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Cutting through the stubble of the past

Life has taken most of the curl out of my hair, but I still need to shave occasionally.

All of this was predicted many years ago by a shaving cream company named Burma-Shave, which once erected sets of four signs along our highways. Their most memorable set of signs read something like this:

"Traveling through this vale, of tears and sin, your head grows bald, but not your chin. Burma-Shave.'

I haven't seen a Burma-Shave sign for years, but these advertising billboards once became famous as humorous pieces of Americana. People had so much fun with them that the public mailed jingle ideas to the company. Every year, the advertising manager and other Burma-Shave officials took these quips with them on vacation. They had fun choosing the winners -- those poems that deserved their own sets of signs.

They regularly received ideas that they liked, but which they thought might offend the public. Here's one that they liked but never used: "Now look here birds, these signs cost money. So rest a while, but don't get funny."

I spied a Burma-Shave sign about 40 years ago on a highway south of Wichita and was tempted to walk out in the pasture and steal it. But I didn't, because that would have been the wrong thing to do, and those of us who used Burma-Shave were regular Americans.

I haven't seen any Burma-Shave signs for three or four decades, and I haven't shaved with their soap for an equal number of years. Do you suppose there's a cause-and-effect relationship there? I can just picture a new Burma-Shave advertising official, fresh out of business school, telling a white-collar group of Burma- Shave executives that they're "too old-fashioned" and must come up with a "modern advertising campaign that really works."

Anyhow, you cannot find Burma-Shave signs along the interstates, but you'll find plenty of them on the Internet.

Nothing is fuller of Americana than the American male's love-hate relationship with hair. As a friend told me: "When I was young, with scraggly whiskers, the girls paid no attention to me. Now that I'm old, with scraggly whiskers, I get about the same results, even though every sexy man on TV has about a five-day beard."

Then there's the guys who shave their partially bald heads. I see them on TV but not so much in everyday life. I guess they think shiny skin is sexier than bald spots. Then the Boston Red Sox shaved their heads for the World Series. Then they wanted to prove that they can grow hair so grew bushy beards and looked like mountain men.

We have lived through the Gillette Blue Blade Age, which gave us the "sharpest edges ever honed," and today we're so sophisticated that we don't shave at all -- but instead trim our beards with electric mowers, and buy $50 haircut "styles" at a salon.

Most of the barber shops closed and that left men without a source for gossip, so now men are being trimmed at the "beauty shop" ... but they don't seem to be getting much beauty out of that.

One man had worn full whiskers for years. He looked quite nice, a little like Santa Claus, but nice. Then his children begged him to shave. Which he did. And now they're begging him to grow another beard.

I've managed to keep my hair, but that doesn't help much. Now it's so wild that I seem to have achieved the Einstein look. Einstein might look good with his white hair sticking out in all directions, but I just look like I need a haircut.

I've only bought one shave in my life, and that was a mistake. If I recall correctly, haircuts were $1 and shaves also were $1 at that time -- I was 16 years old. So, just on a whim, I walked into the barber shop in Cawker City and ordered a shave. The barber looked crosswise at me through his glasses but didn't say anything. When he had finished the job with plenty of hot towels and shaving cream and a straight-edged razor, I asked him "How much?"

"That'll be 50 cents," he snorted.

I was so insulted that I never went back.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.