As with many men, a daily shave is part of my morning routine. But I didn’t realize how ingrained the habit was until yesterday. I was up at 6AM, rushing so I could catch the ferry to Gibson’s Landing, when my razor became quieter and quieter then died out altogether, leaving me with one side of my neck and both cheeks unshaved.
The problem wasn’t a social one. My hair is a muddy brown and my skin reddish, so anyone else would have to get within a few centimeters to notice the incomplete shave. However, so far as my sense of myself went, my half-shaved self was a surprisingly strong violation of my self-image.
The problem was not the idea of a beard, although I’ve never been strongly tempted to grow one, even as a young adult. Admittedly, a few days without shaving leaves me with the impulse to scrape the skin off my cheeks and necks in the hopes of stopping the itching, Then, too, a beard would be high-maintenance compared to being clean-shaven, especially for someone like me for whom sweaty exercise is part of most days, and sooner or later one of my parrots would find it irresistible to pull or climb across.
Nor do I have any desire to add anything to my morning routine that would require me to stare at myself in a mirror just minutes after waking. I simply lack the vanity, and would far prefer using a safety razor while reading.
All the same, I have sometimes toyed with idea of growing a beard. I associate it with ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights, and a few periods of ancient Rome, so I am alive to the romance of facial hair. If I had ever found myself in the usual time-honored circumstances, such as a week long camping trip, I would succumbed to the temptation and endured the skin irritation just to see what I looked like. If nothing else, in my earlier years, I might have been tried the look simply in the hopes of looking my age.
However, under almost any circumstance, I would have shaved off any beard in a matter of days. Even though five o’clock shadow is a problem for me, starting the day clean-shaven matters to me. It is as important a part of personal hygiene to me as having clean and trimmed finger nails. Without either, I am vaguely uneasy just under the surface of consciousness, and haunted by the feeling that I am at disadvantage. My confidence, as flimsy as it is at the best of times, always feels like it is about to buckle and snap unless I am properly shaved.
Unfortunately, yesterday morning I could only endure. I caught my bus, glad it was still dark so my neither-nor state was concealed. Arriving downtown, I was just in time for the start of the Boxing Day sales, and when I missed my connection, I resisted with difficulty the impulse to dart into the nearest department store and buy a razor to use on the ferry.
Somehow, common sense took hold of me. Catching the ferry was more important than my personal preferences, I told myself. The relatives I was going to spend the day with wouldn’t care what I looked like, even if I did. Anyway, it was a holiday, and many men around me hadn’t bothered to shave, although mostly the unshaven were younger than I am, and more obsessed by fashion as well. Never mind that they were trying for a casual elegance and I only felt scruffy.
With a mental grip like an eagle’s talons, I marched self over to the queue, making a point of making eye contact with the driver, the man at the ticket booth, and the servers in the ferry cafeteria. Resisting the urge to lower my head and scurry through the shadows, I willed a firmness to my stride and tried to project an air of confidence as I approached the relative who was picking me on the other side of the water.
Then, after exchanging the greetings of the season, I looked my relative squarely in the eyes. “Can we stop by the drug store?” I asked, with just a hint of a self-pitying whine.