Each morning, a man begins his day by staring thoughtfull into the bathroom mirror at the bleary-eyed, disheveled face before him.
From there, the situation only gets worse. Because now he has to shave.
Now he has to take a piece of cold steel and rake it across his face, a bizarre ritual that gathers bits of stubble while also tearing chunks of flesh and opening gaping wounds in the cheeks, chin and neck.
This goes on for several minutes. Often it is accompanied by a good deal of whimpering and cursing. The ordeal is by no means over with the final stroke of the razor, either.
As the ritual continues, a man splashes on an after shave lotion which stings like the dickens and leaves his face with that reddened look normally associated with exposure to Strontium 90.
This certainly explains why so many men begin the day in a sour mood.
You women have no idea. There are times when I have to check the urge to appear at the breakfast table with a crowbar, because I have just torn up my face with a razor and splashed what might as well be Texaco unleaded on the open wounds. I keep hearing how painful the final stage of childbirth is, but let me tell you. Shaving is no picnic, either.
Yet men do not complain about shaving. Oh, they complain about a lot of other things. If a man has a slight head cold, he will whine so much you'd think he'd just found out he has two weeks to live.
But you rarely hear of a man stumbling into the office and moaning: "Boy, had a bad shave this morning. Hit this soft spot under my chin. Cut it pretty bad, too. Bathroom looked like a slaughterhouse."
No. Men don't do that. There is a stoicism that men bring to shaving. Shaving is our burden and we carry it gracefully, for the most part, save for occasional self-serving essays in men's magazines and columns such as this one.
I suppose we should clear up this business about why men splash on lotions that sting and burn after shaving.
Fine. We splash that stuff on our face because . . . because, quite frankly, we're not very bright. And because that's what you're supposed to do.
You're supposed to suffer while shaving. The stinging and burning is part of the morning ritual. It lets us know that we are still alive. It is a wake-up jolt to our central nervous system.
Sure, we could accomplish the same thing by sticking our faces in the toaster-oven. But the toaster-oven is often being used at that hour of the morning for English muffins, pop tarts, waffles and the like. So we splash on the Aqua Velva instead.
I'll tell you a little story about stinging and burning. Some years ago, on the advice of a misguided individual who . . . well, it was my wife who suggested I try something called an ''after shave talc'' instead of the kerosene-like substance I normally used after shaving.
This talc carried the strong scent of freshly cut flowers. It was designed to "soothe razor burn."
Sure enough, it did not sting. It did not burn. It made my face feel cool and refreshed, although I noticed that the vast majority of men edged away from me whenever I walked in a room.
But a funny thing happened after a few days of using this stuff. I missed the stinging and burning of my regular after shave.
Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea here. I am not into pain. I am not one of these vacant-eyed people you see on "Donahue" or "Geraldo" who, often out of sheer boredom, will whack their fingers with a hammer or drop a cinder block on their toes.
But the stinging and burning of a good after shave is something I've become conditioned to expect. (It's also the reason I don't use an electric razor. Plus, when I use an electric razor, I get a rash on my face that makes people run in the opposite direction, convinced I'm carrying smallpox.)
One more thing about shaving that you women might not know. Men do not ever talk about shaving in the locker room, the way you see them do in all those TV commercials for shaving cream and disposable razors.
I have been in many, many locker rooms in my time. Never once have I spotted two guys standing in front of a mirror and comparing their shaving ''trouble spots'' - those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies on their faces.
We thought you should know this.