Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Apr 20 2013 12:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: A close shave -- and a few close calls

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Jeff Lemucchi has gone back to the old style of shaving using a straight razor. He likes the closeness of the shave but is still learning the technique.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Jeff Lemucchi's straight razor is getting a lot of use.

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

A few days ago, Jeff Lemucchi was shaving when Tessa, his boxer, ran into the bathroom. Spooked, Lemucchi looked out the window and cut himself.

But this wasn't just any cut. It was clean, deep and impressive. Lemucchi bled for an hour. It stung in a way that only shaving with straight razor can.

Yes, a straight razor. A surgically sharp straight razor with a three-inch blade. The kind that Jack the Ripper might have used and that Lemucchi has employed for the last three months.

Lemucchi does not seem like a guy who is quietly unraveling. He's 56, responsible, been married to Jan for seven years, has four children -- his two and her two -- and works as a newsman at Kern Radio. Why go from the comfort and safety of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power to Doc Holliday and the Wild West?

"I've never forgotten the friend who told me about the old-fashioned shave he'd had at a barbershop," Lemucchi explained. "He didn't need to shave for two or three days."

Two or three days? Say no more. That's a shave for the ages.

Men talk about shaving almost as much as they do women. Which razor do you use? How long does it last? How do you like your new system? Men like to use the word "system," especially when it involves shaving.

Everybody aspires for the perfect once-in-a-lifetime, smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom shave.

It's the search for the Holy Shave.

Lemucchi could not give up the dream. An otherwise mild-mannered man, he burned with shaving desire: He wanted a perfect shave again and realized he would have to pay the price. There was the cost of the stainless steel blade itself -- $95 on eBay -- and then the $25 sharpening fee to Lynn Abrams, the honing guru who lives in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Money is only the beginning. Most of the price is paid in blood. Lemucchi has cut himself three times and each one has been a doozy.

"The cuts are more radical," he said. "All you have is the naked razor against your skin."

Learning to shave with a straight razor is like learning to snowboard.

The learning curve is steep. It scares off the nervous, the uncommitted and the Sunday shaver.

Negatives aside, there is a zen to shaving with a straight razor. Like calligraphy, it requires absolute attention. If you are not in the here-and-now, you will find yourself in the cut-and-bloody.

"I used to hate to shave and I'd go three or four days without shaving," Lemucchi said. "Now I enjoy the whole process."

It starts with washing his face with soap and warm water. He then applies a pre-shave homemade concoction of three oils: castor, olive and orange essential.

"The oil helps the razor glide on the face," he said. "Then I apply Proraso, an Italian shaving soap, with a badger hair shaving brush."

It's go time, but in the case of a straight razor, it's go slowly time.

"It's like painting; you can't rush it. You have to be careful when you put the blade to the skin," Lemucchi said. "Short vertical strokes, never horizontal, holding the blade at a 25- to 30-degree angle. I make three passes, rinse with cold water and then apply Proraso, a menthol and eucalyptus post-shave balm."

The icing on the cake is a shaving talcum that reduces the shine and hides the nicks, should there be some.

Shaving with a straight razor is like a skier assessing the steepness of an unfamiliar mountain. The first turn or, in this case, the first stroke, is the hardest.

Lemucchi spent some time on YouTube with Geofatboy. Fatboy -- nothing fat about him -- has a series of instructional videos.

"I try to shave the same way every day," Lemucchi said. "If I get creative, I can get in trouble."

His wife thinks he's nuts, chalking it up to his slightly obsessive nature. Lemucchi's hooked. His shaves last a solid 24 hours with no creeping beard syndrome in-between.

He doesn't mind the cost. Money or blood.

***

After I expressed interest, Lemucchi gave me the Dovo Shavette, a disposable straight razor. I watched Geofatboy's 10- minute video on YouTube. The sound of the straight razor scraping over the skin is transfixing. If there is such a thing as shaving porn, this was it.

I haven't tried the straight razor yet, although friends are encouraging me for reasons other than the satisfaction of seeing me get a close shave.

I'm at the top of the mountain. It's that first turn that has my attention.

These are Herb Benham's opinions, and not necessarily The Californian's. His column appears Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Call him at 395-7279 or write hbenham@bakersfield .com.

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