mall to Covington, Virginia (the town where I lived) was about 65-70 miles away, in Roanoke, Virginia. The mall had a cutlery shop that carried nearly every kind of blade known to man, including a few straight razors. I was ready to buy one of the razors, but I was concerned about using it without slicing my face to shreds. The clerk there tried to reassure me, but he did point out that it took a good bit more time to shave with this kind of blade. And then he ended his lecture with “I wouldn’t try doing this at 5:00 in the morning.”
As it happens, at the time I was writing a book, and my writing habits involved getting up at 5:00 AM, showering and shaving, then working until 8:00 AM, when I had to quit working on the book in order to earn a living. If the clerk had said “I wouldn’t try this at 4:00” I would have most likely purchased the blade then. Unfortunately, he used the precise time I was thinking about using the blade as the one time not to use the blade. And so I let it go.
I mentioned last week that Gillette’s “toxic masculinity” commercial had pushed me over the edge. Proctor and Gamble owns the Gillette brand, so I spent some time during the week finding replacements for P&G products. Unfortunately, Proctor and Gamble purchased my beloved Old Spice from Shulton in 1990, so my association with Old Spice, which has gone on for more than 50 years, has ended. No matter: I’m sure that the Mennen after shaves and deodorant I ordered this week will be more than adequate replacements.
I dug out a shaving scuttle that was given to me as a gift back in the 1980s, a scuttle that has a drawing of the U.S.S. Constitution on its side. I purchased a new, badger hair shaving brush. I bought two strops: one of leather (for putting the finishing edge on the razor); and one of cloth (for cleaning the razor). In addition, I purchased a bottle of “1907” strop dressing. All that was left was to purchase a razor.
Straight razors can get quite expensive, up to $1,000 or more. That was out of my league. I decided against the cheap blades, too. No $25 straight razor for me! I wanted a blade that would hold an edge. I settled on the Dovo 5/8 Olive wood-handled razor. I bought it through The Superior Shave Amazon storefront, and it looks to be a beauty. The razor is manufactured in Germany. The reviews were excellent, and the price, $181.32, assured me that I was getting a quality instrument.
I will try it tonight. Since a shave with a straight razor takes a bit longer than with a safety razor, I figured I should do my shaving in the evenings, at least until I become accustomed to using the razor. My goal is to end the first week of shaving with a straight razor without look as though my face had been shoved through a pane of glass.
Unfortunately, this cannot be taken aboard an airplane, and I do not check bags, if at all possible. I wonder if the 20th Century Limited still runs?