Straight Shave

One of my indulgences this internship is going to the barber for a shave.

Waiting. The other barber at this stall would play and sing a few chords on the guitar during my shave.
At 40 peso (a little under $1) in Baguio City you get a 20 minute straight-razor shave and a brief facial massage and neck cracking.
In a nearby market a whole floor is dedicated to barbers and hair stylists. Each business has its own identical cubicle and two employees, who as far as I can tell are always related and best friends with every other barber on the block.

The Barber Precinct at the public market.
I’m seated and reclined in a 50s-style barber chair of cracked red vinyl, chipped chrome, and many make-shift spot welds. At one point during the shave my chair lets out a pop-screech-and-release kind of noise and reclines itself another 10 degrees. I don’t hear the barber say anything so I keep my own screech-and-release noises to myself.
And it’s all about sound and touch with these shaves because I’m blindfolded with a facial towel to–I assume–induce, like a budgie under a blanket, a sleepy ignorant bliss. Or in my case, to induce tiny tense knots in my back, finger nails in the armrest foam and a keen awareness of the how much blood my heart pumps through my neck.
The first sense piqued is my hearing, which tunes out the Jeepnie horns and exhaust burps from the eight-lanes-in-four of the main thoroughfare below, the laughter of other customers and barbers (I wonder what they’re laughing at), and the Japanese anime fighting on the portable black-and-white TV on the counter, and instead tunes in the minutia of my immediate two-metre-square surroundings, in particular the footsteps and thus proximity of my barber, who after removing my sight is gathering (materials, onlookers, stamina?) for five minutes while I lay very, very still.
It’s actually hot water he’s brewing, which must come from another barber down the hall. And then it’s touch: warm wet paper towel balls dabbing at first my chin, then neck, then sideburns and moustache. Then that universal sputter, gush and expand of compressed foam shaving cream. A thick line is laid across my left cheek, then dabbed and spread with two fingers across the rest of my exposed lower face.

Two of three ingredients to the shave: Michael-brand ethyl alcologne and Personal Care Extra Thick Shave Cream.
Then pause. Then scrape.
Starting below my right ear it’s an upward, maybe 25 degree, one inch pull across my skin with the straight razor. On my chest lies what turns out to be a scrap of the morning Baguio News onto which my barber transfers the slurry of whiskers and foam.

The third ingredient: the straight razor.
Now I admit I leave my face to grow for up to a five days these days, so my whiskers are, on a razor scale, like small old-growth tree trunks. And I’ve got some pretty pointy planes and acute angles, especially in the chin region, that I know from experience aren’t the easiest canvas to work with..but it really feels more like 100 grit sandpaper than the butter-cutting polish of a fine razor I was hoping for.
And burning. By the time he’s finishing those stubborn follicles of the upper lip and especially those tucked in just below the nostrils that you can never get with a disposable razor, there is a little red hot tear trickling from my left eye.

This is what I probably looked like getting a shave because I wasn’t about to start jerking around with my camera at the end of my arms while a man had a razor to my throat so I snapped this picture of the guy beside me when there were no sharp things within 10 feet of my face.
Relief, oddly enough, arrives with the fumes of alcohol, which my barber dabs two liberal drops of at my temples then, rubbing his hands together with more a liberal swash of the juice, brings a wave of cool, sterile, alcohol relief down upon what I assume are hundreds of angry red gashes, or perhaps just one large overall bleeding rash, that my face feels like.
Because at one point during a particularly tricky and jagged execution the barber let out a small–and I’ll assume–Tagalog profanity under his breath, I also just assumed there was a lot of blood because he started dabbing at my sore lip with more paper towel. Or maybe he was just removing my sweat.
But after the facial massage, neck cracking and back prodding (which is a whole ‘nother story with all sorts of ligament bursting, knuckle cracking and me groaning)–OK wait I’ll just mention how, as he lifts my head off the chair and with one palm cupping the crown of my skull and the other under my chin he pauses, then leans back on a vector roughly in line with my spine, then with another, shorter pause SNAPS me 90 degrees to the left. We both sort of let out a laugh as the sound and vibration of three rapidly successive pop-and-release sounds not unlike the chair emit from somewhere that now feels great inside my neck. Then repeat 180 degrees to the right.
Anyways, the ordeal is signaled as over with the only English he’s spoken all day: OK. And up goes the chair and my head and off comes the towel and either the alcohol sutured them away or pain does wonders with the imagination but where I expect to recoil from what must look like a small cat attack is just a smooth white and slightly grey lower face.
Good good, salamat po and see you next week, I reply with a half smile and a 10 peso tip.

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