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 Just had a birthday. I will confess an issue with buying gifts for other guys. I will do it for my closest friends — provided they live in the same city as I do — but I never feel all that comfortable with it. I usually end up giving them something generic (DVD, book, CD) and hoping they know they’re still my friend despite the crappy gift. But I won’t wrap anything. And no cards — lord, no, never any cards.

My friends tend to be more secure, and more giving. This year, my friends Eric and A.J. each bought me something, and they both even wrapped it. (Gaywads.)


A.J. wasn’t messing around. He bought a bottle of Dewar’s. Good call. The only accessory he was missing was an IV bag to pump it directly into my veins. You can never go wrong with buying me Dewar’s. You know those Amazon wish lists they have, those completely crass “buy me stuff” pleas you’re supposed to send to your friends around the holidays? My Amazon wish list would be seven bottles of Dewar’s, all in different shapes and sizes.

Eric was more inventive, which is both bad and good. And his gift opened a whole can of objects, previously undisturbed, quietly festering and rotting ....

Age: 15. Height: 5’ 8”. Weight: 130, wet and wearing four pairs of boots. Braces: Yes. Hair: Mullet. The girl was Barbara Icenogle, who was the first girl I ever kissed, which has been documented. It was my sophomore homecoming. My first real dance. Barbara’s best friend was Kyla, and my best friend was Andy, and they were going together, so jeez, it all just made sense.

In case anybody doesn’t know, since I always forget that just because you’re reading this particular column doesn’t mean you’ve read all 129, I have no sense of smell. I’ve never been able to smell, and I don’t miss it, and I don’t get a parking space for it, and it’s really all fine and good, thank you, and please, can we move on from this, I’m a genetic freak, I’m aware, jeez, you won’t let this go, will you, OK, fine, bring on the questions, yes, I can taste, no, I don’t understand it either, well, my mom thinks it might be because I had scarlet fever when I was a kid, but nobody really knows, no, if they had an operation for it I wouldn’t have it done, because, come on, didn’t I make this clear, I can’t smell and I’ve never been able to smell and it’s really not a big deal because I have no idea what smelling even is. I am begging you to let me move on. This information is vital, so don’t forget this paragraph. But don’t ask again.

Well, it was a school dance, and Barbara had nice breasts, so I wanted to be at my most physically alluring. I wore a black shirt, light grey jacket, black pants, and a hot pink tie, which was the style at the time, it was, really, honest. I was dressing in the mirror, clip clip clipping the tie, and I remembered something Andy had told me … girls like to smell cologne. This, I had. Well, my father had it. I remember it well. It was called Polo, and it came in a little green bottle with a stainless steel cap painted a yellow that was presumably meant to represent gold. It was a brand new bottle. Girls love cologne. Andy’s words floated, spinning, dancing. I wanted Barbara. I wanted her oversized breasts, jutting out from her too-tight light blue sweater. I wanted her to let me do whatever I wanted. If that meant putting this weird clear liquid on me, for reasons I did not understand, that was just fine.

It didn’t even occur to me that there was a set, measured amount to apply. I mean, after all, the more food you eat, the less hungry you are, right? So, an hour before Andy’s parents came to pick me up, I poured. I just turned the bottle upside down, unscrewed the top and let her flow. Down! my neck it went, then to my cheeks — ow, that got in my eye — then on my arms, under my arms, little down the shirt, for good measure (hey, you never know!). I emptied half the bottle. The more the merrier.

The response was immediate. My mother — “WHOA! Jesus, Will! What have you done?” — grabbed the first washcloth she could find and started scrubbing my face and arms. (“Mom! Stop it!”) She was halfway down my left arm when the doorbell rang. Andy. Time to go. My mom shot Andy’s mother a sympathetic glance.

It was late October. It was about 30 degrees, with a blistering wind and light snowfall. We drove to Barbara’s house and picked up the girls, and we were dropped off at the school. The windows were rolled down the entire way.

I never did touch Barbara’s breasts that night. I don’t remember seeing her much at all, actually.

That was the last time I used cologne. I have, until a week ago, not even dared.

Eric knew this — and understood. I opened his gift, saw the cologne and immediately recoiled. Eric had expected this. “Look at the letter.”

There was a letter. It began:


As you have already seen, I have given you cologne for your 27th birthday. I’m well aware that I have given you something that you cannot even remotely enjoy, since you cannot smell. But just because you cannot directly partake in the joy of cologne doesn’t mean you can’t bask in the joy that others, especially women, will find in how you smell.

The rest of the letter explained exactly how to apply the cologne, how many sprays, where, exactly. You know, the stuff your dad taught you when you were eight.

But there was nothing in there, really, that made me desire cologne. Made me find it something that I’d even need to have as a part of my life. Eric had thought of that, too.

Yes. The woman button. Smart one to push. Andy was right; women do like the cologne. Gillin finished the letter like a car salesman nailing home a big score.

Although you’ll never know it, the sense of smell is incredibly strong, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. It will be on her pillow after you leave in the morning, and she’ll snuggle with that when you’re gone. More important, by wearing cologne, you’ve staked out a certain smell that is going to torture her for the rest of her life. She’ll be standing there, five years after the breakup, and some dude wearing your cologne will walk by, and she’ll think of you. If the guy she’s dating wears the same kind, she’ll make him stop.

And there you have it. Clearly, cologne is the greatest invention ever. What took me so long?



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