Love Is All Around

Tonight the ReplayTV went into self-maintenance mode right in the middle of the Simpsons, so we switched over to the dish and caught the last half of one of our favorite recent movies, “Love, Actually”.

When this first hit the theaters I saw the preview and went “nahhhhhh”, but some rough, tough NBC crew guys who’re so manly they kind of scare me to be quite honest told me it was actually very good, so I said what the hell and Netflixed it, and now we must’ve watched it ten times.

Actually, love has been on my mind lately as I think about online communities and how they uncannily mimic real social networks. I really love that about them. It’s a wonderful thing to behold.

I love that guys who think nothing of throwing libelous, scurrilous tantrums on forums about how this shaving brush company betrayed that retailer, when what it really boils down to is that the company decided to choose a different retailer as the sole US source, one whom the tantrum thrower has had a longtime feud with, nonetheless take great offense when criticized themselves.

I really love that.

I love that guys who think nothing of tracing an anonymous poster’s computer to “out” him just because he disagreed with them, and then kill the thread when others start to complain about freedom of speech, spend the rest of their time talking about fun, brotherhood, and all things gentlemanly.

I really, really love that.

I love that guys who think nothing of making fun of a certain self-proclaimed shaving guru for promoting his own “method” of shaving can be so shocked and appalled when someone makes fun of them.

Sigh. Head over heels — that’s me!

I love how beta-monkeys screech and flare their nostrils as they cower behind the spoor of the loudest, most bullying chimp — as any anthropologist will tell you, this is a sign of a healthy community.

And what’s not to love about that?

If “Love, Actually” teaches us anything, it’s that yes, love really is all around us. All you have to do is open your nostrils and let it in.

Oh, and today’s shave: Merkur HD razor, Vulfix #2235 brush, Taylor’s rose cream. Wet hands so I dropped the tub of Taylor’s on the bathroom floor, cracking open the outer plastic shell. Remembered I’d squirrelled away an empty outer shell from a spent Taylor’s avocado tub, for god knows what reason. Swapped out the shells (most of the English shaving creams have a soft plastic insert that’s like a bowl within a bowl, and a hard plastic outer shell that’s what you see as the tub. You can crack the shell and the cream won’t leak, because the insert will usually be fine). Breathing returned to normal. All was well. Still absolutely positive I’m not a shavegeek.

What is a Shavegeek?

I sling the term “shavegeek” around a lot, and I realize that some readers, unaware of the confederacy of dunces what am the online shaving forum elite, might think that I’m making fun of anyone who takes extra care in the way he or she shaves.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have the utmost respect for those wise and kind experts who, on the MSN Wetshavers discussion board, helped me get a grip on shaving with an old-school safety razor. These true gentlemen were a godsend to a DE newbie like me. Thank you: Gordon, Harry, and all the other good eggs who contributed so much to my understanding of this very different kind of shaving, and helped me in putting together the shaving segment on the Today Show which in turn helped so many other guys discover a better alternative to a Mach3 and a can of pressurized goo.

And I’m in stark, raving awe of the guys who hang around the straight razor forums like Straight Razor Place. Webmaster Lynn Abrams’s how-to video is an underground classic, and did much to help me get my knees to stop knocking long enough that I could try it myself (still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it, but thanks for the video, Lynn). These guys scrape their faces with knives every morning — they’re the He-Men of wetshaving, and I’m unfit to launder their barber towels.

Do you like to shave? You’re not a shavegeek. Do you like thinking about shaving? You’re not a shavegeek. Do you frequent online shaving forums looking for tips on what products to buy and how best to use them? You’re not a shavegeek. Do you frequent online shaving forums and help newbies sort all of this stuff out? You’re not a shavegeek. In fact, you’re a great guy.

No, when I refer to shavegeeks, I’m talking instead about a certain breed of online shaving fanatic. The kind of boorish, obnoxious, reactionary, clueless, arrogant, tacky, aggressive, irresponsible, childish, churlish, cowardly, lying, petty, small-minded, bitter, paranoid, ugly, stinky, poopy, doo-doo head that seems to populate most every online discussion group involving male hobbies, of which wetshaving somehow — incredibly, given its longtime status as the most loathed of the three sh___s you do every morning — has become.

At the risk of getting all Foxworthy on you, here are the Shavegeek warning signs:

1. You have more than five different shaving creams, and every morning you stand there and can’t decide which one to use.

2. See above, except substitute razors for shaving creams.

3. See above, except substitute shaving brushes for razors.

4. See above, except substitute blades for shaving brushes.

5. See above, except substitute aftershaves for blades.

6. See above, except substitute colognes for aftershaves.

7. See above, except substitute underpants for colognes.

8. See above, except substitute multiple personalities, all of them damaged, for underpants.

9. See above, except substitute fantasy scenarios involving a much less pear-shaped you and a woman wearing a bikini and high heels who’s lying on the hood of a black Porsche 911 and holding a bottle of tequila aloft — basically all of the elements (minus the less pear-shaped you) in the poster you bought at Spencer’s Gifts at the mall and which you’ve thumbtacked on the wall in your bedroom — for multiple personalities, all of them damaged.

10. See above, except substitute creeping feelings that despite the five razors and five brushes and five creams and five aftershaves and five underpants, your shaves are actually worse now than when you used to use a Mach3 for fantasy scenarios involving a much less pear-shaped you and a woman wearing a bikini and high heels who’s lying on the hood of a black Porsche 911 and holding a bottle of tequila aloft — basically all of the elements (minus the less pear-shaped you) in the poster you bought at Spencer’s Gifts at the mall and which you’ve thumbtacked on the wall in your bedroom.

Why am I so down on shavegeeks? Because they’re the kind of people who wind up ruining nearly every interest I seem to have. Instead of banding together to help one another optimize their experience, they confuse the issue so thoroughly with a rodent-like focus on every aspect of the process except for those which actually make a real difference.

It’s almost like they don’t really want to get to the top of the mountain, for fear that once they summit, they won’t have anything to geek about. So they chase infinite rabbits down infinite holes, because that’s a game you can play forever. The fear of actually figuring it out, whether it’s getting a stereo to sound like music, or using a DE razor to get a shave that’s both baby smooth and free of irritation, is what lies at the heart of eternal geekhood. The rest of us figure it out and move on to more important challenges.

Like, say, writing a daily blog about shaving.

If it ain’t fixed, don’t broke it

When I first became interested in trying to shave with a double-edge safety razor, everyone I talked to advised me to start with a fixed-head, non-adjustable razor. Which made a lot of sense — when you’re new at this, a fixed-head razor that’s pre-set for a medium level of cutting aggression keeps you out of trouble while you’re learning the ropes.

So I bought a Merkur HD from, and I fell in love with it. After a week or so of nicks and bleeding, everything started to fall into place and I began getting the very best shaves of my life — closer, smoother, and more comfortable than with any other kind of razor I’d ever tried.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Even though the shaves were going great, I wanted better. Everyone on the shavegeek forums seemed to use adjustable DEs, which let you dial in the degree of cutting ferocity to perfectly match your skin, shaving style, and blade choice. So I bought a few adjustable Merkurs, and trolled eBay for some vintage Gillette adjustables, and relegated my fixed-head HD to the dresser drawer.

Big mistake.

Immediately, my shaves went downhill. I nicked the hell out of myself. My neck got all red and bloody again, and shavebumps rose around the base of my Adam’s apple. Things were no better than when I used a Mach3.

My problem was, I stupidly thought that cranking up these adjustables would mean they’d cut closer, so I dialed them in at their highest, most aggressive settings, and proceeded to slash my own throat. This is a classic rookie mistake. Everyone does it. Even if you’ve read this before you get your first adjustable DE, you’ll still screw up. Trust me. You can’t escape the temptation to crank things up for that “extra” whatever. It’s human nature.

Once bitten, I dialed the adjustables back to their middle settings, and started getting shaves that approached the high water mark set by my trusty fixed-head Merkur HD, which I felt guilty enough about abandoning that I fished it out of the drawer and put it back into the rotation.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because I’m at the point where, even though I’ve become very good at shaving with a DE, I’m beginning to think that I’m not the adjustable razor type personality. Because if I have some adjustment range, I’ll use it. Every day, I’ll futz with the setting, depending on yesterday’s shave — if I felt stubble too soon after the shave the day before, today I’ll crank the razor open a bit more. And if yesterday’s shave was too aggressive and I got some skin redness, today I’ll dial it back a bit, and wind up with stubble a few hours later. I go back and forth, back and forth, without ever finding the one true setting that suits me best and sticking with it for good. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the Merkur Futur, Vision, or Progress, or the vintage Gillette adjustables — I can’t stop dicking with their settings, and I can’t ever get reliably great shaves out of any of them day in and day out.

Which I can, with the greatest of ease, with the fixed-head HD. It’s very non-adjustability is its best feature. Merkur designed this razor for one setting and one setting only — it’s perfect for my skin and technique, or maybe I’ve subconsciously adapted to its blade geometry and become one with the HD. Either way, as long as the cream’s decent, I never get anything less than a fantastic shave with this simple, unassuming, very un-shavegeekesque safety razor.

I know, I know — if I just held up the HD and one of the adjustables side by side and dialed in the adjustable razor so it had the exact same blade exposure as the HD, I should be able to get the same quality of shave from it as I do with the fixed-head razor. But I’ve tried this, repeatedly, and it doesn’t work. If a razor can be adjusted, I will dick with it on a daily basis, sometimes even in the middle of a shave. It’s just my nature.

This morning I decided to haul out the Merkur Progress, seen above, for a spin, seeing as how I haven’t used this model in quite awhile. I love the Progress the most of all the Merkur adjustables, even though it’s the cheapest. It looks the least futuristic, for starters — with its cream-colored plastic adjustament knob at the end, the Progress looks like a century-old design, unlike the space-age Futur and Vision razors. And its smaller shave head — same size as the HD’s — lets you get under your nose for better shaving there.

I’ve determined that the Progress’s “3” setting, on its 1-to-5 scale, is equivalent to the blade setting of the HD. So, of course, what did I do this morning, after weeks of perfectly perfecto shaves with the HD? I set the Progress for 4. You know, for more “more”.

And the shave sucked.

Naw, it didn’t really suck. It was a good shave. It just wasn’t as close and comfortable as the HD, that’s all. I felt stubble hours later instead of at the very end of the day, and I reddened my neck a bit, which I never do with the HD.

I think one of my problems with the Progress is that it makes a much more audible cutting sound when mowing down your whiskers than the HD does. You can actually hear the Progress pinging away as it hits your hairs, which sets up a rather nasty behavioral feedback loop where I keep shaving till I stop hearing that cutting sound, which never really completely goes away, so I keep shaving over the same areas until my skin starts to get raw. When shaving with the HD, this sound is far more muted, and once you shave an area closely, you stop hearing the cutting noise, so you feel good about things and move on. This, I’m convinced, is the main reason I get such vastly better and more consistent shaves with the el-cheapo fixed-head HD than I do with the more high-end adjustables. It’s not that they can’t shave as well — I just keep hearing that cutting sound, and it leads me to keep shaving over the same spot too many times.

Maybe if I listened to my iPod while I shaved I wouldn’t hear the cutting sound and I’d get just as good a shave from the adustables as I do the HD. If I get to the point with this shaveblog where I’m out of material and I’m grasping at straws for something to talk about, I’ll try the iPod.

The more I delve into this wetshaving thing, the more I’m convinced that there’s no “best” razor, brush, or cream. It’s whatever combo works best for your skin, hands, and personality. My personality doesn’t do well when afforded a lot of options. I wind up tweaking till the cows come home, which they never do, so I’m screwed. Give me a basic, non-adjustable tool and let me focus on my technique, instead of endlessly dicking with the settings thinking that somehow I’ll hit upon the magic config that launches the rocket. It’s the same reason why, when I’ve got a Stratocaster, all I do is play with the settings, and when I’ve got a Telecaster, all I do is play guitar.

Such a Boar

Shavegeek dogma indicates that only the best possible grade of badger hair be used for a quality shaving brush. Some real gone geeks pay upwards of $500 and more for a brush made from “high-mountain” or “Manchurian” silver tip badger hair, taken from the back of the badger’s neck. For whatever reason, the Chinese who pole-axe these poor animals (they are not road kill — whatever your politics regarding animal rights, be aware that all badger hair shaving brushes are made of bristles “harvested” in China, meaning a Chinese guy went out into the woods and killed a badger for its hair — if it makes you feel any better, badgers are plentiful in China and elsewhere and are considered a pest, thus the relaxed legalities surrounding their pole-axing — if it doesn’t make you feel any better, the good news is you can use any shaving cream I’ve talked about without a brush using your bare hands to spread it on your face, although you won’t get quite the same quality of lather) rank the hair in several grades, from “pure” or “fine” at the bottom of the scale to “best” or “super” at the top. Well, not quite the top — “silvertip” is considered the ultimate badger hair used in shaving brushes, because it’s the softest and has the most water holding ability.

All of the above is total bullshit, by the way. The fact is, the Chinese kill badgers, they remove their hair, and they sell the hair to companies that make shaving brushes. The Chinese have developed a grading system and the British manufacturers of shaving brushes have expanded upon it to invent terms like “pure”, “fine”, “best”, “super”, “silvertip”, “high mountain”, “Manchurian”, you name it. Sometimes the labels are broadly accurate, but often they aren’t. Some inexpensive “fine” badger brushes actually have a better grade of badger hair than some pricey “silvertip” brushes. It’s all a goddamn crapshoot. The more you look into it and ask these people direct questions, the more bullshit they give you. I’ll expand upon my findings in another entry — suffice it to say, there’s way more bullshit when it comes to shaving brushes than any other area of wetshaving, and maybe even life itself.

Want to really shave on the wild side and bypass all this elitist nonsense? Get a boar’s hair brush. They’re cheap — I got my Omega shown above for 12 clams, or a fraction of what a decent badger brush costs — and believe it or not, they’re the preferred shaving brush among the European master barbers who give the world’s best straight razor shaves. Why? Because they work well for what they’re supposed to do, which is build up a thick lather with water and shaving cream, and spread it on your face for shaving. Boar’s hair is also stiffer than badger, so it exfoliates your skin better and raises your whiskers more effectively, too.

What it doesn’t do quite as well as badger hair is smell good. Quite frankly, boar’s hair smells like somebody’s ass. And the cheaper the brush, the more rectal its bouquet. Don’t even try those useless $5 Burma-Shave brushes you might find on the bottom shelf of your drugstore — I bought one on a lark awhile back and literally gagged when I raised it to my face. The Italian-made Omega pictured above had a far less cheeky aroma, and after a few shaves it pretty much went away.

Do boar’s hair brushes work as well, overall, as badger brushes? No — they don’t hold nearly as much water, and they’re not as luxuriously soft on your face. But boar’s brushes definitely work, and they work well. For 12 bucks, they kick ass. Unfortunately, they smell a bit like it too, but you can’t have everything, right?

I used my Omage brush today with Proraso semi-hard soap in the tub and a Merkur HD razor. The shave I got was just as good as any that I’ve gotten when using a badger brush. The experience is a bit less luxurious, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Sometimes you have to get off your high horse and live like a real person, if only for a shave or two.

Angle of the Dangle

Perhaps it’s fitting that opinions on Merkur’s Slant Bar DE safety razor have always been, well, slightly askew. The Slant’s tilted shave-head, unique among all razors, was designed to cut the whiskers on your face with a slicing motion rather than a straight-on cut, which is said to make for a closer, smoother shave. The tilt also opens up the blade exposure at one end of the edge, making the Slant the most aggressive of any fixed-head DE razor I’ve come across. While almost all other fixed-head razors range from so-mild-you-can-shave-drunk-in-the-dark (old Gillettes) to moderately aggressive (Merkur’s fixed-head family: the HD, Classic, Long-Handled, and “1904”-style DEs), the Slant Bar is actually one of the most aggressive DEs available, moreso than even many adjustables.

The Slant is loved and loathed in equal measure. Most of the major online wetshaving vendors don’t even carry it, because, in the words of one such gentleman, “This isn’t a razor for a jackass.” I second that emotion — I thought the open-comb (or “rake”) style DEs were too aggressive for my face, but the Slant Bar is even moreso.

Still, the Slant Bar has its charms. It shares the Merkur HD’s heavy weight and thick, grabby handle, the best of any razor I own. It’s wacky looking, which is always a plus in my book. It’s rare. At 35 bucks or so, it’s cheap. And if you can learn to shave properly with it, it might even shave a few minutes off your shave, since its shave is designed to be closer for each pass than the regular fixed-head Merkurs.

So this morning I lathered up with Proraso and gave the Slant a second chance.

I will say this for the Slant Bar — I definitely get the closest shave with it out of any other DE razor. On the first pass, that is. If all you do is shave your face with a single, downward, with-the-grain pass, the Slant shaves so close that most guys, I bet, would be perfectly happy with this kind of shave, as it’s closer and more comfortable than going with and then against the grain with modern multi-blade razors like the Mach3.

That said, the Slant is far less of a good thing on the upstroke as it is on the down. The same over-aggressive blade exposure that makes for such a close with-the-grain pass is just too much for my skin when shaving against-the-grain. I reeeealy lightened up on the pressure for the upward pass, but I still felt more fire than I know my skin can take on a daily basis.

With Merkur’s HD, or any adjustable DE used at a sensible setting, I can shave against-the-grain for two or more passes without irritation. With the Slant, even once is too much. In this sense, the Slant reminds me of a straight razor — the with-the-grain shave is almost close enough to stop right there, but I can’t for the life of me shave against-the-grain without scoring some burn. It’s hours later and I still feel it under my chin, which has always been my bellwether for shaving irritation.

And here’s the clincher, for me at least — no matter how much closer the Slant Bar shaved me on the initial pass, at the end of the entire shave (one down, one up, and one “cleanup” pass targeting the stubborn billy goat’s gruff on my neck and underchin), I didn’t get any better of a shave than I routinely do with the kinder, gentler HD. The HD may not cut quite as close as the Slant does, but it cuts pretty damn close, and does it in such a way that doesn’t irritate my skin at all, so I can shave in any direction I need to, as many times as I need to, and wind up with a baby’s butt shave every time without a hint of irritation. That’s what I’m after, and that’s why I still strongly prefer the HD over the Slant.

If you want a DE razor that can give you a much better shave with but a single downward pass than anything else short of a straight razor, the Slant’s your best bet. You won’t get baby’s butt smooth, but your face will feel and look a lot better than if you used something like a Mach3.

Fair warning: if you are new to DE shaving, you really shouldn’t mess with the Slant Bar. It is by far the least forgiving safety razor I’ve tried, and at this point I’ve pretty much tried them all. I don’t care how cool or tough or “kick-ass” you are — the Slant Bar, in the hands of a newbie, equals buckets of blood.

Sometimes a shave is just a shave

Like today, for instance. I just lathered up with Trumper’s violet, did two passes with the Merkur HD razor plus a final touch-up pass, rinsed and rubbed some Trumper’s lime skin food onto my face and neck. Done. It was all good. Didn’t have to think about any of it. I knew all the pieces of the puzzle always work well for me, so all I had to do was go on auto-pilot and let the perfect shave happen.

I don’t mean to make it all sound so boring, but in a way, it was. Today’s shave was perfectly optimized, but that perfection was fully expected given my track record with Trumper’s violet shaving cream and lime skin food, Merkur’s HD safety razor, and the Vulfix #2235 badger brush. They’re all old-fashioned, they’re all reasonably priced, and they all lock together for a shave that’s so uneventfully great that you begin to take it for granted.

It’s only when I decide to try something different, like the Mach3 Power, or that plastic Wilkinson DE razor they only sell overseas, that I beat up my face a bit and the fur flies. Bad for the way my face feels and looks, but good for generating interesting blogfodder, I guess.

Tell you what. In the interest of blogfodder, I’ll give the Merkur slant bar razor another go tomorrow morning. I haven’t really given this unique “crooked” DE a proper trial, and its controversial rep calls for, at the very least, a more in-depth stab than I’ve given it thus far. So tomorrow I leave the comfy comfines of the Merkur HD and wander into the wilds of the slant bar, the most wickedly aggressive non-adjustable DE ever made. Anything to entertain you people.

The kinder, gentler shaving cream

The thing with wetshaving is you slowly acquire all these different shaving creams, because each new one you try seems to lather and smell better than the last. That first leap from canned gel that smells like a urinal cake to a traditional English scented shaving cream in a tub that smells a thousand times better than any cologne you ever thought made you smell suave and de-boner is a mind-blower. Forget the shave — you never smelled anything this good, this close to your face, in your entire life. It opens up a whole new world of pampering yourself in the morning, and goes a long way toward turning what used to be the worst part of the grooming routine into your favorite.

At this point, I’ve smelled all of the flavors from the “big three” of English shaving creams — Trumper, Taylor, and Truefitt & Hill. The Truefitts are all scented with their own proprietary men’s colognes, while the Trumpers hew more to the traditional lineup of shaving scents — you got your sandalwood, your lime, your almond, and a few unique scents like coconut and violet.

Taylor of Old Bond Street goes both ways. Half of its shaving creams are cologne scented, using the firm’s legendary in-house scents: Mr. Taylor’s, Eton College, Shaving Shop, St. James, and their wicked-good Sandalwood cologne. Taylor’s other creams are traditional florals — lavender, rose, lemon/lime (more of a fruit, really), avocado (again with the fruit), and almond (okay, so that makes two floral, two fruits, and a nut).

Beyond issues of scent, all of these creams react markedly differently depending on your unique skin type. For instance, while I love the way Trumper’s lime shaving cream smells, it dries my skin out something fierce, and doesn’t lube the shave as well as the others. And I have oily skin, which is what the lime cream is meant for.

On the other hand, the two creams my skin loves best are both florals — Trumper’s violet and Taylor’s rose. To my nose, the violet is the best smelling shaving cream I’ve ever sniffed. It’s addictive. The rose, though, gives me a marginally better shave. I say marginally because both Trumper’s violet and Taylor’s rose are as good as shaving cream gets, and I always get a great shave with either one of them. But the rose always seems to protect and soothe my face just a weensy bit more, besides the fact that it smells so good you never want to rinse it off.

I’ve been shaving with Proraso for quite a few days in a row now but this morning I felt like a change. Not because I wanted a better shave — you can’t get a better shave than you do with Proraso — but because I just wanted a new smell. So rose it was.

This pink cream lathers white once you beat it around with your brush, but the rose scent intensifies as you lather your face and neck, to the point where you find yourself lathering for far longer than you usually do because you’re having such a good time smelling this stuff. It’s a calming, relaxing scent, and it has uncannily the same effect on your face. If I get irritation from a new razor, blade, whatever, it’s Taylor’s rose I always turn to to make it all better on the next shave.

This is the kinder, gentler shaving cream every guy should have in his arsenal. Even if you don’t want to use it all the time, it’s great for coddling your face if you happen to beat it up with some harsh piece of crap like, oh, say, the Mach3 Power. A few shaves with your trusty DE razor and Taylor’s rose cream will make it allllll better.

The only appropriate shaving bowl

Just look at her — ain’t she a beauty? And she’s all mine! ALL MINE! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

I stumbled upon this genuine porcelain toilet-shaped mug while doing an eBay search for an Old Spice shaving mug. I wanted one of the first Old Spice mugs, the earliest ones that were milky glass and shorter than the huge tankard-style shaving mugs you see today. I found what I was looking for, but I also found this once-in-a-lifetime find that somehow snuck into the search results.

Apparently the Rheem corporation used to make toilet-shaped shaving mugs out of the exact same porcelain they used to make real toilets with, and they gave these whimsical mugs out to favored employees, perhaps upon their retirement. Who gives a rat’s ass about a gold watch when you can have a pink porcelain shaving mug shaped like a toilet? Nothing says “class” with crisper enunciation.

This particular Rheem mug was custom made for an employee named Ray — his name was glazed on the mug in the same cobalt blue lettering as the Rheem logo on the top. Ray must have fallen overboard while out to sea, or gone crazy from the desert heat in Arizona and went on a citywide shooting spree that ended in a storm of lead at the end of the last alley Ray would ever duck into, because only death could’ve wrenched this toilet-shaped mug from any thinking man’s hand. Frankly, I’m surprised his heirs let it leave the estate, but then the in-bred offspring of the well-to-do all too often squander the spoils that the previous generation worked so hard to acquire.

As soon as I saw the listing, I knew I had to have this mug. I staked it out, watched it like a hawk for days, and then pounced on my quarry with fury, winning the bidding with a bold $11 stroke at the last minute that proved I was the better man of the two of us who were bidding on it (take that, bruce6773!).

Remember how yesterday I said that using a big cereal bowl to mix up your lather like some of the shavegeeks do is basically admitting you aren’t very good at the easiest part of the whole wetshaving equation? Well, building your lather in a shaving mug that’s shaped like a toilet bowl and used to be the property of Ray the Rheem Toilet Company employee is the exact opposite of that — it is, in fact, the most perfect state of latheration there is.

So this morning I gave the Rheem a thorough washing with hot water and soap (God knows what Ray may have done with this thing toward the end, when the insanity began spiking up), and then I showered as usual, left my face and neck wet with hot water as I got out of the shower, thrust my water-logged Vulfix shaving brush into the Rheem’s mini toilet bowl along with an inch-long squeeze of Proraso Green shaving cream, and went into high swirlee mode. The Rheem even has a handy handle on the back, where the water tank would go on a real toilet, that’s great for holding the mug steady as you beat up the lather. I even pumped the brush a few times into the middle of the lather, like a toilet plunger, to fully saturate the brush with lather all the way down to the handle.

In seconds I had all the beautiful, perfect Proraso lather I needed for another perfect, beautiful Proraso shave. My Merkur HD razor glided over my face like, well, Aloe Charmin glides over your tuchus. I couldn’t ask for a better shave.

Will I use the Rheem from now on? It’s doubtful. I love this toilet mug too much to use it like a common shaving mug. It belongs forever clean and gleaming atop my dresser, shining like a pink beacon for all to see. Besides, I can lather just fine in the palm of my hand — I haven’t gone loco like Ray did on that fateful day when he finally went to that place where not even ownership of a pink porcelain toilet-shaped shaving mug with your name kiln-glazed on the side matters much anymore.

Not yet, anyway.

Bowling For Lather

Most guys who get into wetshaving do it solely for the quality of the shave. I’m one of these guys — I hated the shaves I was getting with modern cartridge razors and goo-inna-can, so I tried a bunch of stuff, both moderne (Kiehl’s and Aramis Lab Series shaving creams) and old-school (DE razors and traditional English shaving cream), until I hit upon a rig that gave me closer and more comfortable shaves, less irritation, and a greater sense of olfactory pleasure than what you get from Gillette Foamy.

Then there are what I call “shavegeeks”. These are the guys who clog the online wetshaving forums and obsess over every aspect of the routine EXCEPT the quality of the shave. To the shavegeeks, everything about shaving is a competition — which razor ROCKZ, which cream RULEZ, which brush DOMINATES. And there’s nothing that typifies the shavegeek mentality more than the stupefying amount of discussion devoted to just how much sheer cubic footage of lather a given shaving cream or soap, or combination thereof, will produce if you mix it all up in a large sized cereal bowl.

Yes, I said a cereal bowl. Right now, there are guys out there whipping up huge mounds of shaving lather in a bowl just like Julia Child used to beat a dozen eggs to make a souffle. I’m not making this up. Just picturing it gives me the willies.

Let’s get one thing straight here. If you dunk any decent shaving brush (which means it’s made of boar or badger hair and you paid more than ten bucks for it) into a sink of hot water to get it wet, then either swirl it over the top of a hard shaving soap for ten seconds or dip its wet tips into a tub of shaving cream and then swirl the brush around in your other hand’s open palm for ten seconds, you will get more than enough perfect shaving lather every time. This is the single easiest move in the entire wetshaving canon. Barely sentient beings do it routinely. It’s so not a big deal.

But apparently, it is for the shavegeeks. Go onto the shaving discussion sites and you’ll see lazy newbies whining about how they can’t get decent lather from this soap or that cream, and then other shavegeeks will chime in with “I used to have the same problem as you, fella, until I started using….a BOWL!”

Here’s why: because when you use a bowl instead of the palm of your hand or, even better, a mug, all that extra room means your lather will explode into huge mounds of thick, rich, meringue-like peaks of fluffy white goodness. A dab of shaving cream the size of a quarter and a soaking wet shaving brush will whip up so much lather in a cereal bowl that you’ll have enough to shave ten or twenty guys easy.

And this is cool why?

If building up lather in the palm of your hand creates more thick, perfect lather than you could possibly use up in one shave even if you do three or four entire passes, why would you need to make more, unless you somehow equate big gobs of lather with being a big man, etc.? Maybe to a shavegeek, lather = ejaculate, so the more the manlier, etc? But unless you’re a horse trying to inseminate another horse, I’m not certain that twenty times the normal amount of ejaculate is a good thing, for anybody involved. Maybe I’m old-fashioned when it comes to this stuff.

I used the bowl method this morning, just to underline my astonishment at this shavegeek fad. I soaked my Vulfix #2235 badger brush in a sink of hot water like I usually do, and I swirled the tips over the top of a tub of Trumper’s Violet cream like I usually do, but instead of making the lather in my palm, I beat the brush around and around in the bowl for a good ten, fifteen seconds.

Oh, I got lather. Did I ever. Tons of it. A ridiculous amount. Secretariat couldn’t work up this much lather. It was thick, rich, glistening, you name it — all the good things you want shaving lather to be for the best shave. But it was a disgusting waste. I used maybe a twentieth of the lather in the bowl to shave thrice — down, up, and once more under the chin — and then had to dump the rest of the lather into the sink. All that prime, high-end lather, just poured down the drain.

Seriously, if you need to use a bowl to make good usable lather, something’s wrong with you. You probably shouldn’t be shaving this way. Do you need to use a saw to open an envelope? I just don’t understand the shavegeek’s obsession with the bowl. It’s beyond overkill, and for what?? To Make Lather. Which anyone, even a small child, can easily do just as quickly and easily in the palm of their hand or, if you prefer to keep your hands clean, a mug.

The really gone shavegeeks engage in a lot of embarrassing behavior that makes me shake my head sadly. But so far, their elevation of the cereal bowl to the shavegeek pantheon of accessories to obsess over and titter about like old ladies at a quilting bee — “Look at the JPG I just posted of my new bowl I bought!” “Wow, where can I get a bowl exactly like that, it’s so KEWL! How does it compare latherwise with your other bowls?” — is the single biggest reason I wonder, late at night when I can’t sleep, whether being as interested as I am about shaving automatically makes me a loser.

You know what? I’m not Lee Marvin

I got so psyched by yesterday’s entry that I decided to put my money where my pie-hole is and actually shave like Lee Marvin would. That is, if Lee Marvin was presented with the scenario of cobbling together a shaving rig from my bottomless dresser drawer full of shaving crap. I’ve got creams, soaps, razors, blades, aftershaves, balms, brushes, and all kinds of assorted shave-related poultices crammed into a dresser drawer in my home office, ranging from the embarrassingly luxurious to the likes of which a hobo might get by on.

Were Lee Marvin to poke around in my shaving drawer, I think he’d grab for the most no-nonsense gear in the scrum. No rose scented shaving creams. No $120 Merkur Vision razor that comes in a presentation case for cripes sake. In fact, no adjustable razor of any kind — leave that fancy stuff to the pretty boys eating salads on their lunch break at the florist.

I figured my trusty Merkur HD was Lee-Approved — it’s Heavy Duty after all, and it’s the most rock-solid, no-nonsense DE razor I know of. Lee might’ve shaved with a straight razor — probably did it in the dark, on a dry face, waiting outside Marvin Michelson’s office so he could pound the crap out of him — but I’ve put mine away for the time being. I feel pretty good that Lee would’ve been into the Merkur HD. It’s the kind of razor you can huck at a guy’s head, like Marvin Michelson’s for instance, knock him out cold, pick up the razor, and catch a shave from it without missing a beat. Try that with a Flicker sometime.

For the lube, I did something I haven’t done in a long time, but I think it’s what Lee would’ve done. I used a hard shaving soap. Taylor’s Sandalwood. If there’s a manlier smelling hard shave soap out there — not that Lee would’ve given a rat’s ass what it smelled like — look, forget the question, there isn’t a manlier smelling soap out there. Sandalwood is the manly smell. What’s that, you say? Musk is manlier? Let me tell you something — if you need to spray some fake musk on in order to give off a masculine spoor, just cut to the chase and be this guy, okay?

Hard shave soap is literally a round cake of hard soap, in a wooden bowl. The concept is as old as the hills — the first hominids who shaved in a recognizably civilized manner lathered from a bar of hard soap. You can use pretty much any soap you can find, but the traditional English firms who make the best creams seem to know a thing or two about making the right kind of hard shaving soaps, so I went with Taylor.

I don’t normally use hard soaps because while they do let you shave a weensy bit closer than a good cream, they don’t lube nearly as well, and I always seem to shave too close and irritate the hell out of my skin, especially around my neck. Years ago, when I first began trying different products to get a better shave than what I’d been getting from a Mach3 and goo-inna-can, I got ahold of some hard shaving soap from Art Of Shaving. Lavender, I think it was. I got a closer shave, definitely, but it beat up my neck and left red marks all around my Adam’s apple.

I went on to try all kinds of other hard soaps, even some pricey Creed stuff my beloved wife bought me, but I could never shave with any of them without irritation. They all worked much better than modern gels or foams, but once I tried the high-quality creams from Trumper, Taylor and Proraso, I’ve never looked back. On my face, there’s no comparison — a good cream is miles ahead of any hard soap I’ve ever tried when it comes to lubing your face and protecting it from nicks and irritation.

But this morning I was on mission to shave like Lee Marvin, so I got out the Sandalwood hard soap and went to town. Soaked my brush in hot water in the sink and swirled it around on the soap till I got a thick head of lather, and then painted my face white. I have to say, Taylor’s Sandalwood hard soap smells fantastic — it’s what I wished I smelled like naturally, instead of a zoo’s monkey house. Lee Marvin probably smelled like gunpowder and cheap gin from an old Army canteen. Lee Marvin probably didn’t muse on what other men smelled like, though.

The thing about hard shave soap is, it starts out fine. But as soon as you shave a swath down your cheek, don’t even think about going over that patch again without relathering it, because it’ll be just like you’re shaving on dry skin. For some reason, the better creams like Taylor and Proraso let me go over the same area a few times with the DE, and my skin is still fairly slick throughout. Not so with the hard soaps. Maybe that’s a good thing for some guys and the way they shave. Not for me.

I shaved in the usual way, with my usual razor, and got a very good shave overall. But — and this is my universal but when it comes to hard soaps, no matter the brand — I was left with red marks on my neck, and my face felt significantly more raw than usual. I wouldn’t call it out-and-out razor burn, but I was definitely feeling a bit of heat. I never feel even a hint of heat after I shave with Taylor’s shaving creams, or Trumper’s, or especially Proraso — my face feels so great after I shave with a good cream that I kick myself on a daily basis for not knowing about this stuff twenty years ago.

So I’m not Lee Marvin after all. Like I needed to shave with a hard soap to learn this, right?