Keith Snyder
Door always open.

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Back in time

Nothing focuses the mind like a blade to the throat.

In some alternate history, I'm a fantasy writer, and that's the first line of an epic about a lone wolf elf. In our actual alternate history, I've taken up shaving with a straight razor.

"And why are you doing this?"

A friend asked that question, and another friend answered: Doesn't it just seem like something we should do?

When I was nineteen or twenty and thought I knew what "broke" meant, I got a Mach-3 razor in the mail. Free razor! Cool. So I used it. I was living in Van Nuys, I think, which put me in some sort of marketing region, and there was a followup phone call by some guy in a boiler room, though I didn't know what a boiler room was and assumed he was calling from Gillette and knew something about shaving. He had a series of questions.

So did I.

"Do you strike the razor against any hard object while shaving?"

"Oh, am I supposed to do that?"

I left home when I was seventeen. Never got any real shaving instruction.

"Do some people do that? Why do they do that?"

The guy sounded like he wished he'd drawn a different phone number to call and stuck grimly to his script. I got the picture and just answered his questions yes or no, and then I used the free razor for another twenty years. Because... why wouldn't you? Free razor!


Mac was sitting on the toilet seat last week, watching me shave with a straight blade. He's a total goofball, but he takes after me in other ways too. We can both focus. I shaved. He watched.

"You're getting much better with your new razor, Daddy."

"Thank you, sweetheart."


Why you shouldn't use the free razor for another twenty years is mindfulness, ritual, and aesthetic. I was once told by a drunken upstairs neighbor in Brooklyn: You don't understand aesthetics. I know she's a singer and you're a writer, but...

His voice sort of lost its core somewhere around "singer." It's a hard pair of sentences to really sell.

The reason he was telling me this is he didn't like my asking him again to stop already with using a hose instead of a broom on his entryway because water poured into our living room. Just like it had the last time. As I recall, he did some sort of office work and it wasn't just his day job--there was no night avocation--but he and his partner were aesthetes, and anyone who wasn't slim and who objected to his hose wasn't.

I'm tempted to say "That's not aesthetics," but it is. I'm sure his apartment gave him great pleasure.


The black plastic sample canisters have white P-Touch labels that say Taylor Sandalwood, Culmak, Tabac, Durance L'ome, Mitchell's Wool Fat. The scents are pleasing and masculine. The lather is hot. I'm not convinced the pre-shave oil does much for my skin or whiskers, but it's a sweet lemon note just prior to the barber's spice and sandalwood. The aftershave is mostly clove. It fades to nothing in about two minutes, so get smelled by somebody quick.

The leather strop doesn't have a good home yet. I'll need to drive a hook. I had to look up strops when I wrote Carter getting ambushed while shaving in THE NIGHT MEN. A tarnished knight in a V-neck in a bygone era, about to save a child from the clutches of evil in another few chapters. Black and white, side-lit. Fedora on the bedpost.

Like he'd use a Bic?

Yes, sweetheart, I am getting better with it. Thank you.


Mach-3 cartridges are $17.99 for eight cartridges and they're bad for the environment.

I don't actually care. I also don't care that bicycle commuting reduces carbon emissions and saves money on car maintenance. Why do people proselytizing for these causes always harp on the stuff that everyone says they agree with but nobody's moved by?

Bicycle commuting--dude, you get to RIDE YOUR BIKE! Puddles! Dogs! Races! Sky! River! Wind! High energy for the rest of the day! Bicycle commuting is FUN! Remember fun? But will the brochures and websites ever say so? Hell no, they're too busy beating their little cause drums and pushing the wrong thing. Environment, please. If we really cared about that as a species, we'd already be acting differently. We care about fun.

A shifting series of pleasing scents and sensations, mastery of a blade skill, the singular sound of edge meeting whiskers, you know the one, the width and cleanness of the shaved strip, no dots of shaving cream hanging on the face. Bragging rights, masculine ritual. East and West meet in wetshaving: It's meditative and contemplative and you get to be Gary Cooper every morning. Nothing focuses the mind like a blade to the throat.

That's why not to use the free razor.


The most common response from other men? "Oh man, I want to do that..."


The Mach-3 is still in the bathroom, but I haven't touched it in months. Right now I'm at the same stage with the straight razor as I was with the safety razor in October or so: I'm using it for most of the shave and then finishing up with the one I'm leaving behind. Give it another month or two.

The past still contains treasures. Here's one.

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