The economics of stinking to high heaven

Small amounts were important. A squirt, and don’t even think about pressing down hard. Dad, following his own advice, rubbed his palms together as if cleaning them, rubbed them behind his neck, rubbed his arms. The bathroom already smelled of soap, moisture, and baby powder. I was used to Paco Rabanne on him, not on me. At ten, though, I was ready to experiment with the spectrum of scents.

So began what became a part of my dressing routine just after high school. I applied cologne whenever I showered. Still do, even if I’m attending a morning screening of A Star is Born. Yet is cologne still a thing? I don’t get close enough to my students to smell it, and when I do the cliches stand: the young men who go to class wearing pants, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets — no ties, not anymore, a welcome trend — have a bank job, an internship, a part-time at a law firm. Wearing cologne means having the money to buy cologne and the leisure of a morning toilet in the traditional sense of the word. To think that the eighteen-to-thirty set has the income to spend on this stuff — even as an investment, for a bottle of cologne on average lasts me a couple years — strains my imagination. The nearest approximation? Axe after a workout, a scent that would kill a roach in Beijing.

These days I subtly alter my father’s routine as if I were a chef substituting salt for garlic powder on ground turkey. Instead of the palm-rubbing, a dab behind the ear and crown of the neck. For colognes like the Norwegian brand Laila or the Paco Rabanne brand Invictus, my new favorite, an application more assiduous risks turning me into a compost heap with a comb-over.