They say you can’t go back, and yet I already know this is not true. You can go back. You just have to have the appropriate cue, generally in the form of an old song on the radio or a familiar smell that links you with a time and place. It takes you back.
My wife is “home” now, or at least what she generally calls “home” when she is here with us. I have long ceased to take offence at this. It’s what happens to people who move away from a place, and pine for it in memory. They inevitably return, and discover that the place no longer resembles the sanguine memories in their brain. I am reminded of this when my wife says “home” and I realize that NOW she is talking about HERE with US. Time and place have switched up again. She is suffering from cultural dyslexia.It makes me think of the old traveling historian Heraclitus who observed sagely that you cannot walk through the same river twice because it is not the same river, and you not the same man. Heraclitus was a realist, though not likely popular at parties.
My wife wanted to know how my Fathers’ Day was. I am a bit more inwardly focused than normal, perhaps a result of cumulative age which can make you reflective. I reached for the after shave this morning. At times in my life, I have abjured the use of smells. They are banned in some offices. Still, nothing takes you back like a familiar scent. More than this, my wife is a big fan of after shave. In her country, men dose the stuff on in ridiculous amounts, both to attract women, and to cover up the sweat that comes from living in a hot country. I always joke that I am going to come up with an after shave called “Arab Man”. I am not sure exactly what the scent will be, except that it will be a zinger you can smell ten feet away upwind.
What makes a smell masculine or feminine? It’s a good question. Once at a company barbecue lineup, I commented to the stranger ahead of me, “They should bottle up that barbecue smell and sell it. They’d make a fortune” She turned and looked at me bemused, and then dropped a gem on my head, the kind of thing people say when they KNOW you cannot quote them afterward. “Well, that might work for MEN”, she sniffed. “It sure wouldn’t work for women”. My curiosity piqued, I asked her what scent would draw women. “One that smelled like money” she quipped, turning around with a triumphant smile.
There is a tacit nod to the binary nature of the sexes, that also comes in with paint chips. Women choose paint colours, but it’s men who generally buy the paint, and are also tasked with taking it back once a coat is on the wall and your wife tells you it is the “wrong colour”. It is what has spurred paint stores to put up signs that say “No returns on paint”. It has also encouraged paint stores to come up with “masculine” names for paint colours so that you don’t feel like an idiot looking through the array of whites with names like “Seashell Wind” and “Walk on the Beach”. Paint companies at one point made a contest where they encouraged men to come up with masculine names fo the paint chips, perhaps to make the buying experience just a bit more palatable.
The particular scent I put on today after shaving, was “English Leather”. I had looked for it, and was sad to note that it was no longer widely sold. When I look around at the twenty-somethings out there, I realize shaving has seen better days. Most kids out there have either a beard, or a perpetual five day growth that I suspect is trimmed, but not with a razor.
English Leather takes me back. My daughter sourced out some for me online for Fathers’ Day and I welcome the revisit to yesteryear. It’s a very particular time and place, it’s Christmas and you are coming of that age where you can shave joyfully a few times a week and finally see yourself a man. You might even slip up on purpose so that you can drop this one on your friends, “Yeah man, cut myself this morning shaving”.
English Leather is one of those “cheap” scents that would make it into your Christmas stocking alongside of some razors. Back in the day, there was the one kind of shaver. You took a double sided razor blade and sprung it into the head, then put everything back together. Now razor blades are in a contest for how many blades they can put. The largest count I saw so far was five. Five blades is a lot, and I am not sure that multiplying the cutting faces will make it any LESS likely that you will cut yourself. Still, I note that blades are still blue for boys, pink for girls. I try to keep them segregated in my house, because nothing is worse than trying to shave with a razor that has already done duty on someone’s legs and armpits.
So it’s English Leather today. The name was assigned back in the thirties. It was originally “Russian Leather” but then the Cold War came along and they had to change up the nationality while keeping the smell reference. Applying it, I am for a moment fourteen again, revved up for my shaving initiation like a real man. Nowadays the hair I am shaving is quite white. I don’t like the five day growth thing because it makes me feel like a rubbie and I need all the help I can get. I can only feel really clean if I shave every single day. So it was a good Father’s Day, and I cannot think of it without thinking also of the other old standard, Old Spice. I have some of that too. Last time I put it on, my wife came up and kissed my neck and said “Ooooooh you remind me of my dad” then she walked away with a smile, which was incidentally contagious.
Who says you can’t go back? You can in memory. Heraclitus was wrong.