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Sep 19, 2017

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A Stiff Drink and A Close Shave
by Scott Stavrou
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 4.2

Whether it's politically correct or not, it's time people felt open enough again to acknowledge that there are some very fundamental differences between the sexes. That's not to say one's better than the other. Just different.

I'm reminded of one of the most basic differences each morning when I stare at my hairy jowls through the steamed-over mirror. You see, I'm a man. What's more, I'm a Greek man. I'm proud of being Greek. It means I'm a genealogical heir to one of the greatest civilizations that's ever graced the world. It means I can boast about my ancestors' contributions to philosophy, drama, democracy, astronomy, medicine and indeed most of the fields of science and art that're benchmarks of Western Civilization. It means I get to stare at topless Swedish women on the pristine beaches of the Greek Isles when I visit my homeland. It means I hear a lot of bad jokes about sheep. And it means that I'm a swarthy bastard. Dark eyes and dark hair. Lots of dark hair. Especially on my Mediterranean face.

When I awaken in the morning, I generally shave. Like people of our generation, I've sported the George Michael (also Greek) three-day stubble, the goatee and even a beard for awhile. But I like a clean-shaven face. More to the point, my wife prefers it. Married men know that to fully appreciate the finest "differences between the sexes," they'd best do as their wives prefer.

Back in my bourgeois days, I acted like most single men. My morning routine consisted of repeatedly thumping on the snooze button, wearily rolling out of bed, showering, piling on the Gillette Shaving Gel, scraping a simple razor across my face, then donning a suit and tie to slave for the man. It's a utilitarian approach. Minimum effort for maximum speed.

Then I started working for myself. And my mornings became more civilized.

One of the best parts of my life is I no longer use an alarm clock. No annoying blaring. No snooze button. No frantic fighting off slumber. I open my eyes and get up when I want to. Have coffee with the paper. A leisurely shower. Then I clear a small circle in the steamed-over mirror, just large enough to see my face. (Who needs to see more of the world than is absolutely necessary in the morning?) And I shave.

Since it's no longer about getting to the office on time, the pace is different. Rushing a shave's like rushing a putt on the 18th hole. It's like rushing through a fine dinner. Or rushing sex -- sometimes quick is necessary but it's usually better when you take your time. After all, this is a routine that's a constant in most men's lives. Why not try and make it as pleasurable as possible instead of just getting rid of your whiskers.

So now I use a badger brush and brass shaving soap holder for sudsy, soothing, hot lather. Slow, smooth strokes down the face. Then another layer of lather, a bit hotter than your face can stand, and another upward sweep of the razor for the smoothest and cleanest shave possible. Then it's onwards into the day.

Shaving your face is a manly domain. And there aren't many of those left, so they should be cherished. When you want to revel in your manliness, go out and get an old-fashioned shave from a professional barber. Forget the unisex hair-styling salons that were once in vogue. Sure, many men opted for the sweet-scented confines of salons operated by young, attractive women and adorned with feminine books and copies of Cosmo...sweet smelling shampoos, sensual stylists and small espressos on demand. But you're a man. That's not what you're there for. If it is, then you might just as well give up guardianship of the remote control.

For a manly blitzkrieg against your resilient whiskers, you need to experience a good old-fashioned shave. The kind of classic manly pursuit that was more common in the slower, more civilized pace of life generations ago. The kind of close shave you watch big-time mobsters get in the movies. The kind Cary Grant or Bogie got on the set before wooing the starlets or saving the damsel in distress.

Where I live there's a simple and old-fashioned barbershop down the road, adorned, as any good one must be, with the classic red and white spinning barber pole. (The colors, symbolizing blood and bandages, come from the days when barbers were pseudo-doctors.) Being a barber is a manly profession that traces its roots back to the middle ages. Real barbers, unlike the beauticians and stylist graduates of beauty schools, have all gone to Barber's College, and learned to give shaves the old-fashioned way -- with hot towels, hot foam and a straight-edge razor. Today, not all barbers do shaves because it's a timely and difficult skill. When you find one that does you can rest assured that you're in good hands.

The Senor Barber shop on the Pacific Coast Highway is where I go for my shave. There I usually find the gentlemanly owner, Al Oliman, extending a warm welcome. If it's Saturday or Sunday the TV's tuned to football, with a group of men riveted to the game. The place is always filled with men. Some waiting for a haircut, some a shave, some just hanging out. It's not quite Floyd's Barber Shop in Mayberry, but it's close. There are no Cosmos lying around. No manicurists. No women stylists. Just men doing men stuff.

For my shave, Al leans me back in the full-reclining position and takes out the accoutrements. The towels are almost hotter than I can stand. Then a sensuous soothing as the heat softens my whiskers.

Al lathers me up with hot foam and puts a new razor blade in his old-fashioned straight edge. He goes to work.

It's generally not the best time to talk when someone has a razor to your neck, so I listen to Al's friendly discourse. After the first pass I feel pretty clean-shaven, but there's another ritual hot towel application and more hot foam before Al finishes the job, making sure to hit all the nooks and crannies of my mug. It's a lot slower than your typical morning ritual. And a lot better. Al smacks some stinging after-shave on my smooth-shaven, wide-open pores, then some talcum powder. Done.

I thank Al and get up feeling cleaner and fresher than I'm used to. For less than a sawbuck -- including tip -- I walk outside into the fresh air knowing that I'm a man.

A professional shave isn't something to be wasted on a mundane day. You want to save it for a big night out with the special woman of your dreams or a cultured day of male-ness. Male-ness doesn't mean just sitting around sipping beer at a Sports Bar with the guys, either. The day you get a professional shave needs to be punctuated by more classic manly pursuits, like sipping elixirs with cultured men who went to barbers before you. So order up an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan or a Sidecar. And before you order it, in case you're in the wrong bar, make sure you know how it's made. Whiskers or no whiskers, if you want to be a man and you want to have your own drink, sometimes that means telling the bartender how to make it.


THE RECIPES

THE SHAVE: A skilled professional barber Hot towels hot shaving foam A clean straight-edge razor

THE OLD-FASHIONED

One of America's most classic cocktails. Place a sugar cube, a cherry and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters in the bottom of a sturdy old-fashioned glass. Muddle with a bar muddler (or the back of a spoon), add ice and three ounces of your favorite bourbon. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

THE MANHATTAN

Sort of a bourbon martini. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add three ounces (two jiggers) of bourbon, 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters. Stir and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.

THE SIDECAR

A sophisticated tipple invented in that most elegant and cultured of cities, Paris. Pour one jigger of brandy, 3/4 ounce of triple sec (or Cointreau) and one jigger of fresh lemon juice (sweet and sour mix if you must) into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake (or stir if you don't like James Bond) and pour into a sugar-rimmed rocks glass. (To sugar the glass, run a lemon around the rim and dip into a saucer of sugar. Fill with ice, then with your sidecar.)

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