I spent the better part of my teens smelling like a heavy spritz of San Fernando Valley porn set.
Part I: I found a tiny plastic bottle of Old Spice in my Christmas stocking.
I was 11. My poor mom. She always meant well. She probably saw a basket of cologne samplers by the cash register at the drugstore and thought to herself, "Oh, my Serge would probably LOVE to experiment with strong scents!"
That was that. I spent the better part of my middle school years smelling like a heavy spritz of San Fernando Valley porn set. I must have killed a kid somewhere along the way; somebody had to be allergic. It's inevitable. I abused that bottle of smelly hooch to the ends of every roller skating rink in the county. And never once did anyone ever compliment me on my smell. Pffft. What a tragic youth I was. Shakespeare would have giggled with delight had he known me; he'd have slid me from palm to palm like a pet mouse with a massive chin zit.
Luckily, I stayed away from cologne after that. Nothing obvious forced my hand. It was more of an a-ha moment like: I've worn one hell of a lot of cologne the last two years and no one has couples-skated with me. Maybe time for a change, eh?
But years have passed and now I'm 43 and lately I decided to revisit cologne—or more preciseley, the notion of wearing cologne. I'm not the middle school chubster doused in repugnance anymore. I'm a middle-aged divorced guy, newly single, and somewhat curious about how to avoid getting the shaft the next time the DJ calls for a couples skate, if you know what I mean. And so as I was flipping through my GQs and Vanity Fairs, it occured to me that cologne and I have been living parallel lives for quite some time. We've walked beside each other across several continents, stared at each other through duty-free shop glass, knocked elbows in bars and bookstores and cafes all over the world, and yet we've never ever joined forces to create even one miniscule shot at pure masculine magic.
I've shirked cologne since that Christmas Old Spice f*cked up my life. But maybe it's my time. As my life settles into vastly different grooves maybe, just maybe, it's time for me to use the power of the mystcial mist from Macy's to reel in some very beautiful fish.
Part II: I'm a self-respecting 40-something man who wants to purchase a signature scent.
So, I did what any self-respecting 40-something man would do when he is pondering such a monumental life change.
I went on the Facebook, b*tches.
I took my cologne dilemma to the masses, to my 37 million followers who rise up in unison whenever I have questions about life. I basically asked them what they thought of cologne in general. I was interested in hearing from people, from both sexes actually, about what their opinions were in regards to the big cologne question.
And oh my god, I have never seen such diverse and passionate reaction since the last time I stuck one of my shirtless selfies up on my Facebook wall. (Wait...wha?)
Here were a few responses when I asked my Facebook friends what they thought of men wearing cologne:
"Nope. No way. Clean and natural is sexy." (Kate)
That seems pretty clear. Kind of hot.
-"Cologne gives women insight into the character of a man. She'll know right away if he buys it by the gallon and it's a possible sign he has other hygienic practices." (Jerry)
Also clear. But not quite as hot.
"...Now that I'm in my 40s, I like the way a man naturally smells ... out of the shower, out of the gym, out of the sheets. It's amazing how things change when you've lived life a little." (Barbara)
Hmmm, pretty poignant. And sensible.
"Guys, do not marinate in it. I don't want to smell it from five feet away. I want a scent that teases and invites me to be closer." (Lori)
Okay, I get that. Hell, I was THAT guy in middle school.
But I was beginning to get confused. What was the answer I was looking for? And what was I looking for to begin with? It occurred to me after reading a bunch of Facebook comments that maybe what I wanted was some fail-proof guaranteed recipe to get women to want me.
Is that weird? You're damn right it is. But it also seems pretty genuine and innocent too, no? I mean, c'mon, most dudes are wearing cologne to hopefully evoke the teeniest/tiniest spark of sexuality in whatever proverbial elevator they happen to be riding in on any given day, right? And so in that light, cologne seems like a peaceful enough tool in the effort to spread a little love in the world.
Yet at the same time, disaster abounds when it comes to artificial scent. We've all enccountered certain women who appear to have a heavy trigger finger when it comes to their perfume, right? But I think men are often worse. Too much cologne, you see, is a form of sexual terrorism.
"A man drenched in cologne makes me think he's just trying to cover up his stink." (Michelle)
"It should be detected only at a whisper's distance." (Mark)
I love that. But I'm thinking that's way easier said than done. It's almost like you have to perfect the art of the application. And I don't want to go through those training years.
"If you get the right combination of cologne to male chemistry, it's pretty awesome. But if I have to choose I'd say no to cologne because that right combination doesn't happen very often." (Elizabeth)
Wow. I think she nailed it. That chemistry trick is the thing. But chances are high that your trial and error phase might last a lifetime. Ugh. I think cologne is actually frightening to me at this point.
Then I read this one:
"I love the subtle smell of a clean & musky scent mixed with a man's natural self ...a soap/deodorant/cologne cocktail with perhaps the faint smell of what they had for lunch still lingering on their mustache & beard. Throw some beer or whiskey in there and I'm drooling." (Heather)
And it hit me.
There is no way to get it right. Unless you never try. And if you never try, you will probably go down in the books as the guy who never tried. And the guy who never tried? He probably didn't get it right either.
Dammit all to hell.
Part III: Am I destined to smell like an iPhone or laptop from here on out?
My Pop-Pop wore Brut. Mostly deodorant, but he wore the cologne a lot as well. It was strong and lime-y and I will forever associate that smell with the man who loved me so much. Even when we went deer hunting, walking into the forest in picth black pre-dawn darkness, I remember smelling the Brut. (And no, we never saw any deer.)
When I think about Pop-Pop and his cheap Brut, I get to thinking I should find myself a cologne that works for me and wear it, sparingly, for the rest of my days. It seems as if it would be pretty cool if my kids were all gathered together over a pizza and some beers someday down the road talking about me after I'm gone and they recalled the memory of some certain ridiculous smell I used to leak whenever they weere climbing up on my lap. Don't you think that's a beautiful little idea, that your kids remember you smelling like something?
Maybe we don't need a cologne for that, though. Maybe us men just need to start smoking cigarrettes and frying bacon for lunch and digging our hands into wet Earth and warm wood shavings and manure and gasoline, like guys used to do not all that long ago.
Or maybe we missed it. Chances are, we missed it. More than likely, fellas, we're all destined to smell like an iPhone or a laptop from here on out. And that's a scent these kids of ours probably won't remember, mostly because it desn't even exist.
Lately, I'm actually thinking of hunting down one of those tiny dapper bottles of Old Spice again. It almost seems as if we have unfinished business. It almost seems that's been my scent all along, the scent of a kid on the make, of a young buck looking for whatever is supposed to happen when he walks into a room full of hope and confidence, smelling like the ghost of a Christmas stocking.