The Razor’s Edge

Woody Boyd: Most of my furniture comes from the interior of cars. I got to be careful when I shave, ‘cause objects may be closer than they appear.

Cheers, “Rebecca Redux” (10/4/1990)


I have two methods of shaving: either using a rechargeable electric shaver in the car (at traffic lights; I’m no fool), or while I’m in the shower.

In both cases, I don’t use shaving cream. You don’t do that with an electric shaver, of course. And when you’re in the shower, if you wait until the end, then the hot water and steamy air has saturated your beard enough that you don’t need it in the shower, either.

But this story, oddly enough, isn’t really about me. It’s about my grandfather.

Click the pic to see an earlier post about this.My grandfather was a greenskeeper, one of the guys who takes care of golf courses. They get up very early in the morning. In my grandfather’s case, that was at roughly 4:00 every day, even on the days he didn’t have to work. He’d go out front and get the newspaper. Occasionally this meant waiting a few minutes for it to come flying out of the passing car that delivered them. He’d take the newspaper inside and open it up to the comics section first. “Always read the funnies first,” he’d say. “The rest of the news is so miserable that you should start your day with a laugh.” That’s advice I took to heart, incidentally. He’d read the paper and eat his breakfast, which was invariably a bowl of Special K cereal. I don’t know why he liked that cereal so much, but I do know that he was kind of bummed when they changed the shape of the flake. And then, off to work he’d go. .

But this story isn’t about my grandfather’s morning routine. Not exactly.

The point is, he had a job which required him to be out on the links around 5:30 or so in the morning, ensuring that the grass got watered, that the greens were trimmed (greens are done every day; tees and fairways less often), that the sand traps were raked, and so on. The course had to be ready to go when the first golfers arrived. So the only people that my grandfather typically saw were his co-workers, and the occasional early riser whose house backed on the course. He didn’t have to look good for anybody, so he didn’t bother shaving his face every day. Once every three or four days usually did the trick.

The handle is tough to find nowadays. The blades can be found in movies as a sign of impending suicide. I guess it was because he did it relatively seldom, but my grandfather made a real ritual out of shaving. He had a shaving brush, but he also liked to use aerosol shave cream (Barbasol, specifically). He also used a safety razor, the old style where you twisted the bottom and it made the top open up, and it held a single blade that was sharpened on both sides. He’d remove the blade from a piece of tissue paper in which he’d stored it, and put it into the razor handle. Then he’d wash his face and apply the lather, keeping it shallow but really working it into that three- or four-days’-worth of beard growth.

As I recall, he made two passes with the razor. First he would go “with the grain”, essentially shaving downward on each stroke. Then for certain spots he’d reverse and go “against the grain”. But “with” always came first. If he cut himself (rare), he’d use a styptic pencil rather than the bits of toilet paper you see occasionally in older movies or TV shows. Styptic pencils are tough to explain, but if you have a pet whose nails have been trimmed a little too deeply, and you’ve seen the groomer dip the nail into that powder? Same stuff. Finish up, wash the face again and then rinse and dry off the razor and the blade thoroughly. Then, he’d wrap the blade back up in the tissue paper. This whole bit took almost twenty minutes.

Now, here’s the part that I presume belongs uniquely to him, but let me give you a little bit of backstory: my grandfather liked esoteric bits of information. Shortly after he and my grandmother moved to Florida, the St. Petersburg Times printed a map of the state with the different counties outlined. He took the time to count them and then cut the map out of the newspaper and stuck it to the refrigerator. For years—I’m talking at least fifteen years—I’d walk past the fridge and get a reminder that Florida has 67 counties. (Go look it up.) Why was he interested in that fact? I have no idea. But there it was, stuck to that Avocado Green fridge.

So the last detail my grandfather would do before he put everything away was, he’d take a pen and mark the tissue paper with a tally mark, indicating another use of the blade. For whatever reason, he got into a habit years earlier of counting how many shaves he got out of a blade, and it stayed with him until the end. For the most part, he’d get about a dozen shaves out of a blade before it got dull and started irritating him. Often he’d get more.

Of course, it's a cheap joke. Related story: when my uncle—the same grandfather’s son—got married, his father-in-law was a career Navy officer. So his approach to shaving was a little different. Get in, get it done quickly, get it done well and get the hell out. What’s more, as a career officer he had to shave every single day. Needless to say, his razor blades didn’t last as long as my grandfather’s did. Every once in awhile, at family gatherings, these two fathers-in-law (is there a word for their relationship to one another?) would chit-chat, and, as my grandfather’s story goes, they got to talking about their shaving habits. As you do, I guess, when the alcohol starts flowing. My grandfather mentioned that he keeps track of the number of shaves he gets out of a blade, and cited some number of shaves that he usually gets. “It was bad enough when I told him that a lot of times I get 20 shaves,” he said, “but when I told him that I once got 83…”

“Eighty-three!” I said.

“Yeah, one time I got eighty-three shaves from a single blade. So when I said that to Carl, he didn’t say anything. He just looked at me and—” and it was at this that he pantomimed Carl, putting his hand to his forehead. Not smacking himself but rather just raising the hand and placing it there, as if testing to see if his head was about to explode. “Of course, he wasn’t going to get that many, because he had to shave e
very day. But every now and again, we’d compare notes. But I’ll never forget him putting his hand up to his head"—and here, he pantomimed it again—“because he couldn’t believe that number.”