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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word Hashshashin, Arabic ħashshāshīyīn, also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin, or Assassins), sharing its etymological roots with hashish.  It referred to a group of Nizari Shia Muslims who worked against various political targets.  Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria.  The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuq, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.

Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug taking was not the key feature behind the name.  The earliest known use of the verb “to assassinate” in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1605).  [Wikipedia]

      So I’m shaving, doing the usual routine: wash face, rinse, apply shaving cream or soap, begin the cutting/shaving process.  I shave the way I have always remembered to do it–my dad having taught me long ago the essentials, then with blue blades and razor (now with Mach3 Turbo).

razor blades

I begin with left side-burn, down to halfway my face.  Rinse razor.  Right side-burn, down halfway.  Then along left cheekbone to middle of chin.  Rinse.  Along right cheekbone, etc.  Rinse.  Cheeks.  Chin. 

Now my story begins as I stare into the mirror at my half-shaven face.  Raising my chin to see what I am doing, I place the razor back near my throat, above my Adam’s apple.  I drag the razor over my skin, through the foam, cutting down the one-day-or-more facial hair growth, my “beard.”  One stroke.  Another to my jawbone.  Then the razor glides smoothly over scar tissue, three to four inches long, midway from throat to under chin.  (“Did you try to kill yourself?!” echoes within my head.  On the inside of my left wrist I have a scar.  Diagonal across the wrist, with suture scars.  “When did you do that?”)

I continue with the stroke of my razor, through Barbasol shave cream, with scraping noises, and water running, rinsing.  Sometimes I linger longer with soap, a cup, and a brush–for variety.  My contemplation of the scar only happens sometimes.  I don’t know why.  But it makes me think of memoriesofatime.

Attempted Assassination #1:  Once upon a time, before I could tell stories, and long before I remember such early stories, my mother tells me that I fell down the basement stairs.  I was carrying Coca-Cola bottles.

coca cola bottles 1940s.jpg

The story is a bloody one, with gory details of a very young boy climbing up the stairs, presenting his mother a bloody wrist.  She thought that was the wound.  Until she saw the blood on my shirt.  “HYSTERICS!” she later told me.  A gaping wound.  I recall her telling “everything hanging down” and so many inches from the inside of my mouth and so many inches from my throat and windpipe.  It must have been frightful for my dear mother, and for my grandmother with whom we lived.  I’m lucky, and glad I don’t remember the details.  “But I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

During one of my many part-time jobs, I worked as an orderly in a hospital emergency room.  One winter a snowmobile accident victim was brought in.  He was well pickled and well preserved with alcohol.  But while sporting in the dark, he and a friend crashed into a barbed-wire fence.  This man had his throat flayed open, displaying his windpipe before me as I moved him from the ambulance gurney to the ER table.  THAT was frightful!  He felt no pain as he was being attended to . . .

Attempted Assassination #2:  South Side of Chicago.  Cold, no snow.  Saint Justin Martyr Elementary School (now closed; just history).  I’m in 4th grade in the 1950s.  Our school had a meeting hall, no cafeteria, but a hall for parties or family gatherings.  Also it was used for movies for us kids.  I was one of those kids lucky enough to see a very real film.  The films were infrequent, nearly never.  But this 4th grade time was different.  Three or four grades of us children could be seated into the hall built below the church above.  Not many more could fit.  So there we were, probably watching The Bells of Saint Mary’s in preparation for the holiday season.  (A movie a year was probably one too many for the Sisters of Mercy, our teachers.)

End of movie.  “All rise” (to the sound of that cricket-clicker) in silence.  “Pick up your chairs . . .” And we stacked our chairs.  The “Great Hall” was ready to be emptied.  “Lines, please.”  We lined up, and were led out of the room by grades, our smiling Sister Doloretta standing at the door as we left.  “Jimmy,” she said, “would you please go and turn off that light switch.”  She pointed in the direction of a light across the naked hall. 

I ran to the switch, flicked it suavely, and turned to . . . utter darkness.  I had turned off the last light in the basement.  I could see, however, away from me, the light coming through the open exit door and the dark shape of my nun-teacher.  Eager to get out of that place to be with my classmates, I ran to the light.  BAM!  “What the..?”  Millions of bright lights and stars in my head.  I was on my back.  “What?  OW!  That hurt!”  Tears, I held my left hand to my eye.  Oh, the throbbing pain.  I made my way to standing next to one of the ceiling support posts.  I crashed into that, head-on, left-eye to nose.

I wobbled to the light and the Dark Shadowed Sister of Mercy.  “Oh, my!  Look at that bump!  What happened?”  I mumbled an answer as she led me to the classroom.  (There was a touching moment I must share here.  Before we left, she pulled me to her, and held me tight against her hard, stiff-starched bib.  Surely I must have shed some tears on the white starched part of her habit.)  Those in the classroom were quiet when we arrived.  They looked at me, the spectacle.

So here was the First Aid, no kidding:______________.  No cold pack, no ice.  “Sit at your seat.  Put your head down.  Down on . . . a Scotch tape can!

scotch tape can

Believe it.  I applied pressure of my throbbing, welting, pounding injured eye socket onto a Scotch tape can.  I tried my most uncomfortably best to lay my head onto this metal can.  (Sister did come to wipe away my forehead and my tears.  My classmates were silent quiet.)

It was nearly noontime, lunchtime.  (The movie was planned that way, to be finished before lunch.)  I was being sent home.  My sister, Janice, was in 6th grade, waiting for me, to go home for lunch.  I had a note for my mother explaining the incident.  By now, my eye was swollen closed.  My sister and I walked home the six city blocks, hand in hand, as usual.  My mother seeing me?  “HYSTERICS!!”  “Were you trying to kill yourself?!”  “What happened?  Oh, my poor, poor . . .” The scar is in my left eyebrow.

Attempted Assassination #3:  Summer 1964.  At the end of my first year of teaching 9th grade English at St Viator High School (Arlington Heights, Ill.).  The first summer of being newly married (after October 1963) with baby on the way (to arrive in August).  The first summer to have a part-time job to supplement teacher salary: Jewel Tea Company. 

I answered an ad for warehouse workers.  I unloaded, from boxcars, packaged and canned foods onto pallets, the food then warehoused for later loading onto delivery trucks.  Five days a week inside a giant warehouse, I opened unlocked boxcars that had been moved into the building.  The opening for the car was level with the deck, the platform.boxcar unloading

Boxcar Unloading

It was tiring, dirty, hard work, no doubt about it.  The pay, nevertheless, was good.  I was young, able, 185 pounds, strong, able to lift sixty-pound bags of sugar.  (We, my partner and I, were able to empty a sugar car in an hour–a Jewel Tea record!) Sugar cars, ketchup, fruit cocktail, canned vegetables of all kinds, flour, and more and more.  Imagine grocery store shelves.

Every once in a while, the large door handle would not lift open the door.  The contents inside the car might have shifted, blocking or jamming the door.  Or just age and rust and dirt outside.  The handles, locks, and seals were lifted up with two hands, then swung out and away from the door–on some cars.  This acted as a lever, to slide open the door in its track.

boxcar detailed image Boxcar Door Mechanism

One morning, I had to jump down between and behind two cars to get to the car we were going to unload.  I found myself between the cars and the wall, slowly making my way to our work car.  “Hurry!  Time is money!”  (Yes, we could get incentive bonuses.)  I then quickly moved in the dark, the only light coming from under the cars from the platform.  It was as though I were walking in a tunnel with a very high roof.  BAM!  Stars.  All the stars.  I was knocked backwards, gradually losing my composure, and was down sitting on my butt.  Pain!  Intense pain in the middle of my forehead.  Burning.  “Are you down there?  What’s taking so long?”

A handle was down, pointing out and away from the car.  Someone had tried to get into the car at some point, but left the job unfinished and the handle for my head.  “I’m all right.  I’m hurt.  I’ll be there.”  Blood dripping off my nose, I could feel the wet on my face.  I stood up and crawled over the couplers of the boxcars.  My partner pulled me up onto the platform.

The supervisor was there and carted me to the nurse.  “Trying to kill yourself?!”  B-I-G bump.  Swelling.  Iced.  Bandaged.  Rested on a cot for a few hours “for observation.”  Then I was sent home with a note, some dressings, and some painkillers–and told to take the next day off.  (I drove myself home under the influence.)  My pregnant wife: “What happened?!”  “I hit my head.  I’m all right.”  I have a Y-shaped scar to prove it all, buried in my forehead, between my eyebrows.  (I almost lost my head.  Well, maybe not.)

ConclusionSome may think my brain is addled from the damage I could have incurred from these incidents.  I was never checked for concussions.  However, in between that first bloody fall down the stairs, until now, I have had my share of bumps and knocks, especially with cabinet doors and car doors, even once or twice falling out of bed landing on my head.  However, all nothing major.  I’ve had no outstanding incidents of head trauma that have made me slow . . . that I’m aware of.  Now that toboggan accident . . .

* * *

Black’s Law Dictionary:  Assassination is “the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons” (Legal Research, Analysis and Writing by William H. Putman, p. 215).  [Attempted killing of oneself is not attempted assassination, of course.  The incidents described herein were not of my doing; they “happened”–or someone or something was attempting to assassinate me . . .]

©  James F O’Neil  2019

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“Just lather, that’s all.  You are an executioner and I am only a barber.  Each person has his own place in the scheme of things.  That’s right.  His own place.”  — from the short story  “Just Lather, That’s All” by Hernando Téllez (1908 – 1966)

Possibly the most famous work by Hernando Téllez was his short story Espuma y nada más (“Just Lather, That’s All”), a story widely read amongst American high school Spanish students.  It depicts the inner conflict of a barber who is shaving the captain of a military unit who has tracked, imprisoned, and killed some of the barber’s comrades.  The barber vacillates between thoughts of slitting the captain’s throat with his razor or giving him the expert shave for which he is known.  In the end, the barber decides he does not want to be stained in blood, but only in soap lather or “espuma y nada más.”  As the captain leaves, he reveals that he heard the barber would kill him; his visit was to see if this was true.  [Summary by Wikipedia]

I first heard about this story when I was teaching 10th grade English in Florida.  I knew nothing of it except it was a film available through the A-V Department.  “Anything I could use to keep them entertained,” I said to myself one day while I was shaving.  The 10th graders and I were having some difficulties with literature “appreciation.”  So I ordered the film.  They and I were mesmerized.  What a great film–and I had to find and read the story.  I did–again and again.

Yet aside from the literary effects of the story or the history of my classroom use of the film, the memories that audio-visual production (real film with projector!) conjured up took me back to my beginning experiences with face hair and shaving, images of laughter and love affairs with razors and shaving; remembrances of questionable pedagogical actions.  Gillette, single edge, blue blades, double edge, Mach 3 Turbo; Merkur, Wilkinson.  Words, words, words.  And Remington, not shotgun, but a 1959 Electric Roll-a Matic electric razor.

As men get older, they don’t shave as often.  If they do, it’s out of habit, not of necessity.  “Don’t hafta go ta work.”  Or when they look shaggy, or out of self-esteem–or, perhaps, guilt.  Or, possibly, old military-like discipline.  I’m one of those who don’t shave much anymore, certainly not every day, as before.  “In the day,” I used to look forward to Saturdays, for a day off–especially from shaving.  Yet how excited and eager we were “once upon a time” to be able to shave like our dads, brothers, or uncles.  Then.

Today, shaving and all it entails is such big-money business, in stores and in advertising.  Reggie Perrin was the consummate Razor Man, from reggie-perrin-bbc-martin-clunesBBC-UK: from the company always trying to out-blade the multi-blade blade.  Reggie was British comedy.  More important, who would ever have thought of a sit-com about a razor blade engineer-salesman, and his company’s Quest for the Perfect Razor Blade.  The elusive “Perfect Razor Blade”–or even The Perfect Shave, like the search for The Holy Grail or the secret of alchemy.  We men (mostly) continue our Quest, as the mythics tell us “from the beginning” (ab initio) until… 

Which brings me up to my story.  (My “beginning” early memories of collecting “stuff” includes digging through garbage in the neighborhood alleys of Chicago to find used razor blades.  Whatever possessed me to do such a thing?  [I had quite a collection of Gillette Blue Blades.  I related some of this story of collection/addiction previously: https://memoriesofatime.com/2013/10/25/confessions-of-an-addict-reflections-on-collecting/].)

During my puberty and adolescence, peach fuzz came, sprouted in the pores on my face where zits did not thrive.  As I aged, I found razor blades not kind to my bumpy face.  My Uncle Bill gave me the Remington electric in 1959 that I used through my senior year of high school, then took to college. 

remington-electric-razor-my-first

JIMMY O’NEIL’S FIRST RAZOR

(Any memory images of college shaving are non-existent, more than a blur.)  My Electric Days have included Norelco products and mini-portables–and Braun Mobile units, battery-powered, for quick touch up works, at home or office.  These have been delightful.  Thomas Edison notwithstanding, I always have come back to the lather and the razor.  I have been on the receiving end of the lather and the blade: in college, a classmate who did haircutting offered to give me a shave.  My first and last with a straight edge, though older barbers still do neck trims with straight razors, and around the ears. 

For our first Christmas after our wedding, my new bride learned–perhaps from hints I had made, or from her reading–that The Perfect Shave Tool was a Merkur (German) razor wedded to a Wilkinson Sword Blade blade (made in England).  These, with a genuine badger bristle brush and a bar of Williams Shaving Soap were my gifts under the tree in 1963. 

merkur-razor-by-toecutter1967-photobucket

MERKUR RAZOR (by photobucket)

Brushes later, shaving mugs later, then Burma Shave canned lather, or Barbasol Thick and Rich (with aloe, of course)–to say nothing of a cup of Old Spice in a mug–have been used, tried, sampled (gels never were a success), and discarded.  I am a fickle shaver with lather, even trying shaving using messy (non-foaming) greasy-like cream or Noxzema.  Messy application, messy shaving, messy clean up.  (But, incidentally, a clean shave.  In spite of that, not worth the mess.)

In the past years, I have tried different razors and a combination of blades.  No Reggie Perrin blades (six or seven?), but single, twin, triple, with Atra razors, various Gillette models, the Merkur, and the Mach3 Turbo (current).  Harry’s in New York sent me a trial sample kit.  Harry’s is becoming popular, with good products and mailing.  But I just could not maneuver the blade under my nose…and around my nostril…  So No to their beautiful razor and handle and shaving cream and Blade-of-the-Month Club.  And I also do not need any Gillette Fusion!

So this story ends.  Not quite.  That film for the 10th graders.  Whatever possessed me (another possession) to bring brush and soap and razor to class and ask for a volunteer.  Was I sure of what I was doing?  (Did I care?)  I was certain that many of the peach-fuzzed boys had not yet shaved; many of the girls (I assumed then) had never seen any boy shave, or watched anyone shave, for real or in the movies (and certainly not as done in the Lather film).  Up stands Jerry Cohee, and comes to the front of the room.  “Gather round, kids,” I might have said, putting a towel around him.  I had the water and the soap ready.  In the cup, I “began to stir with the brush…and whipped up the soap” and just lathered.  I took my razor, and off they came, the hairs on his chinny, chin, chin.  Voila!  Done!  “Next?”  No Next.  Time for the bell. 

That was the end.  The last time I showed that film.  The last time I demonstrated expert shaving in the classroom.  The last time I taught 10th grade, and high school classes (moving on into a community college setting).  After all, though, it was one of those memoriesofatime never to be dismissed as trivial or insignificant.  So much surrounds it making it a great story.  And that’s it.

Telling stories about shaving isn’t as glamorous as writing about food in the movies, diets, exercise plans, building muscles in a gym, or travels to Paris, or babies’ first walkings–perhaps.  But I enjoy telling my stories about shaving.  At the same time, I have been thankful, at times, that I did not have to worry about cutting or nicking an ankle or taking a chunk out of my knee or calf, or messing with a razor in a bathtub.  I just need some hot water, a sink, a good razor and blade, and Just Lather, that’s all.

 

© James F. O’Neil  2016

shaving-bowl-and-colonel-shaving-brush

SHAVING BOWL AND BRUSH

 

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