Straight Razor: The Casual Intimacy of a Close Shave

by:  Patrick Gill


Somewhere in the closet full of shoeboxes, brimming with pictures,  there are snaps of me at 5 with my hair slicked into a mohawk, as its being cut.  I have a large cup clutched in both hands and a face both concentrated and fearful, devouring all of my toddler’s anxiety through a strawberry shake.  Even when I was young I didn’t like being touched, that much.  I was happy, but wary of contact.  This was particularly difficult for myself, my mother, and multiple cosmetologists in the Scotts Valley/Santa Cruz area every time that I needed a haircut.  I needed my milkshake though, I needed my distraction.

That hasn’t exactly changed as I got older.   Maybe there were a few times I didn’t mind when I got sheared down.  I can’t really remember them.  I remember ratty hair being pulled, washed, and combed by my barbers, my head resisting—hair fighting back as if it was sentient.  If I had gone to the beach, which I did every day of summer, I remember leaving sand in my hair, damaging scissors (I am really ashamed of that, those things are expensive).    It’s not so much that I liked my hair’s length.  I just didn’t want to be changed.  Or touched.

When I am uncertain of the person, or the situation, I cringe at contact.    It’s just always been that way, or at least seems to have.  Then unfortunate events happened, to be survived, leaving less room for trust, a skeptical residue, less willing and able to change—especially my body, especially for someone else.

It’s weird, I was raised in  California Hug-When-Your-Introduced Country.  I still do that.  I tend to initiate contact.  If I understand the designs, estimate a trajectory of motion.  Even if I don’t know for sure, if I can try, I am willing to trust people.  This can be changed though, I am working on that.

The last time I got my haircut, it was on a whim.  I just, I get scratchy for change in my life sometimes.  It usually culminates with me shaving down the sides of my head, taking a little off the top—once I gave myself bangs,  it was unfortunate.  At least I made myself look unfortunate, and I didn’t have to pay for it.

This time though, I was walking out of a Northside coffee shop and I saw signs for cheaper haircuts.  My weakness, economical and physically altering.  I had time, they had chairs open.  Time to jump.   I popped in, asked if they accepted cards, he said  “Do I have a costumer?”  “Yes”  “Well no, but there is an ATM down the street.”  I put down my bag and told him it was collateral.  I came back with cash.


He asked “Do you have a wife? A husband?  Anyone special?”  “Nope”  “Well, we’re gonna make you look nice enough to get someone, if you want.”  I just, let go.  I find it hard to tell a barber what I want, usually I just think “Morrissey! But happy.”  This is hard to explain.  I settle on asking for it to be just taken in a bit, nothing too much different, just the length.

I eased back into the wide chair.  I let the radio do most of the talking, fill the room.  He tightened up my hair, shorter than it had been in so long and finally symmetrical.  A weight gone, a cleaner feeling.  It was better

Though at times, when swaths of my curls fell down my cover, I was scared, I understood that this man had done this before, he said for decades; I remembered hair grows back.

Before finally dusting me off, he asked if he could touch up my beard.  It was a short scraggled mess.   I must have shaved it a week before but was too lazy to think about keeping or maintaining it.  Again on a whim, I told him to do what he wanted.  He took out his straight razor.

I have never had someone hold a blade to my skin.  Much less someone who I could not see fully while they operate.  My head was back staring, no tiles of the ceiling to count.  I became determined to relax.  Not wanting to move, a slip of the blade might confirm any fear I had. In face I couldn’t move when he touched my neck or head as well, tilting and positioning it for the shave.  My mortification dissipated in my want for a successful outcome.  I just concentrated on my breathing.  The radio played a call in show, the DJs were talking about toxic masculinity and a famous athlete’s murder of this partner and mother of his child.  No rest there, I had to find it in myself.


The sound and feel of a straight razor’s slide over your skin is an astounding blend of flattening and coarse.  This is not your average you have the handle shave, this is a sculpting process cultivated over centuries.  It’s an act upon you, done with intention and your satisfaction and well-being in mind.  I rose to see my face, the line of my beard was more level than the ginger forrest that usually encroaches on my cheecks, I would have never been able to get something that straight.  And though at first glance I thought it looked unnatural, I realized time with fade it in to my features, it was the basis of what would be a beautiful look.



Then he asked about my eyebrows.  Again feel, then memory of regrowth.  Go for it.  I thought he had whittled them down to their half on first glance, I breathed deep and caught a new light.  They were defined, sharp, fitting.



I rode the train west , excited,  fresh faced.  In all honesty it was one of the best feelings I had had after a haircut.  I need to trust in someone’s hand if I am going to see all of the things my body can do.


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