A Close Shave: How to Use a Straight-Edge Razor Without Killing Yourself

When journalists write tongue-in-cheek, first-person stories in which they participate in some exotic activity, the tendency is to play up their incredible incompetence at said activity. It's a cloying and cheap practice. So, let me assure you, I am really and truly awful at shaving.

As a teen, I sliced off a large portion of my right nostril. My father regularly ran to catch the bus with the better part of a roll of toilet paper affixed to his bleeding cheeks. And my grandfather was the only Eskenazi brother -- and there were many -- to not open up a babershop in Brooklyn.

So when your humble narrator was offered a chance to take in ace barber Shorty Maniace's straight-edge razor tutorial at Mystic Hair, I didn't bother to think, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" That was all too obvious.

Shorty and his razor -- a match made in heaven
I'd taken the prior eight weeks off from shaving and, other than resembling a neolithic reporter ("Three mastodon tramplings -- that make trend!"), all was well. When I arrived at the barbershop, Maniace trimmed my scraggly visage down to a Ratso Rizzo look that a straight-edged razor could easily cleave through.   

Listening to Maniace pontificate on male grooming and the proper manner in which to hold a deadly weapon to your throat was a treat. It was akin to overhearing Don Zimmer talk baseball or Carl Sagan explain the cosmos. Maniace traveled the world with a barber's eye, getting a shave every two days so he could add to his arsenal of grooming practices. Through the course of a two-hour lesson for a handful of local scribes, he rattled off numerous grips to use on the cutthroat razor and various ways in which to twist and tighten your face for maximum efficacy while shaving.

Will you get a closer shave with a straight-edge razor than a Mach 3? No, actually. And it'll take astoundingly longer to do -- with the added bonus of possibly landing in a bed next to poor Bryan Stow. So why do this? For Maniace, using a straight-edge razor -- and taking your time while doing so -- is a vestige of a calmer, less frenetic era. A time when men weren't in such a mad rush and didn't -- like so many generations of my family -- race out of the house while dotted with miniature two-ply Japanese flags.

Your humble narrator with facial hair...
For Maniace, shaving with a cutthroat is relaxing. For beginners, perhaps not so much. You need to go slow, like a fledgling skier on the slopes, because to do otherwise could lead to disaster. And you need total concentration -- shaving with a straight-edge as opposed to a safety razor is not unlike driving a motorcycle instead of a car.

But if it isn't quite relaxing, it is leisurely. Shavers in Maniace's course start off by applying an ointment to their faces, then a mint-imbued hot towel that feels like wrapping yourself in a steaming Hall's lozenge. Then comes the shaving cream. And then we methodically begin to work every corner of our faces, as the master barber looks on and makes sure we're holding the razor just so.

...And without!
The extra time and care you take while wielding a straight-edge leads to a longer-lasting and neater shave if not a closer one, in Maniace's opinion. And while all of the journalists in the barber's inaugural San Francisco class managed to nick themselves up a bit, no one pulled a self-Sweeney Todd. This was a great relief to one and all. In this city, it's one thing to fear the beard. But to fear the razor? Not anymore. 

Shorty Maniace can be found at Mystic Hair on 14 Haight, where he will teach a monthly cutthroat razor class. For more information, see here

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