George Washington, Henry Winkler and Me

[A story from years ago that still has relevance today.]

***”I tell her ‘No,’ and add ‘men’s colognes and soaps are a real tough sell on me. They smell too much like products for women.’(Does that make me consistent or stubborn?) ”

The closest I could possibly get to George Washington was to walk the grounds of and visit his home at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I did it many times when I lived and worked in that part of the country during the early to mid ‘90s.

And Henry Winkler? Well, he sat behind us once while my artist cousin, his wife and my daughter and I celebrated my daughter’s birthday at a very nice Japanese restaurant in LA in November, 1998.

No, Henry didn’t come over to ask for an autograph. So I think I can say that we all kind-a-sort-a have a connection.

Seriously, there is one very personal thing that we three really do have in common.

This story begins when I lived in Winter Park, Florida in the late 90’s. It is one of the only towns in Florida that I like, maybe because there is nothing Disney about it. The main drag, Park Avenue, is an inviting collection of eclectic, upscale shops across the street from a well-maintained tree-shaded park. And by trees I don’t mean palms or other ubiquitous that can drive you bananas. I mean tall shade trees.

Anyway, every once in a while I would have a very leisurely weekend breakfast at one of the Park Avenue cafes. After eating I would do the almost obligatory walk and window-shop, although these small business owners would never be able to pay even a day’s electricity from what I would buy.

However, on this one particularly beautiful and seasonally seductive Florida winter day I wandered into a soap and perfume establishment. You know the type: they either leave the door open or place some especially fragrant soap in baskets just outside to entice you with the scents.  (I’m not sure if this is true for other middle-aged guys, but as the years go by my sense of smell becomes more of a joy and importance.)

What made me go into this place on this day I don’t know, because I have found only one male fragrance that I ever thought worthy to buy and did. It was cologne from Chanel that I picked up about twenty years ago: we don’t want to be hasty in matters of the nose. How many can you wear at once?  That’s because to the inner workings of my proboscis the smells habitually presented for sale to men belong on the woman’s side of the store, and in fact that is probably where they come from. I swear that they simply change the label and walk the bottles to the other wall and peddle it to guys. (How androgynous! Isn’t a woman to be remembered from that first meeting or encounter by the unique perfume she wears?)

So I get past the door but the place is relatively small so it is hard for me to hide from the sales help. That’s my usual modus operandi: leave me alone to explore on my own. Don’t call me, I’ll call you; this time, no such luck. Sure enough over comes a well-coiffed and dressed middle-aged woman. She inquires if I am looking for anything in particular.

I tell her “No,” and add “men’s colognes and soaps are a real tough sell on me. They smell too much like products for women.” (Does that make me consistent or stubborn?) Not at all deterred by my challenge she goes into action, reaches over in front of me to the glass shelf and picks up a box of soap called Number Six, and hits me with the first pitch: “You know Henry Winkler was in here the other day and bought some of this. He is in the area working on a movie. See if you like it.”  “Really? The Fonz was in here the other day?”

“Not any reason to buy the soap,” I mutter to myself.  Still, she hits me with the clincher: “Do you know that this was George Washington’s favorite scent? This company, Caswell and Massey, has been making the soap since the 1700’s. [Actually, 1762.]”

Okay, as a history buff she got my attention with that one; I mean the Father of Our Country’s soap? So I open the box and run one of the individually wrapped and silver-sealed bath bars under my nose.  Wow!  It smells so crisp, clean and unlike anything that may have come from the woman’s counter that for only the second time in my life my nose convinces me to buy a man’s upscale toiletry.

The money I shelled out for the boxed, three oval-bars dwarfed many months of your run-of-the-mill Ivory type soap. But life should include times of indulgence, and this was one of them.  Little did she know that she made me a Number Six customer for life.

And there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think of what great taste George and Henry and I have.

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