Close Shave

(Originally published in 2002)

Recently, I was shopping when something occurred to me: I had left my wallet at home. Also, I noticed that there was a large amount of shelf space devoted to various shaving devices. Lotions, creams, oils, all manner of blades, chains, whips, and soldering irons abound in the shaving section. Intrigued, I started querying a clerk about some of the more exotic items.

“Fascinating items you have here,” I said, holding up a large instrument. “What do you call this?”
“Pruning shears.” the clerk replied.
“Ahh. And how does one shave with this?”
“Sir, this is a hardware store, and that is a weed whacker.”
“In that case, I wish to complain about this ‘Wing Nuts’ breakfast cereal.”

After I had sorted things out with the store manager, my mind returned to shaving. How was it invented? And why? I resolved to find out. A trip to the library was in order.

“Pardon me, but where are your books on shaving?” I asked the young librarian.
“First, I don’t work here, and second, this is veterinary clinic.” he replied. I had wondered why he was holding a dog.

Obviously, my plan to appear more decisive by walking into places without reading the signs was going to need some work.

Finally, I found what I was looking for on the Internet. “Busty Blond Coeds Are Hot For Lonely Geeks!!!” I often wonder if any coeds ever manage to graduate, as all their time seems to be devoted to finding new ways to break Commandments. Eventually, I got bored and wrote this.

For untold millenia, the removal of facial hair has preoccupied Man. Since the beginning of time (a Tuesday), Man has wondered why he gets hair on his face, and why Woman always wants him to get rid of it.

In prehistoric days, Man had few options. “Ooga,” his mate would say in a disapproving tone. “Ooga bundalo.” So man would wander off dejectedly, possibly going to a nearby slime pit to see if any divorce lawyers would ooze out. But few did, so Man had to improvise ways to remove hair. Two options were most common:

1.) Shove a sabretoothed tiger into a lake, then stick out your jaw during its ferocious attack so the hair got flayed off. This method was not preferred as sabretoothed tigers tended to shave off the entire head.

2.) Use the tried and true prehistoric problem-solving method of beating it with a rock. This approached worked for many things, such as laundry, hunting, cooking, domestic disputes, and vasectomies, so shaving was worth a try as well. It worked, in the sense that there are no hair follicles in scar tissue.

Things got slightly better in the Middle Ages. Steel had been invented, so Man had a useful device for shaving off the stubble, and it also could be polished into a reasonably reflective surface so that Man didn’t cut off, say, his nose.

Now Man was often clean shaven, with a hair-free face, covered in thousands of scabs from where he had nicked himself with the knife, and pimples from where the skin had been irritated from having a rusty piece of steel repeatedly scraped over it. This is why so many knights wore helmets. It was truly a good time to be alive.

Knight: Verily, good wench, I am clean shaven, as thou had requested. (takes off helmet)

Wench: (Dies of the plague)

Some major advances finally came about in the Nineteenth century. Straight razors and shaving foam came about, enabling Man to shave closer, with fewer scabs, than ever before. Woman was thrilled. “Your face is smooth as a baby’s butt!” she’d say, because baby butts have always been the standard for such things. I apologize for not mentioning it sooner.

Of course, the catch here was that straight razors were, well, huge razors, and if you didn’t know what you were doing, you were liable to just slice open your jugular and bleed to death before you finished scraping off your upper lip. Enter the Barber.

Barbers played a large role in Nineteenth century America. They would have in Canada, as well, but all that was in Canada at the time were large hairy bears and larger, hairier men, and both were content to stay that way. So any barber caught wandering the tundra was severely beaten.

But in America, particularly the small towns, the barber was an important man. Not only did he cut hair, but he also was trained to use the razor, both to give nice shaves and, and I swear that this is true, to perform surgery, all from the comfort of the barber chair. The red and white striped barber pole came from the barber’s practice of wrapping blood-soaked towels around various poles, such as porch columns and hitching posts to dry. The white came from a barber’s practice of painting his storefront white, to symbolize cleanliness. And that is probably all the true information you’ll get from this column.

So the barber was the man to see to get the desirable baby’s-butt facial texture, provided that the barber remembered to use the razor as a delicate shaving instrument, and not in Invasive Surgery Mode. Many a good man lost his cheeks to a distracted barber.

Finally, the twentieth century came about, and with it a realization that there was a real market for face-scraping. This brought about brands like Bic, Shick, Gillette, Firestone, Smith & Wesson, and the legendary Burma Shave.

Burma Shave was famous for its unique advertising method, which consisted of a series of four to six small signs on road sides, each with a single line of a poem. The last sign always bore the “Burma Shave” logo. To wit:

WE’VE MADE GRANDPA

LOOK SO TRIM

THE LOCAL DRAFT BOARD’S

AFTER HIM

BURMA-SHAVE

And:

FOR READING THESE SIGNS

YOU’LL SOON BE DEAD

BECAUSE YOU FAILED TO SEE

THAT CURVE UP AHEAD

BURMA-SHAVE

Ultimately, the high death toll spelled the end for Burma Shave.

Finally, comes the era we all know, one I like to call: Now. Now, Man has a plethora of shaving tools at his disposal. Shelves of shaving foams and gel, fortified with Vitamin E and and lubricants and aloe, all of which fail to keep the razor from leaving large red irritated patches and thousands of scabs. Man also has the Electric Razor, which, in a miracle of modern technology, requires no lather to fail to remove the hair. We are truly blessed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a rock.

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Dear Daniel

For reasons that are unclear to me, people are always asking me questions. Things like “what the hell do you think you’re doing” and “did you know that’s illegal,” for example. I, being a man of the world, do my best to impart my wisdom upon these poor confused souls. Here’s a few questions that have appeared in my inbox recently.

Dear Daniel,

I work for a large biotech company, genetically engineering crops to be resistant to the pesticides and herbicides we sell. A few days ago, we noticed in our test fields that the weeds were not only failing to die, but were exhibiting signs of evolution, in the form of developing a simple but elegant written language and fashioning crude weapons out of the irrigation equipment. As I am the lead field tech, I suspect these plant-people have come to revere me as some sort of god. My question is twofold: how do I explain this to my superiors, and how would I list this on my resume?

Deity in Denver

Dear Deity,

Clearly you are new to the field of biotech, as what you have here is nothing more than an infestation of plantoids. They have been popping up ever since scientists first genetically modified corn back in the 1960s. The first field researchers ended up having to have ears of corn surgically removed; they went went on to invent ethanol as revenge. Your superiors will know how to deal with plantoids; I understand napalm is commonly used. As for your resume, a simple annotation of “Plantoid Wrangler” will do.

Dear Daniel,

I am a popular swordfighting instructor/cosplayer, enough to where I have accumulated a bit of a cult following. It seems like no matter where I go, there they are, wearing hooded robes and chanting. Lately, they have indicated they plan to sacrifice me to their goat-god, Zaldabu. I am worried that this will cut into my leisure time. How do I handle the demands of fleeing from a blood-crazed cult while still having time for recreation?

Mobbed in Massachusetts

Dear Mobbed,

First of all, we are hardly a cult. We are more a loose group of devoted admirers who trade pictures we have surreptitiously taken of you while you sleep or dine with friends. We only worship Zaldabu in jest. My advice is to give this cult the attention they seek for a while, and then they will get bored and move on to the next polymath. Greet them in thin, easy-to-stab-through clothing.

Dear Daniel,

I have a problem. See, for as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of a huge, faceless media conglomerate. It owns my local newspaper, favorite movie studio, two of my local TV channels, my favorite 24-hour news channel, and one-fifth of the moon. I have even named my children after them. But lately, my eye has began to wander- I find myself consuming media produced by OTHER huge, faceless media conglomerates. My question is, how do I tell a huge, faceless media conglomerate that I no longer want to be exclusive?

Televised in Topeka

Dear Televised,

It is a well-known fact that huge, faceless media conglomerates are deeply insecure. That’s why they buy up everything; they are trying to fill that aching emptiness inside of them with material goods, and it’s sad to watch. Breach the subject carefully; perhaps after a moment of intimacy, like when they data mine your personal information for marketing purposes. Stress the good, like how they keep you feeling content about the world around you by spoon-feeding you mindless entertainment and comforting lies. Then explain your need to branch out and experience new ways if being marketed to. It won’t be easy, but with a little luck, you can redefine the relationship.

Those wanting to write to Daniel are urged to reconsider.

War Ballad

Cyberlieutenant Zakk Bloodclaw peered at the battlefield through his TekOculars. Zakk was a large slab of beef with the temperament of a neutron bull hopped up on all the ragedust.  By his side stood Megabrigadier Jull Ragefist, who was built like a forklift if the forklift had rippling, bulging muscles.

“See what I mean, Zakk?” Juli’s voice was like a sledgehammer falling down a pink catwalk.

“Aye,” Zakk’s voice was like the thunder of the Autoguns booming overhead. “A whole frakload of dead people.”

“ALL the dead people. As best as I can tell, all that’s left of our forces on this planet are us, some combat ‘bots, and the company of sexdroids back at the landing site.”

“Can the sexdroids be armed?”

“Frak no.” Juli spit. “They are far too feminine and silly.”

“Figures.” Zakk focused the TekOculars as if to single out one mangled body over the rest. “What do the Hypermutants have left?”

“At least a battalion, Maybe two.”

Zakk looked away from the ‘Oculars. “You, me, and some ‘bots against two battalions of Hypermutants?”

“Yep.”

Zakk grinned. “Sounds like the odds will be about even, then.”

Juli picked up her Nuker. “Let’s get this party started.” She aimed her weapon at the Hypermutant lines and fired. A few seconds later, there was a huge explosion, followed by the howling of the mutants. “Damn, this turns me on.”

Zakk lit a cybercigar. “Off we go!” He and Juli bolted for the enemy lines. He looked over at his commanding officer. “What are we in the mood for? Incendiaries? Sawbombs?”

“I dunno about you, but I’m kind of pissed they killed 2.4 million of our fellow soldiers, and then made sandwiches out of their bodies. I say melee.” She paused. “No, ULTRA melee.”

Zakk laughed. “I like the way you think.” At that moment they entered the Mutant’s firing range and blasts began to go off all around them.

Juli tapped a small box at her belt. “Arsenal, Goresaw!” A device that looked like an elongated box with several circular sawblades on the front materialized in her hands. She pulled a trigger and saws howled to life. She cackled.

“Arsenal…Werewolf Launcher!” a weapon that looked like a bazooka with a huge, deep cup on the end was immediately in Zakk’s hands.

Juli blinked as the pair came to a stop. “That doesn’t look like a melee weapon, soldier!”

Zakk grinned even wider, which shouldn’t have been possible. “I’ve been saving this baby for a special occasion. Don’t worry, it counts.” He lined up the sights and fired. A brown, furry projectile blasted from the launcher with a loud “POOMP” sound. It landed in the front ranks of the foul army, and immediately a werewolf stood, and began howling and ripping apart the stunned Mutants.

“See? Melee.”

“I don’t consider it REAL melee until you have to wipe the gore off your goggles.” Juli clenched her teeth.

“That’ll happen soon enough.” There were several more “POOMP” sounds as Zakk peppered the enemy ranks with werewolves. “The nice thing about werewolves is that they multiply.” Juli noticed several of the fallen mutants were getting back up as Werewolf Hypermutants.

“Before you say anything, I know, at first glance it seems like I am making them stronger. but wait.” Zakk looked at his chronometer. “And…NOW!” As Zakk pointed, several of the Werewolf Hypermutants exploded, dousing those around them with Werewolf Gore, which caused those Hypermutants to turn into Werewolf Hypermutants and begin attacking their uninfected brethren.

“Just like clockwork, after five minutes.”

“Oh, I have GOT to get me one of those! Does it come in vampire?”

“You bet your ass it does. Uh, sir.” POOMP!

“How many shots does it hold?”

“Two hundred, so I am pretty much out.” Zakk dropped the launcher. “Arsenal, Crunchmower.” Zakk was holding something that looked like the unholy union between a lawn mower on its edge and a tree shredder. “Time to make some some gore!”

They both laughed as they waded into the carnage. It was going to be an excellent battle.

On Yard Work

It was 1921, and Central Europe was still recovering from the devastation of the Great War. Germany was particularly hard-hit, with many of its towns in ruins, its once-lush countryside scarred by craters and trenches. Dieter Hahn, a young mechanic coming of age in the town of Parsberg, was dissatisfied with the options for making a life for himself. So one fine spring morning he gathered his family together and announced he was moving to Scotland.

I would relate to you the conversation they had, but it was all in German, and I don’t speak German.

So Dieter, a petite man at five feet two inches and one-hundred and twenty pounds, packed his belongings and left on the next steamship to London. From there it was but a simple train trip to Edinburgh, where he searched for work. Despite his having a good grasp of English, Dieter was constantly frustrated in his job search, as all of the machine shops balked at his German heritage. Soon, he was forced to take a job as a gardener, tending to several of the large estates outside of town.

Dieter soon proved himself as a hard worker, mowing vast swaths of lawn, planting trees and flowers, and cutting shrubbery into fanciful shapes. He earned the respect of his bosses and coworkers, who were soon singing the praises of Dieter all across the area.

But Dieter had a problem. The estates he maintained had lots of fences and hedgerows, And it was difficult, at times virtually impossible, to cut the grass that grew up against them. So Dieter began to tinker.

As it just so happened, Dieter had become friendly with the master of one of the estates whose lawns he maintained, and was granted the use of an old shed, where he set up a workshop. He would work there every night and weekend, passionately trying to solve this vexing problem.

One day, Dieter happened to walk past a machine shop where all the mechanics were gathered around a small object on one of the benches. Curious, Dieter walked in and saw them examining the smallest motor he had ever seen. The mechanics were at a loss as to what to do with it, and were on the verge of chunking it on the scrap pile. Dieter stepped forward and said he had a use for it, and if they’d give it to him, he’d have it working in a week. Intrigued, the mechanics agreed.

Dieter worked all that week, and seven days later, he returned to machine shop in triumph. He presented the engine, mounted at one end of a hollow shaft with blades at the other. The mechanics laughed at such an odd contraption, until Dieter bade them to walk to the empty lot next door. There, he started the engine and quickly trimmed all the weeds along a dilapidated fence.

The mechanics were amazed, and soon word spread of Dieter’s invention. Dieter knew he was onto something big, but what to call it? Soon, that question answered itself, As people came from miles around to the machine shop, asking for Wee Dieter’s tool.

Selected Excerpts From My Great-Grandfather’s Dream Journal

Recently I found myself combing through my mother’s attic, looking for heirlooms to pawn, when I stumbled across an old trunk. The top was stenciled with “Mack Cogdill,” the name of my legendary great-grandfather, famous for being a freelance lumberjack. He would spend his days roaming the countryside, looking for trees to fell. When he found one, he’d let loose with his famous yell of “AAAAAXE!” and chop it down. This made him a good sprinter, as the landowners typically preferred their trees upright. “Go to the forests on the mountain, Mack, that’s where they’re cutting trees!” everyone would tell him. But my great-grandfather found no sport in in a forest full of trees packed so closely together. He lived for the thrill of the hunt.

Curious, I opened the trunk. At first, I thought Great-Grampa had used this trunk to hold his dust collection. But once the clouds settled somewhat and I caught my breath, I saw cloth. Lots of cloth. I pulled it out of the trunk, watching it unfold. “These are the *hack* incredibly ugly drapes!” I exclaimed to myself. However, my amazement quickly turned to some less palatable form of amazement as I unfurled the cloth all the way to reveal it was not drapes at all, but in fact the largest pair of bloomers I had ever seen. “Aha! *gag*” I said, putting the bloomers aside to pack in my suitcase the next time I flew. That’d be worth getting pulled aside for. The little pink gazelles were a nice touch.

I peered into the trunk to see if there was anything else of interest. It looked empty, except for a small dark rectangle in one corner. A book. I pulled it out into the dim light of the attic, and opened the cover. “Mack’s Dream Journal, 1934.” What follows are some of my favorite passages.

April 10, 3:45 AM

Oh, my dearest Lullabelle. Your suggestion to keep this journal by the side of my bed so that I could document the tales of my mental temple has already paid off! My nightly revelations have left me in a state of great agitation!

I found myself transported to a strange world where people carried tiny televisions in their pockets that could display, of their own accord, and manner of news or information its owner desired as soon as it were to occur! It was akin to having a tiny radio you could carry around that would play only the things you wanted to hear, and a newspaper that reported not only all the news of the world, but news on the lives of your friends and families too. And you could talk to people with it! People in faraway cities, or back at home. People walked around, constantly watching the little TVs display anything known to Man, but they were not happy. They complained about them not being “fast” enough, about there being a newer model out that was better. It was curious as I saw these tiny devices move not a whit. Also, it apparently had made some birds angry, though the ones I saw seemed calm enough.

It was then, as I looked into the glassy eyes of a poor soul shackled to his television, that I felt a great dread and sorrow fall over me and I awoke, gasping and shaking, overcome by what I had seen. I nearly awakened my goodly wife, as she lay sprawled across the bed, mouth wide open and snoring in that way you know I love so much. I think I shall have a glass of milk to soothe my nerves, then try to get back to sleep.

June 14, 2:12 AM

Dear, sweet Lullabelle. My nocturnal voyages into the land of Nemo have yet again shaken my soul to its core.

Once again, I found myself in a strange land, filled with people at once so familiar and yet so different. This time I was in the largest general store I had ever seen! It seemed to stretch to the horizon, and it carried every possible thing one could think of. One side was a tremendous grocer’s, and it was stocked with such food that I wonder as to my own sanity that my mind could have conjured it. There was a section of seafood! I surveyed the offerings, and found them odd. Such fare as “krab” and “lobstir” was offered, next to the butcher’s, which offered “ground beaf.” repulsed, I stepped back into an aisle, and it was full of glass cases of frozen meals! One said “Stouffer’s Frozen Family-Size Macaroni and Cheese.” Disturbed, I fled to another part of the store.

There, I found undershirts such as I might wear beneath my work flannels, but in many colors, and etched with the rantings of madmen! Such nonsense as “SWAG, “YOLO,” and “PRINCESS BITCH” were on display. I had no time to read more as I heard a beeping sound from behind me, and I saw the most tragically overweight woman I had ever seen on some self-propelled-cart. She looked as if she had never known a smile, and behind her I counted six children, all wearing more of the insane shirts. One of them carried three bottles of Coca-Cola so huge I could not have drank one in a week, and placed them in a basket at the front of the cart. The woman grunted and breathed through her mouth.

At this point my slumber and vitality were so disturbed that I awakened myself by rolling from the bed, and I came to on the floor, where the cat watched me with eyes so overlarge that I wondered if she had visited this mad mart herself.

August 29, 2:47 AM

My saintly Lullabelle,

I fear my dreams have taken a sinister turn, as once again they have delivered unto me a vision of madness.

This time, I found myself inside a bar. But instead of beer and whiskey, they sold coffee. I was surrounded by the oddest people! At one table, a man in a suit with spiky hair and pieces of metal through his lips and ears sat staring at one of the tiny televisions. At another table, a young woman with her eyes painted like a raccoon sat behind a bigger television with a flat typewriter attached, with a glowing white apple on the back of it. These were very popular as about two-thirds of the people there had the exact same thing. Oh Lullabelle, could this be the Mark of the Beast that Preacher McCoy talks about? It was very unlike a bar, where people talk to each other. here, it was just silence, with the occasional clack of one of the typewriter things.

I turned to the counter, where a bored teenager in a green apron sat staring into space much like the soldiers who came back from the Great War with shell-shock do. Perhaps this was some sort of sanitarium? I walked up to the counter. “What can I get you?” she said in a bored monotone, her eyes still fixed in space. “A coffee?” I asked.

“What blend? Tall, Venti, or Grande?”

“Uh, regular, and- Tall?” I chose the only one of those three words I recognized. She sighed and poured the coffee. She sat a huge paper cup in front of me. “That will be $7.95.”

“I, uh, what?” I was flabbergasted at the price! I turned back to the girl, but she was staring at one of those tiny televisions.

It was then that I awoke, and I think I will discontinue this recording of dreams. Some things are just too disturbing to write down.