There are certain experiences every man should have: Hopping a freight, building a fire without matches and getting a real shave by a real barber are a few that come to mind. It’s too wet on the coast for the fire and boxcars are scarce, so writer Jake Schild volunteered to record his experience in the barber chair.
Getting your beard hacked off by a professional definitely makes for a venture that seems to symbolize virility and manliness. But at the same time, it serves as a refreshing respite — like a mani-pedi for men.
Interested in the prospect of having an expert shave away my scruff, I scheduled an appointment to do just that.
In Hoquiam, the place to get that job done is Rex’s Barbershop. The shop is a pleasant anachronism that makes you feel like you’re in a world where time stopped before there was ever such a thing as a smartphone or the “digital age” — let alone a safety razor.
Inside, men in their 50s and 60s make small talk with proprietor Rex Johnson as they sit, arms folded, waiting to be done up by the affable barber who’s been in business for 41 years.
Although I was admittedly nervous about the prospect of making myself so vulnerable to a stranger armed with a razor, I took my chances as the endeavor is often thought of as a luxury — something for the leisure class.
First, Rex had me get into the barber chair before tilting it all the way back until I was parallel to the ground. He took my glasses from me and began to apply a thin lather to my underdeveloped tuft of facial hair.
Once I was lathered up, Rex prepared a hot towel and draped it over my face, rendering me completely mummified from the neck up. This part of the process is one of the shave’s more relaxing aspects.
The technique is practical in the sense that it aims to soften the facial hair in preparation for its departure, making for an easier shave.
The towel is removed and we’re off to the races. Rex brandishes his razor and begins to work on, as he puts it, “his canvas.”
My trepidation is quelled after the first few strokes glide over my face before I realize I’m being shaven. His voice evolves into a concentrated mumble as he carefully exhibits his craftsmanship.
He starts from the side and mentions the importance of stretching the skin, so he won’t risk cutting a client and tells of practicing on dummy heads in barber school.
“Some people are doing it,” he says of getting a razor shave. “It’s kind of a treat. A long time ago they did as much shaving as they did hair cutting. Then they got the safety razor and people kind of stopped doing it. Now there’s a bit of a revival.”
After working on the sides of my face, he moves to the center, deftly eradicating the overgrown hairs on my chin and lower lip.
Fifteen minutes have passed and Rex lets me know he’s finished. He heats up another towel to again steam my face and then wipes off any excess shaving cream. While I wait with the towel over my face, I bask in the fact that it doesn’t seem as though I’ve lost any skin.
The towel comes off and there is one last step: aftershave. Rex retrieves it, gets some on his hands and rubs them together before applying the fragrance. It’s worth the burn.
I get up out the chair feeling refreshed, my face feeling cool and smooth thanks to Rex’s handiwork.
I left with no cuts, and the desire to make a trip to Rex’s in the future.