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Thursday, December 14, 2006

What to buy for Christmas: Get off the can!

This year I am asking for nothing for Christmas. I don't mean that I'm not asking people to buy me anything for Christmas, I mean that I'm asking people not to buy me anything for Christmas. There's nothing quite like moving all of your accumulated material possessions from one location to another to give you a good idea of what "wretched excess" means. And I pretty much have everything I want or need, anyway.

On top of that, as someone still settling into the new-home-buyer groove, I am effectively broke. So I can't really afford to get anyone anything much this year.

Last year I made a Christmas list at the urging of my family and friends. One of the items that I thought would be easiest to get turned out to be impossible to get: a shaving mug, brush, and soap set. It seemed that this would be the sort of thing that would be available in "gift" sections of department stores. But no such luck.

And that was where things stood for a while. No mugs, no brushes, no shaving soap, not in the gift sections, not in the after-Christmas section, not anywhere. Then one day in February I was waiting to pick up a prescription (or was it some photos?) for my mom at the drugstore. I was killing time there, walking from aisle to aisle and scrutinizing every single item on each shelf. I found myself in the shaving aisle looking at skin conditioners and products for bald guys (things I could use next time I decide to shave my head) and I decided that this would be the place where the shaving mug/brush/soap would be located. If only I could see it.

I walked along the aisle from one end to the other and looked at every item. Nothing. I circled around and did it again. Still nothing. I contemplated standing on my head, but reminded myself that I was in a public place where such a thing might be frowned upon. Fine. I did the next best thing. I tipped my head ninety degrees and looked at the shelves sideways.

There they were.

The problem was that they didn't look anything like I expected them to. The brush was packaged in a box only a little larger than a box for a tube of lipstick. The soap was sold separately in a squarish box roughly the size of a deck of cards. I did not see any mugs.

I bought a brush and three cakes of soap from two different manufacturers. I hurried home (after the prescription and/or photos were ready) and couldn't wait to try it out. I found an old coffee mug (one of the many, many mugs I have received as gifts over the years - this one had an old-time car and my name on it, and I'm pretty sure it came from the Hersheypark gift shop about 30 years ago). I dropped a cake of soap in, sprinkled on a few drops of water, and twirled the brush to make some shaving cream.

CLANGCLANGCLANGCLANGCLANG, said the mug.

To make a long story slightly shorter: don't use a ceramic coffee mug as a shaving mug. The action of swirling the brush will make a hell of a racket, will bruise your knuckles, and will possibly break the mug. If you can, get a plastic mug, often sold at dollar stores. Much quieter, much less painful, much more durable.

Anyway. My point. Shaving brushes and shaving soap make great gifts. They're a little hard to find, and you may want to get a plastic mug to make life easier for the gift recipient. But there is a certain primitive pleasure in making your own shaving cream out of nothing more than soap, water, and the twirling motion of the brush. It will take a while to get the mixture exactly the way you want it (I prefer a creamy foam which requires very little water and a lot of twirling), but once you've found it, you own it.

More than that: shaving mugs and brushes are very environmentally friendly. I would go through about a can of shaving cream a month, with all the propellant and metal and transportation and manufacturing costs associated with it. A single cake of shaving soap will last for at least three or four months. And the only waste is the small pasteboard box - you decide how much water to add, so you can regulate the amount of foam you make, and any leftover foam will dry back into the mug to wait for you to add water and a brush once again. The mug and soap are a solid, as is the brush, so they can go through airport security without a problem. On top of all that, the vigorous twirling action of the brush counts as a sort of mini-exercise.

So. There are a few things that you can buy someone this Christmas that aren't totally unnecessary crap. From my personal experience, I recommend a shaving brush, shaving soap, and a plastic mug. Get them for a friend, and tell them to get off the can this Christmas!

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