As gerunds go, grooming is a particularly evocative one. It begins with a growl, a masculine posture that, once uttered, smooths to a purr before finding a satisfied, feminine ending. The effect is that of taming the wild—from encounter with tangled, impenetrable brush to the neatly bordered beds of submission, all within a single word. Of course guides on the subject are usually decoration, mere advertorial for luxe emollients and unnecessary tools. I refuse to list must-have products or descriptions of obvious technique. Instead here are three areas of particular personal attention.
When my wife was pregnant with our first, my fingernails grew at an alarming rate. Perhaps it was the excessive mango-eating, her only craving—and one in which I happily participated. I pruned my nails daily for those nine months, after which whatever mysterious keratin accelerant had been in play vanished. I learned two lessons. The first is that well-kept fingernails require three pieces of equipment: a nail brush for cleaning, clippers for removing sizable matter and a high-quality emery board for shaping and honing. Secondly, a man may be laden with choices in his daily routine, but his nails offer a single correct answer: clean, short and gently rounded.
Anyone who has regularly met with a dentist in the past ten years has almost certainly noticed that electronic toothbrushes have become the preferred tooth cleaning technology. My dentist doesn’t employ the hard sell with me, partly, I imagine, because he is pleased with the results of my analogue routine. I brush with good toothpaste and a gentle, natural bristle brush several times each day, careful not to erode my gums. The finishing touch is an intense minute of gargling with an alcohol-based mouthwash. I realize alcohol-free products are said to be superior, but I just don’t get the same long-lasting fresh breath and, let’s call it what it is, invigorating burn. As if to underscore the outmoded nature of the product, I store my mouthwash in an empty Scotch bottle on the bathroom counter, where it raises the eyebrows of houseguests and cleaning ladies alike.
Errant hairs begin losing their charming randomness for most men around thirty. Before that age, some small humor might have been had in discovering a singular and long hair sprouting from an otherwise bare ear or neck. But the fun evaporates when these anomalies no longer seem anomalous; when hair starts appearing in tufts some action is required. All sorts of devices exist, from manual safety clippers to electric trimmers. I haven’t experimented, but partly because I prefer the simple, somewhat punitive experience of tweezing. I must also admit that I go about this activity with gusto; eyebrows, nostrils, ears, brows, necks—no patch of public space is spared my terrible scrutiny.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? No gruesome account of the personal routine, no embarrassing defense of waxing. Not even a single reference to that most loathsome portmanteau: manscaping. And while I haven’t covered the entirety of my daily and weekly maintenance (to everyone's benefit), well-kept fingernails, fresh breath and some minor removal of unwanted hair seems a good start. But that's where I will leave it; as vital as grooming is, one aspect often goes overlooked: discretion.