Boomtown Boudoir

Token Regrets
August 15, 2008, 5:18 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: , ,

There was a time when I didn’t mind strange men sitting down at my table at the coffee shop and talking some kind of shit at me. Those were both simpler and more complicated times. On one occasion, the young man that plopped down across from me was a member of a traveling pack of hippies who toured the country just because they wanted to, camping out and making music. He didn’t look the type. He was clean-shaven and his hair wasn’t any longer than that of the art school boys I was used to. This would have been at least five or six years ago. Anyway, the traveling hippie musician had extra-twinkly eyes, the kind that make reasonable girls sit straight up and say, “here we go, charismatic alert, bolt for your life or be consumed.”

Being naturally susceptible to this sort of thing, I am amazed I never called the number he left me with after telling me that the traveling pack of hippies had a few openings for naked fairy girls covered in glitter. I mean, obviously I wanted to travel the country with my boobs out, dressed in a few scraps of moss and sparkling from not only the aforementioned glitter, but also the constant polygamous sex and various chemical substances that I was certain were present in the subtext of this kid’s pitch. If only just to say I’d done it.

In the end, I imagine I was smugly sure that this wouldn’t be my last chance to join a cult, and that as I got older, I could pick and choose among all the existing hippie cults of the universe until I found one that was the best match for me. But as it stands, I was never recruited again. It recently occurred to me that I am too old and jaded to be a naked fairy in a traveling hippie cult now. One of them would be like, “Wooo, we’re going to this town to BLOW their MINDS with our LOVE!” and I’d be all, “probably not, though.”

But wouldn’t it have been a great story?

If I Knew, I Would Certainly Tell You
January 17, 2008, 12:09 am
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: ,

Two of my friends, Heather and Crazy Ange, were talking on the phone one day. This was maybe two years ago. “What did you do all day, Crazy Ange?” asked Heather.

“Well,” she said, “I dyed my hair and shaved my legs and plucked my eyebrows and painted my toenails and whitened my teeth and then I waited for the man to come and kill me.”

It struck me, both at the time I heard this story and also last night as I was applying special tea tree cream to my feet before putting them into fuzzy socks which I had heated on the radiator, that I am not unfamiliar with this exact feeling.

Nord Hotel, Paris
January 10, 2008, 7:02 pm
Filed under: Drugs, Hyperbole | Tags: , ,

To be fair, the Nord Hotel in Paris isn’t so bad during the day. That’s it in the picture. Possibly even the same room I stayed in. When you turn the light on and open the window, the yellow shade of the walls looks almost sunny and inviting. There are little individually-wrapped mints on the pillows and a sign instructing you to drop any towels you want washed on the floor so that the cleaning service doesn’t go to the trouble of washing the clean ones, too. A TV mounted in the corner of the room, near the ceiling. Sure, it’s a little shabby, but no worse than a hostel, and fuck it, you just got into Paris and lucked into a cheap hotel right across the street from the train station.

I didn’t think anything of it when I dropped my bags off in the afternoon. I am also in the complicated groove of traveling by myself, a state in which everything is experienced acutely and then hovers around in a space of its own, completely independent from the sort of value judgments I’d be making if I had the resources for comparison. It’s all new, and therefore all the same to me in this regard: the photos of women having sex with animals in the Sex Museum in Amsterdam, the insectlike curve of a door handle in the Art Nouveau district in Brussels, the beer coasters lined decoratively around the bars that never seem to be used for their intended purposes, the muscular and omnipresent tongue of the Italian guy I kissed after going out for Chinese food, the awkward but euphoric conversations held between people who can’t really speak each other’s languages well enough to do much except express happiness at meeting… all of it has been definitively foreign, and I’ve gotten used to my independent opinions pretty much stopping at that. I do not feel any added anxiety bringing a small supply of hash with me on the train out of Amsterdam because I am anxious enough about making the train in the first place. I am far more worried about radiation poison from accidentally passing my hand through the baggage X-ray machine than I am about going into a bar by myself and picking up a strange man. Nothing makes any sense; it’s all just a heady rush of information and adrenaline. I can’t yet tell what I will remember and what I will forget, and this doesn’t bother me yet. It feels pleasantly weightless to focus on small, sensory details as they’re happening.

“I am more than happy to have you make all the decisions for awhile,” is what I told Aaron when I met him in the lobby of the Nord Hotel in Paris, upon seeing him for the first time in almost two years. I mean this. My jeans are already hanging off me from the stress of doing everything for myself. I am exhilarated, sure, but my hands are also shaking and I’ve spent so much time alone that I’m not far from a point where conversations with myself will start to happen out loud. Furthermore, Aaron is the kind of person who likes to take care of things. He’s good at it. If I characteristically never quite know what to do, he always does. Even when he’s stoned.

When we got back to the Nord Hotel that first night, I washed my face in the bathroom while he sat at the tiny desk next to it, rolling a joint with the hash I brought from Amsterdam. I came out of the bathroom and pulled down the bedspread, revealing a velour blanket and scratchy grayish sheets. I didn’t want to get into it but I did, pulling the blanket up tightly over my knees and staring at the blinking red light on the TV set in the corner. Earlier, Aaron discovered that the door didn’t really lock. An old-building thing; the parts of the lock just weren’t in close enough alignment to work. When he was finished rolling the joint, he dragged the desk chair over and propped it up in front of the door. It wasn’t tall enough to jam it, but at least there would be something in the way if someone tried to come in. The carpets looked like they’d been subjected to repeated flooding. So did the walls, actually: the textured burgundy wallpaper was pulling up in some sections as though the entire room had been full of murky brown water at some point. Maybe with some bodies floating in it. The parts that weren’t covered with this wallpaper were painted a malignant egg-yolk yellow. Plus, it just felt empty. It wasn’t hard to imagine being shut up inside this hotel and forgotten. It was the kind of place someone might go to arrange a drug deal, seduce a teenager, or hole up for an anonymous, long-term bender.

Aaron takes his clothes off and gets into bed in his shorts, the joint he’s just rolled perched on the rim of the ashtray he has brought over from the desk. There’s another ashtray next to the bed on my side. He lights the joint and we smoke it. I’m having a hard time knowing what to say to him. I’ve known Aaron since I was thirteen, but the boxer shorts, the hash, and the general trend of multi-layered confusion I’ve experienced in Europe all conspire to make me feel like he is part of the scenery instead of an ally against it. It’s the blinking light on the TV that finally snaps me out of it: “This is so fucking creepy!” I say before launching myself across the bed toward his hopefully familiar armpit, my old favorite hideout. He puts his arms around me and I’m still half-hoping he’s going to tell me I’m being ignorant of European customs or something and that this is all perfectly normal. But: “I know,” he says. “It’s the TV. That’s the worst part.”

“It’s like those stories about the KGB putting cameras in everything.”

“They’re sitting downstairs watching us freak out.” He holds the joint up to my lips and I inhale, knocking ash onto his bare chest. I rub it into his skin with my free hand. I’d envisioned this as more of a bottle-of-wine-and-silk-negligee kind of scene, but we might as well sleaze it up. When at the Nord Hotel…

I wake up at five in the morning to the sounds of a running vacuum and a woman’s ecstatic moans coming from a room that could be down the hall or on another floor entirely. My T-shirt is clammy with sweat, the kind of sweat that makes you cold even while you’re overheating. I’m sort of in disbelief that I’d managed to fall asleep at all. I remember kissing Aaron last night, his feet covering mine under the blankets as we sought to press as much of ourselves up against each other as possible. I remember how he stopped in the middle of it, stopped without pulling away or saying anything, just stopped. “What?” I’d whispered in the dark.

“I’m scared.”

It had been a good thirty seconds before I understood what he meant. And even longer before I realized that this was one of the parts I would remember.

Matthew Izzo Boy
December 15, 2007, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: , , ,

Matthew Izzo is the eponymous lifestyle store opened by a Philadelphia-based interior designer who has a refined taste for all things “cool.” The store sells things like skinny jeans, sleek sofas upholstered with tinsel-shot tweed, modern sculpture pieces that take the whole late-60’s Jetson’s aesthetic into the realm of a better, less kitschy future, and the even hippest haircuts in town in the tiny in-store salon. The kind of cool stuff that lets you know loud and clear when you’re not cool enough to buy it, a category in which I would include myself were it not for the huge wall of candles. This is a great comfort because nobody, I don’t care who you are, will ever not be cool enough for candles.

They are not cool things, candles. They are warm and inviting and cozy. At their coolest, they are an accent in a dark corner, suspended on some impossibly tall stilt or placed on a glass tray in the middle of a coffee table where they are never lit. At their least cool, they are the territory of frowsy spinsters who light as many of them at once as they can in order to romance their nine cats and dog-eared bodice-ripper collection. I personally fall somewhere in the middle, and this is only because I don’t have cats and read good books.

I think I discovered Matthew Izzo’s candles around this time last year, a time in my life when I was attempting to reclaim the word “spinster” as a positive self-identification. I painted myself as flamboyantly resigned to baking gourmet pastry and tatting lace, kicking boys out of my bed after their masculine duties were completed in order to spend some more quality time with my charmingly decorated one-bedroom apartment. As my friend Kendell pointed out shortly after last New Years’, I wasn’t really kidding anyone. But for awhile there, I really wanted, more than anything else, to at least affect some kind of purposeful contentment with my boyfriendless existence. Just because I was so tired of being sad about it.

My Matthew Izzo poison at that time was Boy. It wasn’t a real boy, but it was almost as satisfying. This candle was kind of thing I wanted to smell all the time, not just burning in the air but all over my skin, all over my clothes, all over my pillows, all over everything, constantly. I don’t know if Mr. Izzo himself sits down and invents the oil blends that scent the candles with his name on them, but I can imagine that however this blend was made, it was not by a sophisticated process. The other candles in the range, named after various Philadelphia hot spots like Rittenhouse Square, didn’t do much for me. And the scents have never been anywhere near consistent. When I first became interested in the Matthew Izzo range, most of them were simple, strongly-scented soliflores that, while pretty, were probably the result of someone pouring some outsourced oils into a vat of wax. Matthew Izzo’s candles are obviously a small, experimental operation. Boy, though… Boy is the one that Matthew Izzo got right the first time and continues to get right. I am obsessed.

It’s predominantly a true-to-life leather scent, the kind of leather that reminds me of going to a Wilson’s store in the mall in junior high and trying on the black leather bomber jackets. This is the same smell as a biker store, or a cowboy store, or dare I say, a leather-heavy gay bar minus the smoke and booze. The leather is balanced out with a smooth, unsweetened vanilla that gives the effect of being man enough to cry during sad movies. Then the whole thing is spiked with a fresh-from-the-barbershop splash of fizzy lime. The throw from even the $12 travel tin candle is enough to scent not only my apartment, but the entire hall of the building, for days. It’s glorious. I have never had a boyfriend quite as smooth yet rugged as Boy, and that’s probably a good thing. If there were a human equivalent of this candle, I would love him like a crazy girl and we’d both end up scarred for life.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Matthew Izzo also puts Boy out in a fragrance oil, safe for use on the skin. I don’t know how one would obtain such a thing unless they lived in Philadelphia and could get to the store or emailed Mr. Izzo himself and begged for a special mail-order, but this addition to the candle line has certainly made me a happy, happy girl. I’m over rejecting the idea of actual, human intimacy at this point, but I’ll tell you this much: I will always consider spinsting it up in my apartment with Boy as time well spent. Whether it’s cool or not.

Provence Sante Tilleul
November 15, 2007, 12:37 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

One look at his face and I knew the whole story before it even happened, but that’s not the kind of thing you can just walk up and say to some boy sitting in a coffee shop. What freaked my twenty-one year-old mind was that he felt the same way. When after months of stilted, difficult conversation we finally made the journey from my front porch to my twin bed, he said, “I have dreams about you.” And I knew exactly what he meant because of course I had dreams about him too. Looking back, only a complete dummy or the extremely arrogant would believe that things would just be that easy; that our commingled dreams would simply manifest themselves in our current reality as seamlessly as a bird landing on the tree branch its been thinking about all winter. But that’s not right, either–too cerebral, without allowances made for that mushy-headed side effect of constant, obsessive sex.

Back then I had this little blue plaid jumper that had once been part of someone else’s school uniform. It was a kid’s size 12. Let’s just say that I was always sure to wear nice underwear when I put it on with my black Doc Martens and stepped out into a spring so full of soft-focus life that I was petrified at the thought it would end. Had I been more Bridgitte Bardot than Jean Seberg, some stranger on the street would probably have called me a whore and put a stop to the dress much sooner. As it was, the draft felt good and my man had these big hands that would fit over my butt cheeks like they were baseballs every time I wore it. Plus, I was fairly certain that the world would end at any moment and in that case, I wanted to go out fucking. This certainty became more and more pathological as spring turned into summer. By July, I was as brittle as a cicada husk and the only time I felt safe was when I was snuggled against H’s enormous chest.

But listen, the spring will make anyone crazy. There’s a week every year, right when the city’s tame little treelets break into a wild froth of sperm-smelling white blossoms, that you start seeing dead baby birds on the sidewalk if you’re looking for them. Here’s the gentle sun making filigree of the cement through the flowers, here’s that sweet warm breeze tickling your legs, here’s the whisper-quiet rustling of new promises–oh, and down there? A fluffy little gray and yellow casualty, crushed by its own meager weight after a fall from a tree barely bigger than a grown man. That spring, I felt like the bird and the flowers and the sky as well as myself in a slutty school uniform dress trailing on legs shaky from all this shit behind a man who seemed, with his stooped shoulders and Brothers Grimm plaid, to be the only terra firma I’d ever known. And, well, we all know the one about the bird and the sidewalk.

All this has less to do with love and more to do with the excruciatingly beautiful torture-by-sweetness that is Provence Sante’s Tilleul Eau de Toilette. It’s all right there in the bottle: the dried-honey brittleness of hay, the startling lewdness of a lot of flowers blooming at the same time, the tender wafty kiss of a miniskirt draft, the comfortingly sad promise of the old story being told exactly as it was and exactly how it was always going to be. And thank God I found a new perfume to not wear in honor of my upcoming twenty-seventh birthday, upon which I am giving up tragedy forever.

Illustration from Stories and Fables: Childcraft #2: The How and Why Library. Maaaan, I was raised on this shit and had forgotten about it until just now. The next time I’m in my parents’ house, I’m taking all of them back with me.

Guerlain Samsara
October 23, 2007, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Drugs, Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , ,

I put on this old Betsey Johnson dress I’d bought secondhand and worn to a New Years’ party or two because he was coming straight to my house from the airport. It was black stretchy velvet, long sleeved and high necked and swirly-skirted with a sober crocheted lace collar, buttoned up the chest by what seemed like a hundred tiny pearls. I loved this dress but I never expected anyone else to, particularly not a boy. It was more 1992-mall-goth than I normally felt comfortable being in public; perhaps a little too close to home. I wore black tights and my Doc Martens and sprayed myself all over with Samsara, which seemed to strike the same chord as my dress. This was last October.

Anyway, the boy came home and I gave him chocolate croissants and a backrub because he’d had the presence of mind to say, “wow” when I opened my door in my inappropriate party dress. It was too late to go anywhere fancy or even anywhere gross; he’d come in on a late flight from I think L.A. The dress was purely for him, equal parts tribute and test. This boy was crazy. I knew that. Everybody knew that. Years ago he’d given me what he’d called an engagement present that involved a random pair of not-new socks, a red light bulb, an extension cord, a skateboard catalog, a heavy brass paper clip, and a paperback novel based on the film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” I had not been particularly receptive then, but whatever slow-acting voodoo he had infused into this gift apparently decided to work three years later. He didn’t seem crazy to me anymore, but maybe that was because he’d voodooed me and I’d always been fluent in Crazese to begin with.

So it was October and my emotions were doing the same thing the foliage was: going out in a blaze of glory. This boy made me unbelievably happy, like whatever I was doing at any given moment was the best possible thing in the world for a female human being to be doing. We spent hours upon hours Practicing Restraint from sex, which is what we did the night he came home from L.A. Practiced Restraint, that is. Practicing Restraint feels a lot like doing ecstasy when you do it for a long time, like weeks of near-constant contact, and don’t give in. It’s excruciatingly pleasant. I think we thought we’d invented some new kind of drug or something.

Samsara is a Sanskrit word that means the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, used with a negative connotation by those seeking nirvana, or the end of all that. Finding the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth about as excruciatingly pleasant and frustrating and wild as Practicing Restraint with my sleepy-eyed nutcase, the two concepts are forever entwined in my mind as one in the same. Along with, of course, the perfume by the same name and my black velvet party dress.

Samsara smells like sandalwood and ylang ylang while managing, for all its strength, to convey a murky softness that speaks of dark bars, lingering kisses, and assorted existential aches and pains. This boy disappeared without a trace or word of explanation shortly after I met his parents and we made Thanksgiving plans. Restraint was Practiced until the last. You’d think this would make me hate the perfume I wore for him, but I don’t. It just sort of reminds me to hope that wherever he is, he’s okay. It sounds callous to suggest that I might need this perfume as such a reminder, but such is samsara.

I Could Cry
August 6, 2007, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: , ,

Every so often, breakfast from the Metropolitan Bakery on a rainy Monday morning is a profound enough experience to liken to the religious or ecstatic. Strong, bitter iced coffee with skim milk and an apricot-cream cheese danish with an almost-burned sugar crust on the outside. There is a charging in my chest that can only mean that I am in love. How will I get through the rest of my day if I already feel this strongly about breakfast?