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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Bit of a Close Shave Many Years Ago at Sea

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If you watch television at all these days you're bound to have seen the ad for shaving cream featuring a father and son in front of the bathroom mirror. "Some day soon my son will be shaving with me!" the father joyously intones as he spreads the snowy foam on his cheeks.

This ad always sends me back to my teenage years. I plunked down in the barber's chair for my first shave as a 16-year-old cadet. Navy regulations required that cadets of the Higher Naval Academy always be clean-shaven. The barber didn't use a blade. Instead, he mowed through the fuzzy ginger growth on my cheeks with electric clippers. It took me a long time to come to terms with the idea of shaving every day, and my negligence earned me numerous reprimands from my superior officers.

I would watch with envy as my roommate Yura shaved with a marvelous steel Solingen razor that his father had sent from the front. My father sent crude Zvezda safety blades, and I made matters worse by using each blade several times to save money.

Shaving in the large, mirrored bathroom in our barracks never took more than five minutes or so. When we began our training at sea, however, the procedure took a lot longer because we only had one hand-held mirror in our quarters for 20 cadets. Our commanding officers understood this, and tended not to dog us too much about shaving.

One fine day General Tatarinov, deputy commander of the Higher Soviet Naval Academies, came on board our training vessel. He was known for his strict adherence to regulations. And as it happened, this was one of those days when I had not managed to shave. As soon as we put out to sea he ordered a combat-readiness drill. When we heard the alarm we all rushed to our battle stations. I was in charge of an anti-aircraft gun.

As the general completed his inspection, he approached my position.

"Comrade general, the gun is ready for action," I reported.

"You have five minutes to shave," he replied, much to my surprise.

I bolted for my quarters. I couldn't find the mirror so I began blindly scraping my cheeks and chin with my dull razor. I managed to shave in a minute and a half, though not without a few cuts. I rushed back to the bridge, ran up the general and reported: "Your order has been carried out!"

"What order?" he asked.

"I shaved."

The general let out a laugh and said in an edifying tone: "A sailor, not to mention a future officer, must shave every morning." That instruction was a defining moment for the routine of my daily life. For 60 years now I have begun every day by shaving, though I long ago got rid of the Zvezda safety razor, thank goodness.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a pensioner and journalist living in Moscow.