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The hot towels were making me feel like I might doze off, but I forced myself to stay awake. I wanted to feel the blade mow my skin, to experience the thrill and twinge of danger I thought would come from having a straight razor pressing against my face. The barber smeared shaving cream along my cheeks, mustache, chin, and neck, and finally brought out the blade.
I've never been one for machismo, but as the sharp blade grazed my skin, I could almost feel my Y chromosomes flexing their muscles. The Barber moved the razor deliberately along the grain, pulling the skin taut while explaining that the tighter the skin, the better the shave. This was the first part of the shave, a "once-over" to remove the bulk of the hair.
During part two, the "close shave," The Barbers artistry was on full display. He whittled away the remnants of my mustache, pared down stray patches of whiskers, and shaped my sideburns to my exact specifications. A cold towel, a couple palmfuls of Bay Rum aftershave, and some talc powder stirred me back to the world of the wakeful.
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I hadn't seen—or felt—my bare face in years, and both sensations were jarring. My fingers practically slid off my chin when out of habit I went to stroke it. My skin felt soft enough to poke my finger through. I looked younger and felt it, too. Later that night, I tried to buy a drink and a bartender asked to see my ID. It was the first time in years that had happened.
That's what surprised me. It turns out straight-razor shaving isn't just about maintenance; it's an indulgence. The Barber calls it a "manly facial" and tells me he has beardless clients that come just for the experience. If I'd heard that yesterday, I'd have called them crazy.