Look Sharp, Feel Sharp, Be Sharp

“Of the Seven Dwarfs, the only one who shaved was Dopey. That should tell us something about the wisdom of shaving.” ― Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

The opening to NBC’s “Cavalcade of Sports” is playing in my head. If you have forgotten it or are too young to remember fear not, I’ll share it later.

It plays as I’m standing in front of a display of Gillette razors. In a moment I’ll move down the aisle and peruse the choices of shaving soap, lathers, and gels. I’m not sure why I’m contemplating shaving, something I haven’t done since I began to take blood thinning drugs. I’m afraid I’ll nick my turkey neck and bleed to death. I do use electric clippers to tame my beard and clear the skin I choose to leave bare.

I’ve worn some form of facial hair for fifty years. Mustache, beard, goat tee, even a brief period with mutton chops ala Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. Yes, it is from his odd choice of beard styles that we get the name ‘Sideburns.’ It comes from a corruption of his name. Burnside is also remembered for his slow reactions at the Battle of Antietam and his costly failure at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He joins the Earl of Sandwich and Lords Cardigan and Raglan in the ‘anals’ of history.

Off topic history lesson: The 4th Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich to spend more time gambling. Crimean War vets Cardigan and Raglan are remembered for a sweater style Cardigan forced his men to wear and a sleeve style adopted by Raglan after losing his arm to a wound received at the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon. Both Cardigan and Raglan, along with others, share the blame for the ill-fated ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Back to topic.

My first attempt at growing a beard didn’t go well. My freshman year in college I decided to join the ‘hippie’ culture. Not really, from the second week of attending eight o’clock classes I decided to forego shaving in favor of an extra five minutes of sleep. By Christmas break I had a scraggly beard going.

To get home for Christmas break from Newberry College, I caught a ride to Chester, SC to meet my father and the first words from his mouth were, “Son, when you get home, you’re going to shave that beard.” No “Hey son, it is good to see you” or even a simple, “Hi.”

Having lived on my own for a whole four months I answered, “No, I’m not.” He put the car in gear and drove off with me running after him, waving frantically and yelling, “I’ll shave, I’ll shave, I’ll shave!” I did, too. “If you put your feet under my table you will abide by my rules!!!!” At that time, I was still putting my feet under his table even if it was from long distance.

I don’t quite know why I am contemplating picking up a razor again. I also don’t know why The Gillette March is playing in my head. Okay here it is. Just click on the link below.

NBC’s “Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports” was a mainstay on Friday night TV from the middle Fifties until I began playing sports or dating on Friday nights. It primarily featured a boxing match, two burly men trying to beat themselves senseless and Gillette Razor or Blue Blade commercials. “Look Sharp…Feel Sharp…Be Sharp.” Somehow it translated to “Look Sharp and you’ll Feel Sharp, too!”, whether you were beaten black or blue or not.

As far as I know, my father shaved every day, even on his rare days off. My family was big on hygiene. He would never consider leaving work and running errands until first going home to bathe, shave, and don fresh clothes.  I, on the other hand, once wore the same pair of jeans twenty days in a row. I would have worn them on day twenty-one, but they walked out of my dorm room on their own. For those wondering, “I bathed often and changed my underwear.”

As a child, I remember watching him lather up using Barbasol or Burma Shave. A Gillette safety razor or Schick Injector Razor would be tested against his neck and if needed, a fresh blade exchanged, the old blade deposited in a slot in the medicine cabinet, the new one seated in the razor. Then scraping would commence.

An early Schick Injector style razor

As a child I couldn’t wait to begin shaving and as a septuagenarian, I wonder why? Over fifty plus years shaving age, five or ten minutes per day adds up. Not to mention those days when a styptic pencil was needed but unavailable and I exited my bath with bits of tissue paper stuck to bloody nicks when I didn’t take enough care or should have changed blades.

Yet, here I am, contemplating the un-contemplatable. Shaving my beard…or at least parts of it.

I bought a can of Barbasol and a package of Gillette’s newest technology. They are resting comfortably and unused under my bathroom sink. I did get as far as using the electric clippers on my turkey neck. I just couldn’t take the next step. I’m retired and my wife likes the “Grizzly Adam’s” look. She even liked my attempt at growing a ponytail and lamented when I chose to clip it off.

So. Do I really need to “Look Sharp?” Well, I’d like to “Feel Sharp.” Maybe I’ll just “Be Sharp” and shave my neck and see how that goes…or not.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach turned writer who self publishes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1584wnM_B2zqveCoez2z0rXxysYi4JNkZRXwETiYsGSzxmsd4TjClfq5o

What Ever Happened to Burma Shave?

Hinky, dinky…parley voo…cheer up face…the war is thru…Burma Shave From 1930 Burma-Shave signs found along the roadside

I just saw a FaceBook post, one of those that have become too frequent.  “In the last week have you seen….”  It was about advertising some good or service and it caused me to think about advertisements from the past. 

A unknown poster asked the question, “What Ever Happened to Burma Shave?” I had no clue but a twisting pig trail led me from Burma Shave to “See Rock City” to the Eagles’ song, “Hotel California”, and back again.  Yes, it twisted but for some reason, the path made perfect sense to my twisted mind.

It was about advertising methods before there were slick, computer generated commercials. It was about low-tech jingles that included “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” or croaking frogs saying “Bud…wise..errrr“ or stomachs jiggling to “No matter what shape your stomach is in.” You might have to do a bit of research on those. It was when beer, liquor, and cigarettes were sold in prime time. It was about a simpler time but my thoughts went further back,…some might have been a little dark.

“On a dark desert highway…Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.”  In my fragmented brain, the light was shimmering in gaudy neon.  Red and green, it flashed, maybe flickered as if a neon tube was going bad, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”  Below would be another sign advertising “Vacancies” or “Rooms to Let.”  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” sings in my head.

For some reason, I’m drawn to the gaudy neon.  Old signs flashing in green, pinks, yellows, and red.  “Cold Beer”, “Cigarettes Here”, red and green Coca Cola signs.  Seems you could advertise better with neon…or more brightly.

I associate neon with the hole-in-the-wall places where I spent too many hours during the misspent youth portion of my life.  There seemed to be a bit of the nefarious associated with neon…if not criminal, wicked at least.  If I were creating a scene it would be in a backroom of a pool hall or a bar advertised by harsh neon. Hard men with fedoras pushed back on their heads and Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes hanging on a lip. They squint to see their cards as smoke circles their heads. Women that Andy of Mayberry would have considered fast “fun girls” in tight shimmering gowns watch the game. Maybe a bit past their prime…trying to hang on for table scraps.

Maybe it was the signs that advertised cold beer and live music, “Girls, Girls, Girls” or the martini glass with a naked young lady in it.  I never liked martinis but girls were another thing as was cold beer and music. Somehow they seemed to be related in the dim light of my past. 

I am reminded of late-night road trips through small towns with darkened streets except for flashing neon. The themes of Perry Mason and Peter Gunn reverberate in my mind in black and white but I see the neon flashing in color.

In a “lighter” time, I remember family vacations, rolling through the twisting and narrow roads in the Blue Ridge and seeing barns on hillsides.  Slab barns with metal roofs with “Visit Rock City” or “When You’ve Seen Rock City, You’ve Seen it All”  painted on them. Sign painter Clark Byers painted over nine hundred barns advertising Rock City after it opened in 1932.

Some thirty years after it had opened, I found Rock City atop Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and remembered standing in line to step to a spot where I could see seven states, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama.  I might have been ten or so. I also remember a rope bridge I wanted no part off.

On other trips, roadside signs ranged from professionally done to hand-lettered.  The hand-lettered ones, the work of someone who felt strongly about his religion or his politics. Strongly enough to pound them into the ground on the side of the road.

Weathered red paint on whitewash. Single words or phrases spaced over the road’s shoulder.  Many foretold of doom, “Repent…our…time…is…nigh”  or “The…end…is…near…REPENT.”  Quite ominous for a pre-teen raised in a strict home.

Others advertised Alligator Farms, the best fried chicken, Stuckey’s Candies, or Big Gulps. Sometimes all four could be found in one building.

Then there were the Burma Shave signs and the post that began my wanderings.

The Burma Shave signs weren’t as ominous and were professionally done but many displayed lessons to be learned.  More than a few displayed bullet holes as if someone took offense to them.

Burma Shave, at one time the second-largest producer of “brushless shaving cream”, was famous for its advertising gimmick of posting humorous rhyming poems on small sequential highway roadside signs. The company sold out to Philip Morris in the early Sixties but their signs lived on and were culturally impactful in TV, movies, and literature. They were culturally impactful to me it seems.

Burma-Shave - Wikipedia

One of their advertising sequence of signs read, “Cheer up face…The war is past… The “H” is out…Of shave…At last…Burma-Shave”, another “A shave…That’s real…No cuts to heal…A soothing…Velvet after-feel…Burma-Shave.”  I don’t know what the “H” in the first one stood for. I know the war it referred to was the First World War.

During World War Two they joined the war effort with rhymes like, ‘Let’s make Hitler…And Hirohito… Feel as bad…as Old Benito…Buy War Bonds…Burma-Shave’ and “TOUGH-WHISKERED YANKS…IN HEAVY TANKS…HAVE JAWS AS SMOOTH…AS GUYS IN BANKS!” Oh the humor.

A lesson to be learned, hopefully before a crash occurred.


The last Burma Shave rhyme landed in 1963, well before I began the daily scrapping of my facial skin. “Our fortune…Is your…Shaven face…It’s our best… Advertising space…Burma-Shave”. 

Until my next pig trail please remember, “Train approaching…Whistle squealing…Stop…Avoid that run-down feeling…Burma-Shave.” Here are three more on the signs that adorned many roadsides. The one on the right fits me perfectly.

Don Miller’s newest release, “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” is live on Amazon. It may be purchased in paperback or download. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GQSNYL2