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Max Goldt Treasury: Stubble Envy

And now, another in an occasional series of translations of essays by Max Goldt! A short introduction to the man's work can be found here.

Stubble Envy

by Max Goldt (translation by Andrew Hammel)

Two phenomena are commonly described as five-o’clock shadow. A man runs warm water to thumb-depth in the sink, plugs it, wets the shaving-brush, and washes the stubble off in the water. After the shave, he unplugs the sink, and a film of soap and stubble remains in the sink. This is the sink’s five-o’clock shadow. It’s unpopular. What more can be said?

Perhaps that some men “shed needles.” Women who have hairy men sometimes sigh as they glance at the shower or the sheets: “He’s a nice guy, but he really sheds. A Christmas tree has nothing on him.”

Shaving-brushes also lose hairs. Those are badger hairs which lay this way and that in the five-o’clock shadow. You’ll only believe this if you know that, for a modest wage, people in workshops for the blind bundle the badger hairs together to make shaving brushes. There are also some brushes with synthetic hair, but you don’t help blind people if you buy those; and there are also some made from chamois hair, but they are so expensive it seems a shame to get them wet.  For eight hours, man lies around in blankets made of goose-plumage – then, two minutes later, grooms himself with badger-coat. Horst Tappert actually sleeps nine hours, as one can read in the papers.

Here’s my advice to a Vegan who can no longer rock the house by declaring that he doesn’t wear leather shoes and or even eat honey (since these examples are too well-known). Next time, announce: “I don’t even use a shaving brush made from badger hair.” Nobody’s ever said that in a talk show before. Whoever says it for the first time will rock the house just like way back when, when everyone said: “Wha-a-t? Not even eggs?”

As yet, nobody’s made a religion out of the question whether it’s better to shave before or after a shower. I’d say: After the shower is better, then you can dry off without skin-irritating rubbing. If somebody answers that it’s better to do it before the shower – since nice hard jets of water slapping against freshly-shorn skin are good for the pores – I would try to look interested. In any case, I’d stay calm and, at the very most, let my foot fidget nervously – and thus not break out screaming.

It’s easier to shape your identity around the question whether you prefer to shave wet or dry. Men over 60, especially those from the not exactly high-income social strata, are most likely to reach for the electric shaver. When they were young, these men saved up for an auto, or at least a moped – they saved and saved – but it was never enough, so they just bought an electric shaver. It was thought modern back then, and had the status of an “acquisition.”  To “acquire” things of lasting worth was the highest priority in the post-war years. Later, people just began to put disposable stuff into their pre-furnished houses. The new album from Slade – in the ‘70s, you didn’t acquire it, you scored it.

When these men, who are now over 60, finally did buy an auto, they were already used to the electric shaver. Thus, none of them said: “Well, now I’ve got a car, I can actually shave with water again.” They hadn’t paid enough attention to the arc of their lives, and didn’t grasp the context.

Men who are in touch with the modern world generally prefer wet shaving today. It no longer counts as masculine, in the classical sense, to cart some quietly humming device around one’s face. Further, the wet shaver enjoys the advantage of washing his face at least once during the day, without having to specially think about it. Of course, for more complex beard-shearing, you’ve also got the electric sideburn-trimmer and all manner of millimeter-calibrated special devices. Politicians, executives, and other men who have to appear in public in the evening have long made do with the compromise solution favored by the much-photographed: In the morning, a complete wet shave; and in the evening, in the limousine, a quick electric touch-up.

This process is, however, only necessary for dark-haired men with a dark five-o’clock shadow. I suppose you could say that sink-film is, perhaps, only a secondary thing you think of when you think about five-o’clock shadow. You’re more likely to think of the dark little dots that mark a man’s visage after the up-and-coming beard has been removed – that is, the sort of poppy-seed effect that comic strip authors used to portray criminal types such as safecrackers, from which you could see that a thick beard connoted a certain dubiousness of character. Here, one sees the Anglo-Saxon’s fear of all things Mediterranean, indeed perhaps even of Arabs.

Now, however, you see dark-haired men everywhere. You’ve also probably taken a vacation or two. From all this vacation-taking and gazing upon the evenly-laid out black dots as you buy your vegetables arises the (not previously) so-called stubble envy.

Men envy each others’ cars, women, positions, and money. They show this by becoming either aggressive or ironic. The envy of Mediterranean stubble, however, is a secret envy, of which no-one dare speak. Light-haired men, who may have only islands of beard growth, often gaze with much “I want that too” on the “perfectly-mown masculine flower-meadow” on the face of a Southerner. It’s totally okay, in fact it’s pleasant, that nobody talks about this. However, when you’re sitting in the train and the door opens, whereupon a man whose name is “Herr Yildiz” enters to ask for your tickets, it’s not wrong to think that all those dots Herr Yildiz wears on his face are actually pretty damned stylish.

[Source: Max Goldt, Für Nächte am offenen Fenster, pp. 19-22]