Spicy memories of young manhood still sting a little Ode to cologne


Christmas, 1993. Someone will give me cologne. Just what I needed, I'll say, even though my current bottle of Paul Sebastian has the half-life of plutonium.

I don't even know when or why to wear cologne anymore. What, splash a little on for work? My co-workers don't need or care to smell me. We don't have that kind of relationship.

The only time cologne meant anything was when we were little. Using cologne years before we shaved or dated was a rite of passage. Around age 13, we started coating our faces with Dad's Old Spice, Jade East or Skin Bracer. Then we hit the hard stuff such as Brut, Chaps and Stetson.

Brands of cologne place us in time like cars, clothes and songs do -- even though some of us, sadly, had youths marked by the song "Play That Funky Music, White Boy."

If you want some laughs around the office, bring up the name Brut. The gagging reflex immediately afflicts the women, and the men start telling tales about their Brut experiences.

A little Brut went a long way, so, naturally, when we were kids we used enough to tank up a Corolla. Our scent showed up at high school two days before our bodies did, and probably got better grades.

Why did we use the stuff? Boys do not groom; they barely shower. When we didn't always shower after gym class, some lads tried to cover their tracks by fumigating themselves with Right Guard or Skin Bracer. How futile and embarrassing, and I never got over it.

As any boy knew, though, the main reason to wear cologne was to get girls. We all saw the TV ads. Joe Namath used Brut, and we all knew how Joe did in the babe department. Why, the poor man could barely walk after a while.

But often cologne ads were more memorable than the scents. Canoe had "Canoe, Canoe?" Hai Karate, a real lady killer, had a martial arts dude kicking and grunting. An Old Spice ad in a 1963 Sports Illustrated features two letter-perfect Navy men discussing important matters on board a ship. "The one-and-only Old Spice exhilarates . . . and wins feminine approval every time," the copy reads.

Thirty years later, Calvin Klein's Obsession For Men is hawked in the glossy pages of magazines. In one Obsession ad, a naked woman is draped and curled over the right shoulder of a naked man. They appear to know each other.

Just when you had forgotten about six-packs of English Leather, holiday TV ads roll around again to remind us of them. English Leather has a new campaign with the old elements: woman, ocean, product. But it's not just English Leather that keeps on trying to lure us. Ads for all kinds of men's colognes are all over the tube. And the movie "Wayne's World 2" has Garth declaring that girlfriend Kim Basinger insists that he wear Brut.

Of course, it's the same old lie -- this idea that wearing cologne will win women.

As teen-agers, the more we slapped ourselves with Canoe or Jade East, the more time we spent with other guys. The plan was to actually spend time with a girl. But girls had no interest in frolicking with someone overdosed on Hai Karate. If they liked a scent on us, they simply asked their boyfriends to buy the brand.

So, there we were: a bunch of teen-age guys hanging out with only ourselves and smelling like one mossy, spicy, musky gland.

Play that funky music, white boy.

We are grown-ups now and have put away childish things. At 34, I shower, shave and everything. Guys my age probably have settled on one brand of cologne, maybe Aramis or Polo. Drakkar Noir is popular, and what could be more manly than wearing something called Drakkar? Killing something called Drakkar?

We have learned to dab in moderation. No more filling our palms with puddles of Brut.

Maybe men really are into what fragrance folks call the "whole wardrobe of fragrances." Maybe we really have acquired a taste for using just the right amount of Polo and all in the name of fashionable grooming.


We still want to get the girl.

The Big Splash: What some men might be wearing

We have no proof, but we imagine these men are dabbing only the finest and most fitting cologne on themselves each morning:

* Bill Clinton: English Leather (Timberline)

* Al Gore: English Leather (Timberline)

* Ross Perot: Aqua Velva

* The acquitted and reattached John Wayne Bobbitt: EaSavage

* Mike Wallace: Hai Karate

* Yasser Arafat: Mennen Skin Bracer

* Fabio: Mediterraneum -- or he wears nothing at all

* Marky Mark: Jovan Musk

* Prince Charles: Polo

* Al Pacino: Paco Rabanne

* Mister Rogers: Old Spice -- or he wears nothing at all

& * Joey Buttafuoco: Brut

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