Thursday, June 10, 2021

Men Waiting for a Shave Is a Barber Queue

I hate shaving.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

And I don't know why. It's not like it is that difficult, but I put off doing it as long as I can.

I've done this for many years. Once I shaved, I would not shave again until the itching on my face was driving me crazy and I just couldn't stand it anymore. Then, I would shave. But only because I had to for my sanity.

Because I would often go two weeks (or sometimes even longer) between shaves, the crappy little disposable razors just didn't do the trick.


I didn't break them like Bill Duke did in Predator, but I did destroy them very quickly. When you are harboring two weeks worth of uncontrolled undergrowth on your face, that tiny little cheap blade can't handle it. After pulling it barely a quarter-inch down your face shag, the underside is already clogged and it just slides across the top of your cheek growth.

To make any progress, I had to take tiny little swipes and thoroughly rinse after every two or three attempts. The difference on my face would be barely noticeable and it could take 20 minutes to do just one cheek. Plus, by then, the blade was shot and it was time to change razors. I would go through two to four razors every time.

Eventually, I decided to upgrade and purchased my first big boy razor.

Woohoo! Four blades.

I saw an immediate improvement. I could shave a little faster, but I still had to be careful to not shave too much before cleaning out the blades. Once the spaces between the blades get packed with stubble, they were useless. IF I took care to protect the blades, I was sometimes able to shave three separate days before I had to put a new blade cartridge in. This was a much better experience, but those cartridges were four to six dollars apiece. So, quite often, (as much as I hated it) I tried to shave more often. Twice a week seemed to greatly extend the life of my blades. But I complained loudly every time I had to do it.

Puberty still sucks even years later. I've seriously considered getting electrolysis on my face. Have I said I hate shaving?

One day six years ago, I saw an ad for a barbershop that does shaves. I don't know why this had never occurred to me before. Let someone else do it! It was for Red's Classic Barbershop in Indianapolis (where I lived at the time). Which, coincidentally, was probably why I saw the ad.

Someone else shaving me?
Yes, please.

I jumped at this opportunity. I raced over and got a professional shave for the first time in my life. It was awesome, but it was not cheap. I was not going to pay for this service every couple of weeks. However, I was sold on the concept of a straight razor after this and went a little crazy. I bought a razor, shaving brush, special shaving lather gel and a few other accessories. My trip downtown to get a shave turned into a $300 expense. 

The best part was the quality and function of the blade. An unencumbered straight razor is typically pretty laid-back about how long it has been since your last shave. And with no crevices around the blade for little hairs to clog up, it shaves much faster. One long swipe down the cheek removes hair from the entire area. No more little pecks with an inferior blade for me. I was set for life.

Until I went to use it for the first time a week later.

As it turns out, the totally exposed, uber-honed blade with the sharpened end tapered down to barely the width of a single atom must be used quite delicately. And with a very steady hand.

With time, I got better. However, after several near-fatal mishaps I learned to always inform my wife I was shaving so she wouldn't suddenly yell out "THE PIZZA'S HERE!" 

Sudden and unexpected outbursts tend to make people jump. And when I am already understandably nervous about having the miniature, home-version of a samurai sword at my jugular, these outbursts would cause significantly more than a flinch from me.

So, shaving time became household quiet time. We silenced the phones, muted the TV and she would sit in a comfortable chair until I give the all-clear. The routine worked for us for several years.

Since then, we have moved to Vietnam. The land of the discount everything

The high prices in Indianapolis that kept me from letting someone else shave me don't exist here. Now, I head out to a barbershop every Wednesday morning to get a shave. I will happily let someone else do it when it only costs 20,000 đồng ($0.90). But it is a bit of a different experience. Correction. A radically different experience.

Here, there is no hot towel and face cream treatment like at the fancy shop I visited in the States. It's also not a nice retro place downtown with drinks and a waiting area. It's a dry shave in a dimly-lit building similar to what Americans might call a 'backyard murder-shack'.

Of the four places I frequent for my weekly treatment, two of them have dirt floors. One has no electricity. Three of them have no running water on site and none of them have a professionally-trained, certified barber. Here, if you want to open a business, you just do it. To be a barber, you need a pair of scissors and something for your customer to sit on. That's it.

For the last few weeks, my favorite barber has had a teenage kid (he looks about 14) hanging around in his little murder-shack barber shed. Often when I am in there, the kid (the barber's son, I assume) is sitting in the corner taking apart a set of clippers and putting it back together. He pulls out plastic chairs for waiting customers to sit in despite there being room for no more than three people in the tiny shack. He also makes sure the front door stays shut to prevent wandering water buffalo from trying to push their way in.

Last week, I figured out that the boy is apparently in training to do what his father does. Learn the trade and start cutting hair. (I have to assume everything since we speak different languages. I can't ask any questions, so I just have to observe and guess. I'm wrong a lot.) I sat in the chair as the barber stepped outside with his previous customer to collect money and have a cigarette. Once I was seated, the boy rested my seat back and started putting the foam on my face.

My mind started racing. Did I want this child shaving me? Those straight razors are deadly. I barely trust myself with those death blades at my throat and I love me more than anyone. But the father(?) soon came back in and took over.

This week, the same thing happened. I was much more relaxed, but dad(?) did not come back in this time. The boy whipped out the blade and started to work in front of my right ear.

I understand that an apprentice has to start doing the real thing eventually. That's how he's going to learn. And from a business and local-credibility standpoint, it probably makes sense to have him practice on the foreigner in case of a mishap. I just wish it wasn't me.

The boy moved very slowly. He didn't take any long swipes and he did the same area a few times. I assume to be sure to get all the hair. After he finished one cheek, he moved to the other. By now, dad(?) was standing over me and watching. He gave a few words now and then. After he finished my left cheek, he handed the razor over to his father (I am still not sure of their relationship). Dad ran his fingers over my cheeks and gave a nod of approval to the boy. Then, Dad went to work on the more complicated contours of my face. Under the nose. Around the lips. The curves of the jawline and chin.

It all worked out. I didn't get a single nick.

When it was finished, the boy jumped back in with a towel to clean me up. I got up and paid the barber his 20,000 đồng and then turned back to the kid and held out another 20,000. He looked confused and shook his head while pointing to his father. I assume he was saying, "No, no. Pay him."

I pushed the money closer to him and he looked around me to his father. Dad gave a quick nod which allowed the boy to take the money. I ran my fingers over the sides of my face and gave him a thumbs up. He now understood. I was actually paying him for his service. A huge smile broke out on his face. He jumped up and gave the polite bow that is common in this part of the world. I turned around to leave and his father was beaming. He gave me a subtle wink as I left.

I think I made that kid's day.

When I go back next time, I think I'll try to swallow my fear and convince Dad to let the kid do it all.


  1. I bet your thick beard is good practice for an apprentice. (As compared to the typically sparse local facial hair.)

    1. That's probably true. The little wisps here could just be yanked out.

  2. Of course, you could just grow a beard. I sometimes wonder if that's why my brother went full beard. Of course, it could also be the scar he has on his chin from a biking accident...

    1. No, I can't. That is part of the whole 'hair on my face driving me crazy' thing. It gets so itchy, I just can't stand it. It has to come off. I can do about 10 days growth and I'm done.

  3. I landed on your blog via Red's Doesn't Speak Klingon.
    I really enjoyed reading this one.
    Here in India we have a wide variety of barber shops. From the luxurious ones in the cities to the rundown ones in small towns.
    I used to shave everyday, until September of last year.
    One day that month, there was an emergency at my home, because of which I had to leave home early in the morning, and I couldn't shave.
    Then I thought: Let me see how the beard grows. It's been a long time.
    It's predominantly grey around the chin.
    Anyway with the mask on, even if the beard isn't good, no one will see!
    I have been thinking of going back to shaving daily.
    Then I thought I will wait till September. It will be one year on.

    1. I will do my best to never be in a position where I have to shave every day.

  4. The ending turned into a really beautiful story. Like, if this were condensed a bit, it'd be the perfect first page of a book. I'd want to read more. I have no idea what would come next, but just from paying the boy and the dad(?) I know I'm going to enjoy whatever comes next.
    And yeah, I know this is non-fiction.
    I'm just sayin, you've got a strong opening page for something hiding here.

    Thank you for visiting me back in April.
    I have a reason you might consider stopping by again.


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