The sensation was unmistakable and familiar: my eyes were stinging, my throat was closing, and it felt like all of the hairs in my nostrils had spontaneously combusted at once. Yes, there was no doubt in my mind: I had been Axe murdered. In other words, I had inadvertently wandered through the mist of a recent Axe-ing, the same way in the movies the hero always wanders through the giant spider web whenever they’re exploring a cave. In the movies, though, the spider-webbing is invariably followed by the appearance of a huge, vicious spider. In my case, the Axe-ing is always followed by the appearance of a huge teenage boy. A friendly one. Or, at least, one who is planning on making friends with someone soon.
I have to hand it to the marketers of Axe body spray: they obviously did their homework when it came to researching their demographic. Who else knew there was an entire generation of teenage boys out there who were just waiting to be told that all of their problems could be solved by the push of a finger? And then another push. And another. Oh, go on, push it one more time—what can it hurt? After all, if a little bit is good, a lot must be even better, right?
The great poet William Blake once said, “How can I know what enough is until I have had too much?” Of course, even with this motto he was rather infamous for not being a very good judge of his own limits; in other words, he usually didn’t know what too much was until somebody else (like his wife) told him. Unfortunately (in this case only), teenage boys don’t have wives—they have mothers. And so it is left to the mothers to tell their sons that they smell like the results of a cheese truck driving into a brothel in the middle of August.
Because that’s the worst thing about Axe and all of its imitators: some boys—in a misguided (and lazy) attempt to try and cover up that distinctive teenage boy funk—use them not in addition to showering, but instead of. Which is just wrong: as another great poet also famously once said, “Before you even put on your silk shirt and fat gold rope, please take your big ass to the bathroom and please use (a little bit of soap).”
Of course, telling their sons they reek like a cathouse is difficult for mothers on many different levels. One, it comes dangerously close to addressing the reason boys are dousing themselves with cologne in the first case: to pick up girls. (For many mothers, the thought of their sons being interested in girls makes them want to stick their hands in their ears and go lalalala). Two, in many instances these are the same mothers who have been following their sons around the house with a stick of deodorant since the boys were nine; it goes against the grain to now start telling them to stop with it. And three, many of the mothers of teenage boys today came of age themselves in the era of “feminine deodorant spray,” and so understand all too well the irrational urge to cover up any lingering human smells with the push of a button. (Tellingly, these products were always advertised as guaranteed to take care of those special “feminine” odors that may occur on days when you are not feeling so “fresh” down “there.” And, yeah, the ads were that vague.)
Of course, despite the ad campaigns, most of us learned moderation when it came to pushing that button, and I have no doubt that the teenage boy contingent will one day learn this, too. I only hope that I still have nose hairs left by then, though.