A column to make you bristle

In the seventh grade, I snuck into my parent’s bathroom and stole my dad’s razor, too embarrassed to ask for his advice on removing the nearly translucent mustache attaching itself to my upper lip. I went rogue, off the grid, a lone boy taking a stand against the forces of puberty.

Surprised by how smooth the sharp blades felt against my skin, I skipped the shaving cream altogether, running the dry razor up, down and sideways across my face. When I was finished, I placed the razor back where I’d found it, leaving no evidence of my subterfuge, except that the blades were stuffed with enough peach fuzz to insulate Al Gore’s attic.

The operation seemed to have been a success until later that night, at basketball practice, when my face began to feel as if someone was beating it with a flaming cactus. My face had apparently ignited itself on fire to protest the hormonal war raging within, and nothing provided relief except the passage of many painful hours.

I decided right then that the next time I needed to shave, which turned out to be just before the senior prom, I’d use enough shaving cream to bury a silverback gorilla, which is very difficult to do, mostly because they won’t sit still.

After college, I worked for a summer on a dude ranch in Wyoming. On the first day, Bob, the ranch manager, decreed that all male employees had to shave every day.

“You get one warning, and after that, each time I catch you with stubble will cost you $20,” he said. Bob took it upon himself to teach his young employees lessons that he thought would help us upon entering the real world, where people don’t wear chaps to work unless they’re doing something much more interesting than I am.

Incidentally, did you know that the word “chaps” is pronounced “shaps”? That blew my mind when a ranch hand told me that. All my life, I’d been saying it wrong, which means I’d said it wrong maybe three times. Apparently, their name is derived from their inventor, Dave Chappelle.

Bob forced us to introduce ourselves by our full names at all times, a habit I still haven’t kicked a decade later, mostly because it only costs me an occasional syllable. But his most important lesson came at the end of our staff meeting on that first day.

“The four dirtiest words you can say on this ranch are…” he said, and we all leaned in closer. I thought it was a nice touch to end our first staff meeting with a cowboy-style George Carlin routine.

“That’s not my job,” he continued. “I’d rather hear you say any foul words you can string together than ‘that’s not my job.’ It’s your job to do what needs doing.”

Bob’s lessons might still come in handy for today’s potential entrants to the real world, if the real world hadn’t closed down sometime in late 2007.

Anyway, I still hadn’t worked out a system for avoiding razor burn at that point, so I spent the majority of that summer looking like I’d just been hugging a wolverine that turned on me.

I’m still using the triple-bladed razor I used back then, which is the only thing besides the Internet and the Slap Chop that’s been invented in my lifetime. Dad had a double-bladed razor. Grandpa’s only had one blade. By the time my son Evan starts shaving, he’ll probably just lay a washboard-size razor on the floor and drag his face across it. The new Schick Centipede: One hundred blades so she can get one hundred times closer, if your face is still there.

You can work Mike Todd into a lather at mikectodd@gmail.com.

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