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The Gearboat Chronicles

Brimstone Razor Burn

It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me to shave on the river. We’re happy to heat up water if you like, but I think five days of stubble just adds to the camping experience. But that’s about as long as I’ll go. Anything over a week and things get itchy. Also, my one attempt to grow a proper beard years ago ended very badly.

There is a community beard growing contest underway in Wallowa County as part of the festivities to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Oregon being a state. Also, the city of Enterprise was incorporated 120 years ago and the local courthouse was built 100 years ago. The town planners hit on the notion of a beard contest to commemorate these anniversaries.

Great. But count me out. I’ve been under a lot of pressure from friends who are in the whisker-a-thon, but they’ll have to go on without me. I have my reasons.

Back in my college days I went down to Costa Rica to study for a term and lived with a family while I was going to school. And I thought, hey, why not give the razor a rest. No particular reason, just seemed a good time to sprout whiskers.

A month later things were looking patchy. I seem to have a medical condition where the beard follicles down the middle of my chin have migrated over to either side. That leaves a bare stripe down the center, while the corners of my chin compensate and grow these bushy . . . tufts, I guess you would call them.

The mother of the family I was staying with understood english well enough, but didn’t like to speak it. And I could comprende what she was saying in spanish, but made a terrible mess when I tried to put a sentence together in español. So we had nice conversations each morning in our two languages. She would say, “Quieres huevos?” I would answer, “That would be great. Thank you.” Then she would say, “De nada.”

She had been following the progress of my facial hair with some interest, assuring me that I looked muy guapo. But there came a morning when she seemed concerned as we ate our huevos and bacon beneath the framed picture of Jesus above the kitchen table.

She pointed at my struggling beard with the two pointy patches on either side and informed me that I had una barba de diablo. A beard of the devil. Then she crossed herself quickly and glanced up at the portrait of Jesus.

Well, friends, that was the end of my beard growing days. I put down my fork, wiped my chin with my napkin in case there were any stray fragments of egg or brimstone on there, then marched upstairs to rid myself of that pointy monstrosity.

So I won’t be joining any beard growing contest. I can handle the itching and scratching of growing a beard. It’s the being driven out of a community under a hail of rocks that I’d rather avoid.

For the record, I consider myself a pretty nice guy and am quite sure the prince of darkness does not manifest himself in my patchy chin hair. It’s an unfortunate resemblance, is all. Which is a shame. Because shaving is one of my least favorite activities.

Would it be asking too much for the razor industry to standardize their replacement cartridges? There are razors called Mach 3, Turbo, Quattro Power, Tracer, Fusion, Xtreme . . . it sounds like a catalog of military ordinance rather than grooming products. I can never remember if I need to buy the Schick or Gillette and if it’s Turbo or Quad Cam and if it was three blades or four . . . do I get the surface-to-air heat seeking five blade cartridge with the soothing aloe strip? Or is it the fully automatic titanium self-cooling strafing howitzer model that pivots to reach those difficult spots?

They all look the same, so you guess. Next morning you find that you guessed wrong and there you are trying to shave by holding onto the sides of the little cartridge with your fingertips because none of the two dozen razor handles you own will fit the new blades.

I gave up on fancy razors long ago. Pitched the lot and went back to the cheap yellow single-blade models. The downside is that you get what you pay for. After shaving with economy razors, I come out of the bathroom looking like I’ve just been attacked by a lynx.

So I don’t even try on the river. Shaving once every five days is plenty. I don’t think I could handle the loss of blood if I tried any more than that.