The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

September 8, 2013

When it comes to shaving, stick with tradition


When I was a kid, I used to hang out at my dad’s parking lot on Walnut Street, south of Illinois Printing Company. Downtown Danville was hopping back then, believe you me.

But when things slowed down, we’d often loaf in the barber shop across North Street from The Commercial-News. Its back door was never locked.

There, I would listen to my father, the barbers and the customers shoot the bull. I would read magazines and newspapers. I downed a few bottles of Squirt and Choc-Ola, too.

I was fascinated by the glistening brass National cash register, with the crank on the side. I remember the old barber chairs, with their worn leather seats and nickel-plated hardware; the multi-colored mound of hair in the corner, the shoeshine boy, the mirrors … and especially the shaves.

Those were real shaves — no safety razors, and certainly no cans of pressurized shaving cream.

The barber soaked a white towel in steaming water and wrapped the customer’s face to soften up the whiskers. Then he unfolded his gleaming straight razor and passed it back and forth across a leather strop a few times to hone it.

Then he whipped up some warm, creamy lather using more hot water, a shaving mug with soap in it, and a little brush. The towel came off and the beard was slathered in soap.

Then the artiste went to work. The barber knew how to stretch the customer’s jowls and lift his nose to scrape off every last nubbin of a whisker. Dad said they had to shave balloons in barber school and if the balloon popped, you flunked.

Finally, after the remaining bits of lather were wiped away with the wet towel, the customer arose — a new man, with skin as smooth as that of a baby.

At age 59, I have yet to buy a can of shaving cream. I stick to a mug, mug soap, scalding water and a shaving brush.

It’s soothing to brush the warm lather across my ugly mug each morning, and to use my state-of-the-art razor to banish every last whisker.

(A painful little story: Years ago, I liked a certain dark-haired girl. One day, we were talking and I mentioned that I had once grown a beard. She asked, “Did it help?” Ouch!)

Back to shaving. In any drug store you’ll find a dozen kinds of canned shaving cream and shaving gels. The cheap stuff is around $2 a can, and the expensive stuff is $4 or more.

Meanwhile, you’re lucky if you can find any mug soap at all. It isn’t like regular soap; it doesn’t dry the skin and the lather lasts longer. I use the Williams brand, which has been on the market since 1840. The little round cakes resemble hockey pucks. Each one costs $1 or less, and it lasts me more than a month.

When it comes to shaving, I stick with tradition. Dad did, too. I have his mug.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at