“So, um, do you want me to do your shoulders, too, or what?” my brother asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He loosely grasped in his right hand the electric razor he otherwise exclusively used to trim his beard.
“Hmm, yeah, I’m not quite sure,” I replied after some thought. “I guess, just try not to draw too many penises.”
As I stood there in the tub, facing the stained tile wall, clad only in my navy blue boxer briefs, slightly shivering with the constant winter chill seeping in through that old window, I couldn’t help but consider the inestimable importance of family. After all, who else - save perhaps for a small cluster of trained professionals in the greater Los Angeles area - would agree, albeit without an ounce of cheer, to expend the time and self-respect to shave my back.
I hadn’t always been endowed with such a bountiful store of body hair. Perhaps, in high school, a spare follicle would sprout up on occasion, like a tenacious weed, thriving against all odds in the pastiest desert man had ever witnessed. I think it must’ve been around sophomore year of college that those last curly strands, like the little red hairs that broke the camels back, marked my membership in the prestigious club of gentlemen commonly mistaken for the missing link between man and ape.
Not that anyone noticed or cared at the time, really. As luck would have it, between the ages of 17 and 21, I encountered very few individuals with the kindness and charity to request that I remove select articles of clothing.
For the better part of my nascent adulthood, I refused to trim, groom, or manscape in any fashion out of some stubborn, misguided artistic principle. T-shirts proved tricky, as often one could spot protruding from the back of my neck puffs of hair that would only seem appropriate atop the head of a Harlem Globetrotter.
I finally had my back shaved for the first time this past summer. I was enjoying several months of blissful unemployment, living rent free under my parents’ roof following grad school. My mom was giving me a nice, light haircut for the season, when she suggested, half-jokingly, that she shave my back. I don’t know. Maybe the excess of sunshine and utter lack of responsibility had gotten the better of my disposition. Perhaps I had simply had a few beers earlier in the day. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly agreed to undergo the procedure, standing shirtless in the center of my parents’ living room, my mom working my back with all the routine and skill of a sheep shearer. Their little white dog sniffed around at the tufts of hair drifting down like snowflakes to the marble floor, and I knudged him away with a deft toe and a stern command.
The bald back took some getting used to. It was a little like my back had been a blind man, who, by some miracle, could suddenly see. Everything was a new and interesting sensation: the cool air against my wet skin as I stepped out the shower; the soft texture of my gray cotton shirt as I slipped the garment on over my head; the life-affirming heat of an afternoon on the beach, as I let the sun’s rays roast me ever so slightly, a necessary primer for an eventual tan.
Of course, as the sun’s neglect shames the trees into their fall colors, the renewed absence of shirtless months fostered a certain personal disregard, which in turn lead to a season of rampant bodily reforestation. I didn’t really care. I had no reason to care. I was sleeping on an air mattress, working in a basement. Who was there to notice the hair on my back?
I’d like to tell you that I learned some sort of lesson about self-worth - that I should attend to my appearance because I cherish myself - but that would be a load of horsecrap, really. It wasn’t until some recent fortune in my social life that I realized immediate posterior trimming was needed. Thankfully, my brother was around to come to my aid.
I briefly considered taking up the razor myself, but then quickly realized such a decision would leave my torso resembling an old red neck’s back lawn: patchy and uneven, a couple rusted out Chevies tangled in the tall grass. Although he may not have been, I was certainly glad my brother was there to help. Some weeks it feels like lightning strikes, and all the various cogs and levers in my life suddenly jump into full motion. Other weeks it feels like the salaried mechanic has gone out on a union mandated lunch break. I’ll always count myself in working order, though, as long as I can locate people in my life who hold the generosity and love in their hearts necessary to shave my back.