Thursday, September 26, 2002

shave and a haircut

One of the little things I look forward to is my biweekly barbershop maintenance visit. I used to have long hair that I kept in a ponytail, but since last year I've favored this severely cropped look - the equivalent of setting number 1 on the electric razor. Around three days before my scheduled maintenance cut, I let my stubble grow out (normally, I shave every day or every other day if I want to impress a certain "artist" look upon a client for my business). My barber, Raul, is a master of the straight-edge razor and other assorted implements of his craft.

We begin with the haircut. He uses an electric razor for the most part, shaving off the wild excess of hair that two weeks bring. Then he shifts to small scissors for the fine tuning and the straight edge for the patillas on the sides. Then he seeks any stray hairs that dare not conform to the pattern of his cut and trims them down to appropriate length.

Then the shave. He begins by applying some salve on my forehead, cheekbones, nosetip and chin and gives me a gentle massage. Then, he spreads a hot towel on my face, beginning with the area under my nose and chin then wrapping the steaming cloth in an "x" form over my eyes. The heat is striking at first, but the coolness swiftly sets in. He removes it and lathes my face with shaving foam, leaves it for a while to soften the stubble, and wipes it away with another hot towel. Then the shave starts.

The feel of a straight razor against my skin is almost a sinful pleasure. The imagined threat of my barber's hand slipping, the possibility of metal quickly cutting and silently slicing under my skin, the feel of the blade as it scrapes up my throat - these are part of the ritual almost every man goes through and silently enjoys. There is a freedom in submitting yourself to the skill of your barber. In those exquisite moments of exposure, of eyes-closed helplessness, there is a relaxing tension of what could be, what could happen - but doesn't.

The massage afterwards is a gentle dénouement, a whisper of endings, a return to the glare of light and noise.

After I pay at the counter, I head back and slip my barber a little tip, as thanks.

And I leave, shorn and refreshed, a little poorer - as if I left a house on the floating world...

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