Jewish World Review May 10, 2004/ 19 Iyar 5764


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Consumer Reports

Fashion advice from a pre-teen — thanks, son | It was sunny last Saturday afternoon in Roland Park, a ritzy neighborhood in North Baltimore, and I was contentedly sitting in the bleachers, jawboning with my friend Alex about the Kentucky Derby as we watched our nine-year-old boys whomp their opponents in a Little League game. My wife and I cheered as our son Booker, who's fleet of foot but not a power hitter, beat out a grounder to second base to continue a rally for the Pioneers.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, our older son Nicky, 11, removed his iPod, currently filled with songs from the Zombies, Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, Spinners and the god-like Nirvana, to comment on his dad's new footwear. A few days earlier I'd purchased a pair of black leather sandals from Johnston & Murphy — a once prestigious British shoemaker that's diversified downwards — to replace the hole-ridden slippers I've worn for the past two summers.

"Uh, Dad, are you going metrosexual on me with those lady-like sandals?" he asked with a broad smile that's eluded John Kerry all his life.

It took my limited reservoir of patience to refrain from smearing the mustard on a hot dog throughout his moptop of red hair. "What the heck are you talking about," I replied, pointing out that the besmirched shoes were nothing more than a fancier version of huaraches, which I wore, in all kinds of weather, during the 1970s and early 80s. The only difference is that this pair cost just shy of $100, as compared to the two-buck version I'd bought on the street in Mexico a generation ago, or a slightly more expensive model on Berkeley's Telegraph Ave. in '79.

That explanation only provoked more taunting from Mr. Smart Aleck, who then flashed the peace sign and said "Groovy, man." His case was only bolstered when my wife interjected the opinion that she thought my hoofers looked "cute."

Let it be known that I can barely read the word "metrosexual," with all its overtones of Manhattan-DC-L.A. vanity, without puking. There was a March 5 New York Times article, headlined "Marketing to the Youngest Metrosexuals," which, I suppose, gives this dumb term a shelf-life on a par with political pundits' favorite clichés of "incurious" and "Iraqi adventure."

Reporter Claudia H. Deutsch, in this advertising piece, wrote that mothers with far too much time, and money, on their hands are scooping up Procter & Gamble products for even pre-adolescents, such as hair gel, pomade (whatever that is), scented shampoo and "fragrances." Deutsch writes, "Even mothers whose sons are finally smelling sweet say they would welcome anything that can tame the hair. 'Every day we battle about his hair,' said Jaye Scholl Bohlen, a California mother who describes her 14-year-old son, Peter, as 'looking like he just emerged from the Pacific Ocean with seawater stuck in his hair."

Dear, dear, my heart goes out to Ms./Mrs. Jaye Scholl Bohlen, and particularly young Peter who, if he's a normal kid, doesn't give a hoot what his mom thinks about his hair.

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It gets worse. An April 24 "primping" article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune describes an eighth-grader who "loves soccer, talking sports with his dad and watching 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' — especially for the grooming tips." Allie Shah writes: "He has a system for making his long, red hair look so, well, disheveled. Up at 6:45 a.m., he showers for 10 minutes and then puts on a cap to set his hair so it will dry just right. As soon as he gets to school, he removes the hat and checks his look in the mirror. Although he doesn't like to obsess about his appearance, he admits that a bad hair day can bring him down."

But maybe I'm just an old-school coot in even commenting on an apparent trend that's truly mystifying. When I was a teenager, like most peers, a shot of Right Guard and a generic shampoo was the extent of my grooming, aside from assiduous teeth-brushing and daily showers. I never used cologne (not really an issue since I didn't need to shave till college) and the only ointment applied to my face was Clearasil or Tackle, none of which worked especially well.

In subsequent years, I've never had a manicure, pedicure, colonic, mud bath, haircut that cost more than $10, tummy tuck, eyelift or been to a tanning salon. I've worn glasses for over 30 years and have never given in to the debatable lure of contact lenses; and I certainly won't go near a doctor who makes a lot of dough by treating Boomers who fool around with experimental eye surgery. I wear no jewelry except for a watch and wedding ring but in winter do apply a coat of $5.99 cream to my face because of dry skin.

I'm under no illusion that my sons will rebel against this marketing bonanza, and fully expect in a few years that their shared bathroom might be filled with products with strange names. Still, there's hope. The other day, while we were at a nearby Borders picking up a few presents for Mother's Day (I did buy several DVDs for myself of the British show Prime Suspect, starring the spectacular Helen Mirren), I overheard Booker asking his older brother a question. "So, Nicky, are you going to get an earring?" My ears perked up, and for some reason was relieved when he said, "Give me a break, earrings are so 80s and 90s. People dad's age wear them!"

It's a dilemma Beltway op-ed columnists face periodically during the course of a presidential election: acute writer's block. The cause of the correspondent's duress could be any number of factors that wreak havoc. Maybe he or she just couldn't pass up that seventh glass of champagne the night before while kibitzing with Peter Jennings, Ben Bradlee, Richard Holbrooke, Robert Rubin or Sen. Jon Corzine at a smart Georgetown cocktail party. It could be that the entire family's distraught over the decision that Dylan or Chloe has to make in a matter of days: Brown or Harvard? Alternatively, that summer rental on Nantucket — and access to John Kerry! — was plucked away at the last minute by a media colleague who lives down the street.

So, in desperation, as The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne demonstrated on April 27, it's time to reach into the collection of evergreen lead sentences that have served so many, so well, in similar situations. Translated: Make a forced analogy to the Joseph McCarthy hearings of the 1950s to any topic of the day. Specifically, invoke the name of Joseph Welch, an Army special counsel, who famously asked the dissolute Wisconsin senator (on whose staff a young Bobby Kennedy teamed up with Roy Cohn) "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

That's how Dionne backed into a piece about Kerry's self-inflicted mess over whether or not he threw away the medals or ribbons he earned as a decorated Vietnam veteran in an anti-war protest more than 30 years ago. Dionne claims the Republican attack machine is firing at close range against the vacillating candidate; in particular, GOP Rep. Sam Johnson, who spent seven years as a North Vietnamese prisoner, who recently said that Kerry, because of his anti-war activities once he returned home, showed "his true colors, and they are not red, white and blue."

Dionne goes on to complain that President Bush, who, as you may have heard, ducked that long-ago war in the National Guard, an act of self-preservation that Kerry and his surrogates never tire of bringing up, hasn't had the "decency" to tell his supporters to cease and desist all criticism of Bush's flailing opponent. It doesn't matter that neither the President nor any of his chief strategists have questioned Kerry's activities during that period, but have instead focused on his current tired impersonation of Hamlet over the invasion of Iraq. Dionne could, if he were so inclined, also criticize the smear jobs of pro-Kerry groups like who're trying to convince voters that Bush is a cross between Herbert Hoover and Donald Duck.

Let's make one thing clear, for the 181st time this year: It's Kerry who continually refers to his Vietnam tour of duty; it's Kerry who questions Bush's and Dick Cheney's absence in Southeast Asia; and it's Kerry, who when backed into a corner, calls Republicans "crooks and liars."

Obviously, the wages of a Kerry campaign worker aren't commensurate with Dionne's Post salary, and so he hasn't taken a sabbatical to "fight the good fight," but he's doing the next best thing with this absurd comparison to Bush to Joseph McCarthy.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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