Advice for Sybarites

Close Shave

Embracing the straight razor

Robert Isenberg
7 min readFeb 25
Photo by Karolina Grabowska:

My face is bleeding, and I can’t stop it.

Drops rise out of my neck. They bubble from my temple, my cheek, the edge of my mouth. I wipe the blood away with a wet hand, but it still seeps. I leave streaks and smudges. I press tissue paper to my face, only to pattern it with crimson spots. One cut would be fine, but I’ve broken skin a dozen times, all over.

Dear lord, I think. What did I just do?

The straight razor lies on the sink, its edge stained maroon. I break out of my trance. I absorb the damage I’ve done. The cuts burn, but I can handle that. Even the worst will scab over and vanish. When people ask, I’ll shrug it off. Got in a fight, I’ll say. And we’ll all laugh and leave it at that.

But my wife is downstairs. She has no idea I received this razor in the mail. One minute, we were talking in the kitchen; ten minutes later, I’ve lacerated my flesh. There’s no rhyme or reason to the cuts. It’s like I tried to head-butt a table covered in thumb-tacks.

How am I going to explain this? I think. What did I think I was doing? And why the hell didn’t I go to YouTube first?

Really, I just got carried away. I started shaving; I nicked myself; I kept going. It’s the gambler’s logic: This time it’ll work. Oh, wait — this time. All at once, I looked in the mirror and saw the totality of my mistake. I was stubborn, and my stubbornness has mutilated me.

But even now, scowling at my reflection, I won’t give up. I’ll make this work. I will tame the straight razor, and it will do my bidding. This antique little tool has no idea how relentless I can be. Once the blood congeals, I’m trying it again.

I’ve always resented the disposal razor.

The plastic handle looks cheap and childish; the edge always dulls within a few shaves. Each week, I dispatch another five-bladed apparatus to the landfill, where it will spend the next thousand years trying to biodegrade. If each lasted a full fortnight — which is optimistic — I’ve committed 624 units to the soil. Twelve pounds of plastic, just to keep my scruff at bay.



Robert Isenberg

Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer and multimedia producer based in Rhode Island. Feel free to visit him at