Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

October 23, 2013

Smells like teen spirit: An olfactory experiment

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Probably if I had watched the commercials first, I would never have undertaken this whole stupid experiment. Axe commercials? Awful. They are the media equivalent of the fragrance itself. I mean, naked ladies covered in tiny congruent triangles assault bemused middle managers. These are commercials that could have been made by Russian porn stars from the mid-1960s, or backstage at a Victoria's Secret fashion show, if angels really liked feathers in their strawberry milkshakes. Nor did I come to Axe men's fragrance by sniffing the air at the U.S. Supreme Court, which I cover.

Me, I discovered Axe the usual way, through my 13-year-old nephew, for whom the whole prospect of a lifetime of boom-chicka-wah-wah is perhaps still too much to contemplate.

My own boys, at 8 and 10, are too young for Axe, or for fragrance, or for wah-wahs of any variety — or so I shall insist to myself until they are about 40. But after a single day at the beach this past August, when they shared a bathroom with their big hockey-playing Axe-scented cousin-slash-hero, even the 8-year-old was smearing his small hairless self with the body wash, the deodorant, and, in case he still couldn't be smelled from the next pier over, the spray cologne. I decided to handle this olfactory terrorism like a mature adult: several days of merciless teasing. Dinners quickly became unbearable, with three Axe-drenched young people fogging up all tastes and smells until your pasta simply tasted like the painful ache at the back of your tongue that occurs when every boy in the house sees a daily Axe dip as part of his grooming. On it went, until the final weekend at the beach, when I found myself trapped in the shower with only a bottle of three-in-one Axe product (shampoo, body-wash, and conditioner). So I broke down and used it.

Sunshine. Harps. It was the most sublimely powerful fragrance experience of my adult life. Truly. After decades of smelling like a flower or a fruit, for the first time ever, I smelled like teen boy spirit. I smelled the way an adolescent male smells when he feels that everything good in the universe is about to be delivered to him, possibly by girls in angel wings. I had never smelled this entitled in my life. I loved it. I wanted more.

When I first told my husband that I was planning to wear only Axe men's products for an entire week, his answer was a foreshadowing of things to come: "You're planning on wearing that stuff to bed every night for a week? Man. Axe really does work. It's only been a few minutes and look, you're already single again . . ."

I confess that it was hard to choose a fragrance. My 13-year-old nephew advised me to steer clear of the "nasty grossness"-scented products. All of the Axe scents, to the extent that they differ, seem to be mostly named after manly activities like mining or soldering. Ultimately I opted for Cool Metal (see: mining and soldering) in the body wash, shampoo and spray formulations.

What happens when a fortysomething women walks around smelling like a 13-year-old boy for a week? Mostly nothing. As it turns out, ours is a culture in which, as a general principle, people don't really feel comfortable commenting on your scent, even when it is so powerful as to be causing climate change. So even if you apply Axe before a funeral — as I did — nobody is going to grab you by the arm and ask you to please leave. I wore a heavy coating of it to a dinner party one night. Eliciting no response, even when I started helpfully jamming my neck into the other guests' noses, I did learn from several mothers that the Wall of Axe (a naturally occurring phenomenon in which eight or more teen boys reapply Axe after phys ed, then stand in the stairwell together) has become so bad at some local schools that it's been banned altogether. Another guest described a perennial teen rite of passage — the agony of spraying Axe down your own pants for the first time.

The truth is, my experiment in smelling like an adolescent male for a week had only two really profound consequences. One, I really did grow to love the fragrance. But two, and distinctly more important, both my kids were so embarrassed that they stopped using it within days of my initiating the experiment. Smell you later, Axe. It turns out that there is some Freudian window in which smelling like your mom is so beyond contemplation that they wordlessly gave it up altogether. Indeed, they have both moved quite deliberately backward to the Suave Baby Shampoo, which is precisely where I would like them to stay, at least for a while. And thus, drenched in the smell of rusting metal, we all take two steps away from the Axe years, the entitled years, the boom-chicka-wah-wah years, that are bearing down upon us too quickly.

1
Text Only
Slate
  • Cuba is running out of condoms

    The newest item on Cuba's list of dwindling commodities is condoms, which are now reportedly in short supply. In response, the Cuban government has approved the sale of expired condoms.

    April 23, 2014

  • Cats outsmart the researchers

    I knew a lot had been written about dogs, and I assumed there must be at least a handful of studies on cats. But after weeks of scouring the scientific world for someone - anyone - who studied how cats think, all I was left with was this statement, laughed over the phone to me by one of the world's top animal cognition experts, a Hungarian scientist named Ádám Miklósi.

    April 23, 2014

  • The top 12 government programs ever

    Which federal programs and policies succeed in being cost-effective and targeting those who need them most? These two tests are obvious: After all, why would we spend taxpayers' money on a program that isn't worth what it costs or helps those who do not need help?

    April 23, 2014

  • Do White Castle prices tell us anything about the minimum wage?

    The paper looked at how many delicious steamed sliders the minimum wage has been able to purchase over time. The point is that as it notes, in 1981, the $3.35 minimum could buy a whole dozen. Today, at $7.25, it could purchase just 10.

    April 22, 2014

  • Do your genes make you procrastinate?

    Procrastinators, in my experience, like nothing better than explaining away their procrastination: General busyness, fear of failure, and simple laziness are just a handful of the excuses and theories often tossed around. Now researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have added another option to the list: genetics.

    April 22, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 11, 2014

  • A man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal

    Although not as celebrated as the late American amnesiac H.M., for my money K.C. taught us more important and poignant things about how memory works. He showed how we make memories personal and personally meaningful. He also had a heck of a life story.

    April 7, 2014