Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loss of Innocence Part 2

NOTE!  This part 2.  Read PART 1 first.

I have been trying to write part 2 of my loss of innocence without much luck.  I have gotten into too much detail about shaving crises in the past.  My posts are too damned long anyhow and nobody wants to read about a half century struggle with removing hair from my face.   Well that is an exaggeration.  Since the early 90s I have been using a Gillette two blade Sensor that has worked well.  I have resisted the urge to go with ever more blades and more expense.  The Sensor always gave me an acceptable shave, and while the cost went steadily upwards it was still reasonable compared to the many bladed behemoths that were starting to look like a harrow on handle.  

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Then about 2 years ago I got a bunch of bad cartridges.  After one shave they were shot.  Hmmm a two dollar shave!  I will spare the details of that battle but I now have a Norelco electric shaver and a Dorco three bladed cartridge razor collecting dust (well the Norelco is useful when I am in a hurry).  Then I happened across the Gillette Sensor Excel blade.  Sort of a high tech Sensor blade that would fit my existing handle.  While I was not happy with Gillette for having charged me $30 for the last 15 shaves, I was getting a bit desperate.  So I tried them.  Voila!  They work great.  I was getting over a month (I don’t shave every day) out of  a cartridge.  Far better shave than I got from the Sensor.  They are a couple of bucks more for a 10 pack than the Sensor but well worth the difference.  The only complaint (aside from cost) was that they seem to easily clog between the blades, especially because I don’t shave every day.  The Sensor did as well but they seemed to flush out easier.  The Excels extract a certain amount of shaving time devoted to rinsing the razor but otherwise a good acceptable shave.  So all was well in the shaving world until I lost my innocence a few months ago with wet shaving. 

Hang around any wet shaving forum and you will soon get exposed to the idea that real men shave with double edged safety razors.  To me this is something of a cop out of convenience (and perhaps sanity).  It would seem to me that if you are rejecting modern 
expensive high tech shaving systems then one should gravitate to the true original…the straight razor (affectionately AKA the cut throat razor).  Let’s not be fooled by King Camp Gillette, a true shave can only be delivered by a well honed and stropped straight razor like my father used.  He could shave himself while falling down drunk and not have a nick.  

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Truth be told, if the only way to shave was with a cut throat, I would sport beard.  I can’t bear to even look at photographs of these treacherous devices being used.  How one ever gets up enough balls to drag that thing across their face is beyond me.  Apparently I am not alone in that line of thinking.  So the shaving enthusiasts (wine snobs pale in comparison) have embraced the double edge safety razor as being a sufficiently low tech and traditional method of shaving.  Let’s face it, using a straight razor could result in some catastrophic injuries.  So sanity has prevailed and the double edged safety razor is considered the instrument of choice on the shaving forums. 

Yeah, yeah.  To hell with all that nonsense.  I was quite happy with my Gillette Sensor Excel even if I am a damned fool for paying way to much per shave.  But then I got my brush and razor stand. 

Ahhh!  The pride of my shaving den!
You have to store your brush with the bristles down.  Otherwise the water runs into the handle and deteriorates the bond of the knot of the bristle to the handle.  Leaving a brush with the bristles upright shortens the life of a brush.  So I find a great stand that will also store my razor.  As mentioned in part one, my razor would not stay in the stand.  So I end up with a cheap ass hideous looking soap scummed cartridge razor being supported in a beautiful chrome shaving stand by wire tie nubs. 

Nah the shaving forums are not affecting my judgement.  But what can it hurt to have a look at some of these DEs (the “in the know” term for double edged safety razor).  I was captivated by a company I never heard of, Merkur (German for Mercury).  Hmmm. Shiny.  Precision machining. Engine turned styling. A classic bust of Hermes for a company logo.  These things are works of art.   

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Don’t be an ass Sextant, you used a double edged razor until you went in the service and they sucked.  Ohhhh but look at this one with a “barber pole” handle. Ooooh solid brass core handle, spiraled knurling.  What a manly looking razor.  And let’s face it with my plummeting testosterone levels, I can use all the manly that I can get.  Don’t be ass Sextant, DEs suck. 

Ahhh but wait, look at this one, its adjustable, you can adjust how “aggressive” you want your shave.  Don’t be an ass Sextant, you had an adjustable Gillette DE in 1966 and it sucked.  Oh but look, the Merkur logo is embossed bas relief on the base of the head.  This thing is a beauty.     Adjustable, beautiful German engineering and craftsmanship, charming ivory colored plastic adjustment knob that is reminiscent of the 50s with yet another Hermes logo embossed in it.  (Believe it or not many do no like this feature thinking it tacky.  There is an outfit that makes modified Merkur Progress with metal adjustment knobs.)  Ahhh this is the razor I want.  Why you idiot?   You are perfectly happy with the Sensor Excel.  No I am not, it looks like a piece of shit in my beautiful stand. 

And there you have it, like a teenage boy unhappy with perfectly serviceable painted valve covers on my V-8 engine, I want something that is shiny and macho.  

A Chrysler Hemi with painted valve covers.
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A Chrysler Hemi with chrome valve covers.
You can see the difference shiny chrome makes.
Image Credit:    

So the process of converting to a DE begins.  And the rationalizations start.  Gillette could screw you at any time raising the price or reducing the quality like with the Sensors, or simply take them off the market forcing you to a 17 bladed Lazer Guided Fusion Rotary Vibrato model.  You wouldn’t have to spend so much time with flushing out clogs between the blades (that one is actually true…it is just that you spend so much more time with everything else that the time savings is negative).  You will save a lot of money on blades (also true if you can ever make up your mind).  These razors are made with a sense of craftsmanship and precision…oh boy the bullshit we tell our selves.  Imagine the Merkur razor factory…elfin like craftsman dressed in lederhosen and pince-nez, leaning over an ancient lathe with a micrometer carefully measuring the diameter of brass handle singing strains from Wagner’s Ring.  Having a quality shaving instrument (nah I haven’t been hanging around the shaving forums too long) will make shaving more fun and exciting, a morning male zen ritual.  I imagine myself sitting in the lotus position in a mist shrouded cave, chakras aglow, dipping my shiny precision Merkur into a geothermal heated mineral pool at the precise temperature for opening my pores and softening the whiskers for the perfect shave while strains from an unseen sitar play mysterious soul soothing tones at the precise frequency to make one’s whiskers to stand erect and vibrate in anticipation of the meeting their fate to a precision teflon coated, ceramic over platinum plated, ice tempered stainless steel blade gliding over my face lathered with the pure creme from Tibetan mountain goats combined with triple milled soap hand pressed by virgin maidens.  Now imagine that same scene with a Gillette Sensor Excel razor with wire tie nubs on the handle.  

Ahhhh so I slowly convince myself that a DE will make my shaving life better, and SNAP!  The LET’S BUY relay in my brain snaps from the sensible quiescent don’t be an ass, you don’t need that particular bobble state to a red flashing BUY, BUY, BUY state, and thus flooding the pair of nucleus accumbens in the left and right hemispheres of my brain with a pleasurable charge of dopamine.    

Ha ha!  I am going to BUY and improve my shaving life!  Tah dah!  So then I get off the review websites and go on Amazon.  The Merkur Progress 510 C costs $75!!!!!!  What?  Now the cheap bastard circuitry in my brain gets energized.  Dopamine is diverted to be absorbed in my liver (I don’t know if that is how it works or not but you get the point.)  You idiot, 75 bucks is a lot of money to pay to hack yourself up for a week, toss the damned thing in a drawer, and never look at it again.  The LET’S BUY relay may operate in a digital, zero/one, off/on, don’t buy/buy state, but the cheap bastard circuitry is strictly analogue.  It thrives in shades of grey.  If the razor that I really want is too much then why not buy an “entry level” razor and give it a try.  So let’s see I could buy a Lord razor for $9.75, a Van Der Hagen for $17, a Feather for $12, a Perfecto for $13, and the list goes on and on.  These razors all use the same standard DE blades that my 75 dollar Merkur would use, so why not just go cheap and see how you like it—because if you remember right…you were never too impressed with DEs fifty years ago.  Well all those razors, while being, yes, a DE safety razor, are cheap hunks of cast pot metal.  POT METAL (what ever that is).  Not objects of precision German craftsmanship and beauty crafted from solid brass and plated to an absurd thickness that I have convinced myself that I need.  Now bear in mind, my thinking on this at the time of want is not this clear.  Everything is a murky war of new fired want verses a life time of studious parsimoniousness.   I want a Merkur Progess not a Lord pot metal piece of shit. Its like having the hots for a new Mercedes Benz and going to look at a 15 year old Jetta.

The Merkur 38 C HD
The Barber Pole
Image Credit: Amazon
So the cheap bastard circuitry whirs and buzzes between want and cheap and like all good analogue computers a compromise is reached between the Progress and pot metal.  I will get the Merkur 38C HD Classic Barber Pole.  Great ratings, good beginner razor, mildly aggressive, long solid brass core handle fashioned after a barber pole (but I think reminiscent of a classical Roman Tuscan architectural column…yes I am in control of myself), top rated razor at one of the shaving forums, hefty—weighing in at a whopping 120 grams, and well balanced.  It is precision German craftsmanship for only $40, almost half of the cost of the razor that I really want.   But it is a beauty (which is true, I think it a more attractive razor than the Progress).  

OK, so I ordered the razor from Amazon and received it with one Merkur stainless steel sample blade.  Hmmmm.  No matter how much hype you read on a shaving forum, at some point it comes down to you, the lather, the blade, the razor and your face…its rug cutting time.  So I have my beautiful Merkur Barber Pole (or Roman Tuscan in my mind, a main support in the temple of shaving) and with a trembling hand, remembering all the tips…don’t press, let the weight of the razor do the work, short strokes, rinse often, do not take a second swipe on unlathered skin…etc etc etc. and…it sucked.  

WTF did I expect?  It is a double edged safety razor employing technology that King Camp Gillette developed at the turn of the century (19th to 20th).  The best it is going to do is give you a good shave, not some orgasmic zen experience that is blabbed about on some of these shaving forums.  I surveyed my bleeding face and realized that maybe I allowed myself to fall victim of the hype.  But I was warned, a favorite saying on the forums is YMMV (your mileage may vary) and one is consistently told that it takes a month to learn the muscle memory for a good shave with a DE.  OK so my initial run wasn’t so good, common enough experience, consult the forums. 

The Pride of East German Automobile Technology
The Trabant 601, AKA The Little Stinker, Image Credit:
First thing that is evident is that while Merkur may make the Mercedes Benz of razors, their blades are strictly a Trabant.  It is one of those curiosities in life, the maker of first rate razors produces lousy blades.  Really poor shave.  I would recommend Merkur sending a sample of some other company’s blades.   So I bought some Van Der Hagen ice tempered blades at Target.  Not bad.  Sort of a mild shave but better than I thought they would be.   So the next leg of the journey is blades.  One would think that one razor blade is as good as another but not true.  Some are very sharp and provide a much closer shave but at the risk of razor burn and nicks.  Blades are definitely a case of YMMV.  You have to experiment and find the best blade for your skin, razor, lather and technique. 

So now a new adventure, finding suitable blades.  Brick and mortar stores offer very little selection of traditional DE blades.  You either have to go to a specialty shaving store or an internet shop.  There are a variety of blades samplers on Amazon and some of the Internet shaving shops.  But I decided not to go that route just yet.  Blades vary quite a bit.  I thought that being a newbie, I should learn technique using the same brand of blade.  Keep the variables down.  Once I get my technique down pat, I would then try different blades.  

Standard Double Edged Razor Blade
Feather, the ninja sword of DE blades
Image Credit:  Amazon

I have a rather tough thick beard, and it lays flat but somewhat sensitive old man skin and lots of old man wattles on my neck.  So I read the reviews for the various blades and two stood out that I wanted to try.  Feather and Wilkinson Sword.  Feather, the ninja sword of DE razor blades, are Japanese platinum coated stainless blades that are widely agreed to be the sharpest blade on the market.  It seems one either loves Feather or hates them, they are sharp and they are very aggressive.  The Wilkinson Sword is a blade that I have a bit of history with.  Before I went in the service, I used a Gillette adjustable with Wilkinson Sword Blades.  At the time they were unique in that they were stainless, had a great edge and lasted longer than other blades.  I had my father try them, and he converted from a straight razor to a double edged.  He raved about them.  So I wanted to try them for historical reasons.   

Image Credit:  Amazon

The Wilkinson Sword blade now is made in Merkur’s home town of Soligen Germany, the City of Blades.  It is a stainless steel blade “improved by Wilkinson's famous triple coating process of chromium to resist corrosion, ceramic for added durability, and PTFE for less irritation.”  

My blades finally arrived from Amazon (again I ganged up the purchases so I exceeded $35 but had to wait for the slower shipping…patience will save you money).  I placed a Feather blade in my Barber Pole and with great anticipation of finally attaining the holy grail of wet shaving world, the legendary BBS, Baby Bottom Smooth, began to shave.  I will say one thing for Feathers, they are sharp, I removed beard and hunks of face without feeling a bit of drag, pull, or pain.   The result was something that resembled being on the receiving end of ultra fine bird shot fired from both barrels of a 12 gauge shot gun.  Nicks too numerous to count and razor burn on my neck wattles and chin.  Not a good experience.  I allowed my face to heal for several days with no shaving and then returned to the mild mannered Van Der Hagen blades for a week.  Then I tried the Wilkinson Swords.  They are not as sharp as the Feathers but far more aggressive than the Van Der Hagens or the Merkurs.

And there I remained.  I didn’t seem to be improving.  Every shave resulted in a some nicks and razor burn.  The razor burn I attribute to the second pass.  Wet shaving with a DE usually dictates three passes.  The first with the grain of your beard.   That is the whiskers have a natural way of laying.  With the grain is shaving in the direction that they lay.  It is the least irritating direction.  Think of petting a cat.  When you pet from head to tail, your petting with the grain of the cat’s fur. The second pass should be across the grain, and the last pass against the grain for the BBS.  I am no where near the skill required for against the grain and as such on a different planet from the legendary BBS.   My beard is coarse and lays very flat. 
So I had arrived at a lousy shave stasis.  I was getting no better at shaving, the promised muscle memory seemed to evade me. It was taking three times a long and my face remained sort of a war zone of nicks and razor burn.  I had not yet arrived at the right combination of preps, bowls, brushes, soaps, blades, razors, techniques, and after shaves.  I remained in wet shaving limbo.  

I promised to conclude this shaving business in two posts.  I lied.  It is just far too fascinating to limit to two posts.  Yeah right. I pity you poor reader.  In any event you will have to wait for Loss of Innocence PART 3 to find if I have my happily ever after ending and the legendary BBS.      


  1. Wow, I never realized how terrible it is to be a man! No wonder there are so many men out there with beards now, although I hate a beard! That Merkur is a thing of beauty, but you didn't share a picture of it in your beautiful stand. Waiting patiently for Part 3. I did a several part post once and never did get to the final part!

    1. Alicia, given a choice between shaving a beard daily and child birth, well, I think I will take shaving. It not that terrible!

      I will include photos in part three but my camera doesn't take good close up photos. Thanks for stopping on by and commenting.

  2. My first shaving experiences were with my father's purloined double edged razor. I still have scars. I have known many bearded men who have said they never decided to grow a beard, they just decided to stop shaving. You might be interested in this article about beard grooming--you know as a cultural inquiry:

    1. Olga, beards are definitely not for me. By the time I get to day 4, I am itching to shave the damned thing off.

      As for youthful adventuress, my father used a straight razor so I had no interest in trying it out. I did one time try to sharpen it on the strop, but instead of drawing the blade backward, I drew it forward and put a whole bunch of cuts into his strop. He was pissed!

      Always an honor Olga, thanks for stopping by and commenting.