It is a cliché that what is old becomes new again. That things that were in style become passé, are forgotten and eventually, experience a resurgence. Often times there is no real reason, the seeming nine lives of bell bottom jeans come to mind. Sometimes however, there is a deeper reason. The sense that something has been lost in favor of disposable convenience. As entire years in people’s lives have become a mere click away from deletion at any moment naturalist and artisan movements have sprung up in rebellion of the digital era.
In the West when a man rode into town from days and miles of frontier he would tie up his horse near a water trough so the animal might refresh itself and the man would walk into a saloon to do much the same with whiskey and women. In the morning, after a bath and some hot coffee he would hit the barbershop for the finishing touch of getting cleaned up, a straight razor shave. It was little different at the height of American prestige in the 1950’s, save for the man pulling up in a petrol guzzling ’57 Chevy rather than a thirsty equine. A few decades of Fantastic Sam’s commercials and SuperCuts coupons had pushed this masculine ritual in a dimly lit niche. Looking at myself in the mirror and seeing two months worth of full beard growth and feeling little appetite for the ordeal that taming it would be convinced me it was time to revisit an old tradition.
The LAB Anti-mall in Costa Mesa’s SoBeca District is home to the offbeat chic. Unique cuisine and fashion collide in a maze of concrete and distressed metal. One sight breaks up all rustic post-modern design: a classic barbershop pole. The nearby door opens into an alcove of Crew Salon known as The LAB Barber Shop. The walls are adorned with vintage issues of Playboy. With polished concrete and black rolling toolboxes filled with tools of the trade there is a subtle automotive feel that suggests the characters of American Graffiti would have been at home stopping in before a night of cruising.
When my turn comes I take in a seat in the olive colored leather chair and make use of the metal foot rest with its Theo A. Koch’s manufacturing stamp. My barber’s name is Justin. He is a young guy in his early twenties with a style that stops just short of being the self parody that most greasers become. His look has a lived in authenticity that enables him to pull off a hairstyle that is a combination of high & tight slicked back with some sort of top knot tail in a band. I’d strongly advise against attempts to replicate this. Clippers are employed to shear off my beard. At one point, when he is half done with this process, he excuses himself to step outside for a moment to deal with some scenario. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and obtain the answer to a question I never thought to ask: what would I look like with a full beard on only half of my face? I decide that when society breaks down to the Mad Max level I will use this look. In the mean time, I’ll stick with Mad Men. After the initial shear is complete a piping hot towel is put on my face to soften the beard and prepare the skin. Due to the government’s infinite wisdom a barber can no longer use a shave brush. Justin instead applies a hot lather solution to my skin with his fingertips. As he gets to work with the razor I am reminded of the hot cutting sensation of a tattoo gun over more sensitive parts of skin. There is a certain base level of pain you have to adjust to. This hurts. And this is when things get weird. As the barber has his blade to my skin “Stuck In The Middle” by Stealers Wheel sneaks out the speakers and thoughts of my throat being slit flood my mind. This is not lost on Justin who shakes his head and asks rhetorically, “Why is this song always playing when I shave someone?” The other barber doesn’t get it and all it takes is for Justin to say, “The scene from Reservoir Dogs…” I let out a nervous laugh as the other barber let’s out an, “Ohhhh…”
With short, precise movements the barber completes and then repeats the process, ensuring a clean shave. When complete Justin applies aftershave assuring me that it will be a “good burn” I do my best not to pull a Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone and scream. I ask him how he got into doing straight razor shaves. Justin indicates a friend not so gently nudged him into it after barbering in school, as friends are known to do. He feels this gives him a specialized skill set that will never completely be out of demand. As I lightly run my fingers across my smooth face I tend to agree.