Old and Scary

straight razor shaving

LOYAL TRQ fans will recall that your host hates being photographed. I mentioned this in a previous Casual Corner piece that recalled a back-yard photo session occasioned after I decided it was time to update my website “portrait." This was done more in the interest of veracity than vanity. The simple fact is, I’m more haggard and gray than most surviving photos reveal. That doesn’t bother me. Considering the ravages of time and wretched health, I probably look better than I deserve to. Still, I’ve been informed by one of the top physicians at Duke that it is medically impossible for me to age gracefully. But age I must. Accordingly, I’ve decided to follow P.J. O’Rourke’s sage advice; "If you must age, do not do it gracefully. Don’t just get old, get old and scary.” Age and experience, in the right hands, can be used as a weapon. Throw in gray and scary and you can become downright formidable. So be it. 

Readers may remember that it was our very own Director of Domestic Tranquility who took the thirty or so rather informal photographs that we would choose from to update the site. Having been a professional photographer once upon a time, I know the drill. Film is cheap, winning moments are transient, so snap away…fast and furious. All you need is one “winner” out of the lot. And in this digital age, the cost of film is eliminated altogether. Unfortunately, the Director is not known for her patience under a variety of circumstances when yours truly is involved. Tolerating a former photographer’s strategy for capturing that one winner…or least-offensive photo, strained that patience. As I knew it would. So neither of us enjoyed the session. It was business we were both happy to put behind us. 

"If you must age, do not do it gracefully. Don’t just get old, get old and scary.”
– P.J. O'Rourke

I downloaded those photos to my MacBook (Pro) to have a look, then called her over to ask which images she thought looked best. First words out of her mouth? "My God...you’re totally gray!” I’m not sure why it took a photograph of her own taking to reveal that fact. Yes…yes, I am—quite gray. And I’m going with it. A photo from that session can be viewed on the About page. Alas, I’m afraid it’s already out of date. Here’s why.

A few weeks later, we attempted to duplicate a photo she took of me in a swimming pool back in 2004, I believe it was. I had a vague idea for a Casual piece that revolved around "then-and-now" pictures. She managed to get a shot that was similar enough in composition and I matched it side by side with the older photo. First thing that came to my mind? Good God, man; you’re gray! Unless you’re Cher, once you hit 50 never compare similar photos of yourself taken a dozen years earlier. Just…trust me; don’t do it. 

In the older photo, I had a moustache only…no beard. My hair was dark brown, wet, slicked back, and I had a trace of gray in the temples…just starting to get that distinguished look. Twelve years later, full beard, old, gray…scary. Now, I don’t mind the gray. But the beard was laced with hardly a trace of my old chestnut brown. It dawned on me then; I was carrying around far more gray than absolutely necessary. I had an entire face full of gray that could easily be eliminated. All I lacked to make that happen was the will.

I hate being photographed and I hate shaving. For the past two years, I’ve pretty much avoided the latter. But…hell, why not? So I decided to surprise the Director of Domestic Tranquility by scraping my face clean. Everything, that is, except my trademark moustache. She’d been trying to convince me to lose the beard ever since I began cultivating it. The Director would be ecstatic, I knew. But you don’t just take an electric razor to facial hair you’ve been nurturing and grooming for years and unceremoniously mow it off. The occasion called for a measure of respect, an air of solemnity, and an element of danger. Now, where did I leave my straight razors?

Nowhere to be found. Haven’t seen them since we moved to North Carolina. Found some of the other accoutrements…my badger brush and several cakes of Crema di sapone purissima (Menthol), but no razors and my strop didn’t make it in the move. No problem. Within mere minutes a splendid new Dovo (Solingen steel) straight razor and strop were on their way to Sagamore Manor from the ever-efficient folks at Amazon. The items arrived on a Monday, the following day I knew the Director had some errands to run, so everything was in place for the big surprise.

Gentlemen, if you’ve never shaved with a straight razor…be careful, please. Ladies, well…never mind. Shaving with a straight razor is all about process, patience, and precision. As it happens, YouTube has a pretty good video that I highly recommend to first timers. 

I happen to be an old hand at shaving with a straight razor. Unfortunately, these old hands have developed a tremor (neurologic disorder). And I’m on life-long high-dose anticoagulation therapy (“blood thinners”) with Coumadin and Plavix, all of which makes things all the more interesting. I know, a straight razor in the hands of a man with a tremor might seem a bit risky to some. But I’m a manly man, and I take my thrills wherever I can find them these days. Don’t even have to leave the house. Unlike some. A couple very good friends of mine, Les and Steve, went skydiving for the first time this weekend…and apparently survived the experience. So they’ll probably do it again. How much you want to bet they’d rather jump out of a perfectly good airplane than let me give ‘em a good old-fashioned straight-blade shave? Where’s your courage now, boys?

My Kit

My new blade and strop.

Fortunately, I’m adept at employing compensating strategies when fine motor skills are required. And shaving with a straight razor does place some demands on those skills. The fact that I’m a major hemorrhage risk simply provides added incentive to exercise reasonable caution. So, with steely resolve I stropped the new blade, lathered up, took my time...was careful, patient, the beard came off with nary a nick or scratch, and I basked in a heady aura of ultra-manliness during the post-shaving refractory period. Finished up with an hour to spare before the Director returned to Sagamore Manor.

ONE might think eliminating a beard would be something a wife would notice. Especially after a couple years of looking at it...and complaining about it. Not necessarily, I would learn. A moment or two after the Director returned, set her grocery bags down, wandered into the War Room, she cast her eyes upon me with a puzzled look. “Did you take a shower?”

“Why yes...I did."

"Something’s different. What did you do?”

“Nothing,” I lied, crestfallen...in the throes of anticlimax. 

"You trimmed your hair?”

“I did not."

“Did you trim your beard?”

“I don’t have a beard.”

“You shaved it? Did you shave it off?!”

“Do you see it anywhere?”

“Oh you look so, so much better! Help me with the rest of my bags?”


“Any calls?”


“What’s wrong?”


“Come on. I can tell.”

“We need to take new pictures...because I no longer have a beard, the current photo is no longer current, and I’m uneasy over what new, obvious, unfortunate consequence of aging you’ll suddenly notice about me after reviewing the next batch of photos.”

“Are those bags under your eyes?!”

“What, you couldn’t wait?”

I really, really hate being photographed.

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