When a man doesn’t shave, it is often interpreted as signifying one of two things: either he’s cool, and beard growth is part of his cool look- or else he’s having a hard time- he’s down and out, unemployed, addicted to drugs, alcoholic, God knows what, something questionable…
Regarding the first thing, being cool- I am not cool, I don’t try to be cool, and I consciously avoid doing anything that might lead people to think I actually am cool, or that might lead people to think that I myself think I’m cool, or I’m trying to pass as cool, and I’m not cool, but maybe after all I am cool, but it’s kind of like a super cool obscure type of cool… basically I don’t want to have anything at all to do with cool. Me and cool have no kind of relationship with one another and we never have.
Regarding the second thing, beard growth suggesting you’re a guy on the skids- well there definitely are times when I am indeed on the skids, for example there are times when I drink way too much, and every now and then I get downright depressed, whether or not I’m on the vino or the suds. Can’t the same be said about any man out there? Sometimes life is hard. Nevertheless I’m not what you would call an out and out loser or bum, so I don’t want people to mistake me for one. The point of all this is that based on who I am, or in any case who and what I’m trying to be, and how I’d like to be treated and accepted by society, I need to shave. So shaving is for me one of those everyday questions in life and I’m sure it’s the same for most of you, except perhaps for the cool people, the junkies and the bums, as noted above, but I don’t care about any of the lame individuals belonging to any of these three groups.
For some time I was traveling on a pretty frequent basis. I noticed with regard to canned shaving cream, the cans were either really big and heavy, or they came in those small travel size containers which would hold who knows exactly how much foam- enough for 3 shaves? How about 4? What if you’re in a foreign land and you run out? I don’t like being unprepared and so those small travel size cans of shaving cream whose “servings per container” information was totally missing- those cans just weren’t for me, in spite of the fact that in principle they were quite portable. At the same time I try to be practical, which means I don’t want to lug around a big heavy can of cream which contains way more product in it than I actually need. So between the very small travel size cans and the really big heavy cans I was stuck. Besides, what if the can explodes in your suitcase?
At one point when I was in Hong Kong I found a strange product I’d never seen before which was like a tube of gel, almost like K-Y lube, but with a light blue color. Imagine if Johnson & Johnson sold K-Y lube but with a red color to it- this would be really weird and I know it wouldn’t do very well. Anyway I’m not talking about the Gillette gel that comes out of a can, I mean a clear blue gel, non-pressurized, coming out of a plastic container, a plastic container shaped sort of like a tooth paste tube, with its own flip top. I was intrigued so I went ahead and purchased it. The product worked OK, but there were some problems (FYI, what I’m discussing here is the clear blue shaving gel, not the K-Y, which was just a minor tangent). First of all it was pretty expensive, and I am a serious value shopper. I do not like spending more money than I have to spend! I really mean this- being economical is hugely important to me, it’s a matter of principle. I feel happy when I find value, and I feel suckered, like a fool, when I know that I’ve wasted money. And this stuff was just a little too expensive. The second problem was that it didn’t come in a travel size, and I wasn’t interested in packing a large tube of this heavy gel stuff in my suitcase, especially for short trips. I tried finding a solution- I purchased a very small plastic bottle with a secure screw top and I squeezed some of the blue gel product into that little plastic bottle, which I took with me when I went traveling. This solution was not ideal; first of all I was never sure how airport security would respond to this suspicious looking unlabelled plastic bottle with light blue clear gel in it. Would airport security think that it’s something questionable, possibly dangerous? Would the little plastic bottle of blue gel exceed the limits set by the airports, the limits on how many milliliters of liquids or gels you’re allowed to bring with you in your toiletry bag? What are those limits anyway, and do they vary from airport to airport, or country to country? Another issue was that this whole system with the little plastic bottle required ongoing maintenance. If I took a short trip, and only shaved two or three times, well yes I’d used up some of the gel, and the little plastic travel bottle was no longer full up; should I top it off so that it’s filled to the rim again, 100%, and ready to go for the next trip? Should I top it off now, after I’d just returned from a trip? Or should I top it off right before I leave for my next trip? When actually will my next trip be? Would the product inside this little travel bottle actually last, or would it dry up and go bad? After all, it was living in this new foreign plastic bottle, and not in its familiar, original, native blue gel home. The questions never ended, the whole thing became a goddamn nuisance and I gradually cooled off on the setup. I went on searching for an inexpensive and practical solution to shaving cream/gel. Again, the goals were: low volume, low weight, low price, and sufficient quantity for many many shaves.
Then one day I was in London, in a big drugstore chain called Boots. I saw a strange product unlike any I’d ever seen before: it was called a “Shave Stick.” “What in the name of God is a shave stick” I asked myself. Is this what a guy uses when he cuts himself shaving? He rubs this stick on the cut, so the cut stops bleeding? Aren’t those supposed to be like little pencils, thinner and smaller than this “Shave Stick”? I was intrigued. The packaging said nothing, but I had a hunch that it must be some form of shaving cream product, not the kind of shave stick you rub on wounds to stop blood, pus and what have you. I went ahead and purchased it. It cost me £1.55. If you’re an American and you just estimated what that would come out to in dollars, really don’t bother. You just need to take my word for it that even though the pound is substantially stronger than the dollar, nevertheless, £1.55 is precious little money in London. One single trip on the subway, what they call the tube here, costs £4.00, that would be about $6.25. In London, £1.55 is absolutely nothing. Anyway, the next time I had to shave I was quite excited. What was this “Boots Shave Stick” all about, and how would it play out?
At that time I was shaving with a Gillette Sensor Excel razor. A Sensor Excel cartridge has 2 blades in it, not the 3, 4 or 5 blades that the newer cartridges have today. The reason I was still using the Sensor Excel cartridges rather than upgrading to these newer and fancier systems was that I felt the Sensor Excel cartridges were already very expensive, and I hated buying them (I told you I’m a value shopper). Furthermore, in actually using the Sensor Excel, I felt I was cursed. I often got razor rash and irritation on my neck, even if the blade was new, and even if I was using some expensive canned gel promising “extra protection” for “sensitive skin,” etc. Also, there was the ongoing question of how many times I should use each cartridge before throwing it out- when I threw out a cartridge too early, I felt I was indulging myself unnecessarily and acting spoiled. If I used a cartridge too long then the shaves got progressively worse and I felt terrible because I had the sense that I was being cheap and even mean to myself. I couldn’t win. Given all that, I had no interest in upgrading to newer products, which cost even more than the Excels, and I believe some of them even require batteries, which is both obscene and absurd. Let’s put it this way, I never once tried anything beyond a Sensor Excel and I never wanted to- the Sensor Excels were already too expensive for me and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how it could possibly be worth it to spend even more.
Gillette’s former CEO, Jim Kilts, didn’t just earn a very high salary as the CEO of a big American company- he also received a $165 million golden parachute on his way out. $165 million- that’s an awful lot of disposable multi-blade cartridges. This was after Kilts had brokered the sale of Gillette to P&G, which resulted in countless layoffs and plant closures.
Back to the story- now I’ve got this new “Shave Stick” from Boots, the English drugstore chain, and I’m getting ready to shave with it using my old Sensor Excel. I open it up and it’s like a big thing of lipstick, or like a glue stick- the product inside is waxy, white and hard, like the stub of a candle. It was clear I wouldn’t be able to just wipe it on my face and start shaving, because it was quite solid and not at all spreadable. So I wet my face, and I then rubbed the tip of this stick on my face where my beard was. Imagine wetting your face and then taking a bar of soap, and rubbing that bar of soap directly on the skin on your face. This was the same idea, what I was doing with the Boots Shave Stick. After rubbing the Shave Stick on my wet face I put the Shave Stick down and then, with one hand, rubbed the product into my skin. It kind of got a little bit sudsy (at the time I didn’t have a shaving brush and it had never occurred to me to go out and buy one). Then I shaved, with the Gillette Sensor Excel. I was pretty amazed, because it seemed like I was getting a good shave, better than I was getting before with the canned foams and gels. However, there was one problem- while I was shaving, the product would really gum up and jam the Sensor Excel blades- that was a nuisance. With hot enough water- the water had to be really super hot- the waxy white substance would dissolve and leave the blades of the Sensor Excel cartridge- but if the water wasn’t hot enough, that white stuff would just stubbornly remain in the Excel’s blades, jamming up the whole thing. However, I was so excited about the possible advantages of this Shave Stick that I didn’t pay very much attention to this razor jamming problem. In any case I figured I’d be able to come up with a solution over time. What was most important to me was that I had found something that seemed to be ideal in many ways. This product was super concentrated and dense so it would last for months or more. You hardly used up any of it when you rubbed it on your wet face; you’d never have to worry about running out of product while on a trip; and at the same time it was incredibly compact, taking up barely any room at all- and it was lightweight. Since it wasn’t a liquid or a gel, the airport security wouldn’t get all uptight. Finally, it helped give me a good shave. An amazing discovery, I thought, this strange “Shave Stick.”
The next couple of times I shaved, I had the same issue- the Sensor Excel blades would get totally gummed up with the white product, and I’d have to run lots and lots of hot water on to the disposable cartridge just to clean it out. I didn’t like running all that hot water because it’s kind of wasteful, not just in terms of money but also in terms of the environment, the water, the energy, all that depressing Inconvenient Truth stuff. I noticed that this problem was more severe when I had rubbed a lot of the Shave Stick product onto my face; also, if I took my time shaving, then, while shaving, the product would get harder, and sort of dry on my face, right there on my skin- not exactly dry but get thicker and more cakey. This really gummed up the blades. Remember, in its natural state, this product was a solid, a hard stick- thus, it made sense that after a couple of minutes, as the water on your skin evaporated, the product itself- what you had rubbed onto your skin- would get kind of solid too, or at least thicker. I wasn’t yet sure what I needed to do about this, but I noticed that if I used my hand to reapply water onto that portion of my face where I was about to shave, the product got thinner and slippery, and would wash out of the Sensor Excel razor much better. Later on, I learned I was doing so much wrong- you’ve got to whip up a lather!!! You’ve got to apply a thin film of the stick product onto your face, then whip it up into a luscious creamy lather using a brush- a luscious creamy lather that does rinse out of the blade. At the time though I was just groping around in the dark- wait, that sounds almost erotic- look, I don’t know what the proper expression is here, what I’m trying to say is I had no idea what in the name of the Lord I was doing. I didn’t have any brush, I didn’t even know that these brushes existed, I just had a powerful Boots Shave Stick and a Gillette Sensor Excel, nothing else.
I was so excited about this new Boots Shave Stick product that I basically flipped out. British technology at its absolute best. Had this mysterious stick product been developed for James Bond Agent 007 by Q and his ingenious team of gadget creating freaks? I started telling friends about this product. I told a Greek woman, an Italian guy, my best friend from Cyprus, a German I had just gotten to know- lots of people. I went to a Boots store in order to buy a whole supply of these Shave Sticks. They were £1.55 each, so I planned on buying about 10 for myself, and maybe a couple more to give to friends, as gifts, for Christmas maybe. Little did I know, in my unbelievable enthusiasm and excitement, that my own DE shaving journey was only just beginning, or about to begin.
So I went back to Boots, to score a crateful of these magic joy sticks- but the store I went to didn’t have any of the Boots Shave Sticks on hand. I went to another Boots, no luck, in fact they didn’t even know what I was talking about. I went online, to the Boots website, and when I did a search for the Shave Stick and the results came up, I was shocked and dismayed. This amazing product, which worked well, which was value priced, which was compact, long lasting, which met all of my various requirements- this product had been discontinued.
The first thing I thought about doing was running around London, from Boots store to Boots store, trying to find whatever remaining units the various stores might have left on hand. The thing is, I had already gone to two of the biggest Boots stores I knew of, and neither of them carried it, including the same store where I had first discovered this lovely product. I then thought to myself, there must be some insiders out there who know about this incredible product- maybe they’re hoarding some, but they’d be willing to share a couple of units with a fellow Shave Stick freak like me at the right price (way more than £1.55). I was prepared to pay anything. I believe that economists refer to this as “inelastic demand.” In fact, knowing that the product was suddenly discontinued actually intensified my Shave Stick fervor. The one Shave Stick I had suddenly felt so much more precious than it did before, during those innocent days when I mistakenly believed it would always be readily available.
Desperate, I went online and did some research. With the internet it’s often possible to find that rare, unusual, sought after item. I looked for it on eBay; nobody was selling it on eBay. This was going to be harder than I first thought, scoring more of this mystical stick.
Then I found a strange website called “Badger and Blade.”
I’m going to repeat that, because this was a major turning point.
Then I found a strange website called “Badger and Blade.”
On this “Badger and Blade” website, people apparently were discussing this exact same product that I was searching for, this amazing thing that I was so desperate to find, the Boots Shave Stick. Someone on the website had posted a bizarre, blurry looking photo of the product in question- this seemed to confirm that these people were in fact discussing the same thing, the incredible Boots Shave Stick, that I was trying to find. However, what was totally confusing to me, was that these people- these strangers- these monsters perhaps- were making the following vicious comments about this magical wonder product:
“Fair quality product”
“Lather not quite the quality of top end soaps/creams but at a fraction of the price you can’t really expect that”
“moisturizing: this is where it fails, left my skin feeling dry and tight”
“overall, not something I’d use at home”
“not the best quality soap I have tried but very good for the price”
“lather seems a bit flat compared to high end soaps but it does the job”
“unfortunately it doesn’t provide enough cushioning to use with most double edge razors- with a mild razor and forgiving blades, it performed well but anything else was prone to nick me where other soaps would give an effortless blood-free shave”
What? “Fair quality,” “where it fails,” “not something I’d use at home,” “not the best quality,” “a bit flat,” “unfortunately”… were these people on crack? This Shave Stick was the best thing anyone ever invented for shaving.
Dazed and confused, I started exploring other pages on this huge sprawling Badger and Blade website. Using this Badge and Blade website as a starting point, I began undertaking a massive research project to try to understand more about this strange new world, of shaving “soaps.” I hadn’t known that shaving “soaps” existed, I only knew about canned foam, canned gels and that K-Y crap I’d purchased in Hong Kong. I also learned about various shaving accessories I’d never seen or heard of before- double edged razors, also called DE razors, which looked pretty retro; strange furry brushes, made from animals called “badgers.” I believe that American citizens from the largely unexplored and uncharted Midwestern wilderness regions of North America have a strange fixation on badgers, especially those coming from a cold wooded region called Wisconsin. On the Badger and Blade website I also saw menacing images of those old fashioned looking, big, folding, straight edge razors, like what you see in horror movies and nightmares, or on HBO’s Deadwood series when a guy in a small gold rush town gets a shave at the local barber’s. On the Badger and Blade website I saw all sorts of things. I had discovered a whole new world, the world of “wet shaving,” “traditional shaving,” or “double edge,” DE shaving. The world of DE shaving began to unfold.