Saturday, April 22, 2006

Old Spice or Old Hat?

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

Everything old is new again, right? Remember this jingle: “Old Spice…a Little Dab Will Do You!”?

Of course you don’t. For one thing, it was a little dab of Brylcreem that would do you, not Old Spice. It was never explained exactly what Brylcreem would do for you, at least not to my satisfaction. (I’m always the last to know when it comes to such things, anyway). Old Spice, on the other hand, had a catchy little jingle that one whistled as one applied the product to one’s face just like the rugged sailor in the commercial. Both advertising campaigns were successful to the extent that here it is more than 30 years later and I can still hear both jingles in my head.

What they didn’t do, however, was get me to use the products. I couldn’t, really, because aftershave and hair cream just were not part of your daily routine if you came of age in the 1970s. Trust me, one look at the few pictures there are of me from that era will attest to the fact that hair gel or cream was never part of the grooming equation. And on those rare occasions where I did splash a little cologne, it was not Old Spice.

Truth be told I love the smell of Old Spice, but every time I come across it I think of my father. I think everybody from my generation has the same reaction, which may explain how Old Spice came to be painfully un-hip right about the mid-1970s on – no one wants to sport an aroma that’s associated with the previous generation. My father was also more of a Vitalis guy than a Brylcreem user, but for teenagers in the 1970s any thing that was designed to keep one’s hair neat looking was seen as a Fascist Tool designed to get all of us White Punks on Dope to conform and concede our independence.

Fast forward to the 2000s and what do I find my young sons using? You got it – Old Spice and hair gel. Okay, so maybe not Brylcreem (believe it or not the product is still out there), but definitely hair gel and definitely Old Spice. To follow either Alex, my 15 year old, or Max, my 11 year old, in the bathroom after either one showers is to take an olfactory trip down memory lane. The magnitude of the aftermath of generous applications of Old Spice Body Wash and Old Spice deodorant lead me to the conclusion that if Old Spice made a mouthwash my sons would use it. Not that that would be a bad thing, necessarily. For starters, I am grateful my boys are maturing to the point where showers are no longer anathema. But I also get a kick out of remembering how I delighted in following my father’s aromatic footsteps on those occasions when he would leave a cloud of Old Spice in his wake.

I honestly don’t know if either of my sons realizes that they have adopted the same smell as their paternal grandfather, just as I am not sure if knowing that would result in them no longer using the product. I mean, it’s one thing to not use something because your FATHER uses it. Can you imagine how they would feel if they knew they’re GRANDFATHER splashed this stuff on his face back in the day? Just like every generation thinks it invented sex and good music, I wonder if my sons’ generation thinks it discovered Old Spice?

Kudos, too, to the marketers of Old Spice. It’s as if they have given up on an entire generation – mine – knowing they can’t overcome the stigma of being your father’s after shave and opted instead to get a whole new bunch of boys to imagine themselves whistling a catchy tune and walking down a deserted pier with a duffle bag hanging jauntily on one’s shoulder - presumably after having enjoyed the company of a woman who was clearly attracted to you simply because you smelled so good.

As for the hair cream, or gel, or whatever, well my boys like to use that, too, even though they keep their hair styles real short. Their crew cuts come with that little flip up front, a flip that requires more maintenance than you might think. That’s where the hair gel comes in. I had a crew cut growing up but again, as the 1970s unfolded, having a crew cut was about as happening as reciting dialogue from “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” to impress your girlfriend. And the crew cut never required the use of gel. You just got your hair shaved down to the nub and you were done with it.

I don’t use the hair gel or the Old Spice. Quite frankly, when you drive a Saturn as I do there’s little else you need to do when it comes to impressing members of the fairer sex. I am not worried about not leaving an aromatic legacy, however. Embracing the philosophy that the apple does not fall far from the tree, I have a sneaking suspicion that when my sons have sons and my sons follow their sons into the bathroom, there may be other sensory experiences that will bring back memories of dear old Dad.

Thank you for reading this column.

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