One of the things that used to drive your friendly bartender nuts, along with those um-teen other things he’s chronicled over the years, like a credit card payment for just one drink or a stranger asking, “What do you recommend?”, is when someone takes a seat at the bar and gags those already there with the perfume they’re wearing. And that goes for women too! Because dudes can stink up a joint as well with fancy sprays and colognes, and I have no qualms about telling those people what for. While fanning my nose and squinting my eyes I might lean into some guy and say (with a smile on my face, of course), “I assume you’d like a nice French wine because you, my friend, smell like a French Whorehouse!” Or simply, “I’ll take your order in a second, man, once I can see through the haze.” But with women I’d usually let the thing slide unless she’s a pal and can take it, as her perfume might’ve been a gift from a beau and who am I to rain on her “Charade”? But the fact remains I’m keeping my distance from either.
But all that having been said, dear reader, your friendly bartender also knows what it’s like to stink up the joint, to be the dreaded stink-er and not the stink-ee. And I blame the French for that.
Now before I go any further here, I’m not a member of the French bashing crowd who thought it was cute and patriotic to order Freedom Fries, I’m not in third grade. I like the French and I love their zest for life. But here the French are clearly to blame or at least a cadre of scientists closely aligned with them, for it’s they who must’ve assented as one, “Oui, oui, monsieur!” after sniffing their latest concoction. Which is called Old Spice. That’s right Old Spice! That revered and classic after shave whose slogan once jauntily echoed in song, “Look for the package with the ship that sails the ocean,” must’ve done just that… “sailed the ocean”! And to France for heaven sakes, if not in actual relocation then olfactory authorization, which I will gladly get to after this back story…
I’ve been using Old Spice (the after shave never the cologne), since peach fuzz first appeared on my cheeks my freshman year in college or shortly before that. Which is back when dinosaurs had the run of the land. And except for a few foolish forays into popular concoctions back then… exotic “Jade East” and “Canoe” for two, then English Leather my sophomore year when me and a few fraternity brothers literally gutted a room with the cloud that trailed us… Old Spice has been my chosen brand forever. And that of every man in my family before me. The name was almost eponymous for what it was. Like if you had a runny nose back then you didn’t go out and buy tissue you bought Kleenex. Or if you had to ease that post shave burn and wanted to smell like a man, you didn’t go out and buy “after shave” you bought Old Spice. And women, up until now, seemed to enjoy it. A few months back while standing in a bar a young woman standing next to me asked what I had on. She liked the smell of it. And I told her jokingly, “It’s new, it’s called Old Spice.” “Hmmm,” she said, leaning in for a closer whiff, til those all around her chuckled and gave me away. But the point is the stuff’s still passes after all these years. At least for me.
So the other morning I opened a new bottle, slapped some onto my cheeks, then noticed some curious writing staring back at me. All in French. Where it used to say “Original” it now had the word “Classique”. And where it used to say, “After Shave”, it now had the words “Apres Rasage” to replace them. “Well Sacre bleu, Depardieu! Qu’est-ce que c’est, mon frere? Should I be wearing a beret when I leave the house?” Or worse, “Should I leave the house at all, smelling like a trollop?” Because after I splashed this crap on my face, liberally as per usual, my eyes began to water after applying it. And not just because of the pungency factor, which believe me was considerable, but because another American tradition (just like real Levis) had gone down the drain. Probably forever.
But hey, I did have some errands to run that morning so I took my brand new scent out the door for a test drive.
Maybe it was just paranoia on my part but standing in line at Food Emporium watching the woman in front of me turn and look at me, as if to ask “Why in the hell so much of it???”, made me surmise my reek had entered her check-out space. And maybe it was just my shrinking self esteem in a bank line moments later, that caused me to have a similar pang when the woman in front of me made her own u-turn. I felt like I was a walking, talking stink bomb. And even after I got back home and tried to wash it off with soap and water, just like the gang on Seinfeld when they couldn’t get rid of the funk they got from that cab ride, a tinge of this stuff still lingered on my hands and upper lip. This wasn’t a brand new scent, this was a stigma!
And the worst part of all (save for the fact that Old Spice is no more!), I was thinking of having some lunch that day at a pub just up the road, but I didn’t want the friendly bartender there to ask if I’d like a nice French wine with my meal, so I passed. And you think you have problems!
Au revoir, mon ami, see you on The Seine…