“I want a parade/ I want a party/ pink macaroons/ and a million balloons/ and performing baboons/ give it to me now/ I want the world/ I want the whole world/ I want to lock it all up in my pocket/ it’s my bar of chocolate/ give it to me… now!”
–Veruca Salt, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Dear Daddy, Santa Claus, and all of my boyfriends,
I need for you to go to a store that sells Bond No. 9 and buy me the biggest available bottle of their West Side perfume for the bargain price of $185 for 3.4 oz. I need for you also to find some decanting supplies and another, prettier bottle for you to put it into, since the ceramic-star thingy with all the crayola-colored musical clefs on it will obviously just not do; it is fugly, and a sweet lovable girl like me should be surrounded only by pretty presents. And finally and most importantly, I need this to be done as soon as possible, i.e., NOW. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this perfume and if I don’t get it in my hands this exact second I’m going to start an apocalyptically loud and messy cake fight and you, sirs, will be the first to choke on frosting roses. That’s not a threat. Nice adorable little girls in pretty dresses like me don’t make those. We make promises.
Now that we have that out of the way, I’m going to tell you all about why I need Bond No. 9’s West Side. I need it because it’s a rose fragrance and I don’t have one of those yet due to the fact that I don’t really like rose fragrances. Still, I am a collector, and the fact that I have not until now found one I really really wanted (until today!) has long stuck in my luscious, powdered craw.
I have a theory or two about why this rose fragrance works for me when so many others before it have failed. The first one is that if you cover just about anything up with enough whipped cream and marshmallows and vanilla syrup, it’s bound to taste better. The roses in West Side are no different. In this case, they infuse an entire dessert cart full of treats with their fresh, powdery delicacy, cutting all the sweets with a flavor a bit more nouvelle cuisine than anything present in say, Jessica Simpson’s lineup of dessert inspired bath and body products. It smells like the dust left on a mug of hot cocoa made with half and half before you stir it all up properly, but instead of cocoa as the main ingredient, it’s roses.
This makes it so distractingly pretty that I can get through an entire day without having a screaming fit about those tangles in my hair or that grass stain on my white eyelet sundress or the fact that eating broccoli is just one of those things you have to do sometimes. In fact, today, when I was back and forth from the bank to a real live scary check cashing joint to Heather’s house to the drugstore for a money order to the gas company’s headquarters and then back to the bank again after having already been to the bank twice this week, I managed to get through the entire ordeal without doing anything much more drastic than scowling once or twice. As you already know, best behavior is difficult if not impossible for me to uphold under such extreme circumstances. I credit, entirely, Bond No. 9’s West Side. It’s hard to act cranky when you smell good. And gosh, I’d hate it if the fact that I don’t own this perfume yet made me even crankier.
Since I know that nobody wants that, I’m just going to say theeeeeenks! in advance for your kind gift of my new $185 3.4oz bottle of Bond No. 9’s West Side, decanted into a non-fugly bottle, and delivered into my mostly-clean hands at the agreed upon hour of NOW.
Your cake-frosting princess forever,
This is my perfume for when I want to hang out between the lines, taking no recognizable stance except that of my own strictly unaffiliated interior scaffolding. Perhaps this is because Narciso Rodriguez for Her itself seems to take no stance, preferring to lurk in the hazy middle ground between dark and light, a place of muted yet eerily bright colors reminscent of the sky fifteen minutes before a spectacular thunderstorm. You also get the feeling that this fragrance is the only knowable by-product of some intense, inarticulate, and private process that can only be sensed around its edges. Narciso Rodriguez for Her is that old abandoned industrial site that only you have seen at exactly the right angle, the right time of day, under the right set of circumstances to makes it look like it grew that way, out of the ground. It’s the unintentionally revealing expression on the face of a stranger that leaves you with a frozen-frame snapshot of what the word “solitude” really means. It’s a room that has existed for itself with no people in it for a very long time. It hits that lonely, ecstatic point of “hover” just right, that heightened state of relating to the world as an autonomous party that turns everyone into a secret photographer.
This effect is largely due to the neither-here-nor-there quality of egyptian musk scents in general. They all smell a little bit like a lot of things, probably because musk has been used to fragrance a range of products that go far beyond those offered up at cosmetic counters. Bathroom soap, incense, laundry detergent, probably even things like toilet paper. Narciso Rodriguez for Her adopts musk’s utilitarian omnipresence and doctors it up with an ethereal sunshower of orange blossom, a furry honey note that somehow manages to smells more animalic than the musk note, and an enchanted swamp of stagnant, fermented amber. All this provides the perfect set for the weird apocalyptic creatures that are going to come crawling out of this everylandscape, this Ridley Scott location, this moonage daydream. Narciso Rodriguez for Her stops there, though, and lets you come crawling out instead, population of one.
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: boys, love, swimming, Upper Black Eddy
I didn’t smell like any kind of perfume that day we all went tubing. I smelled like Bullfrog sunscreen and the gray-black silty river mud that claimed so many dubious prizes for our little town: rusted carburetors, golf clubs, plastic ice-cream spoons, an old push-mower no one wanted any more, and maybe little pieces of the people the river claimed over the years, a watch here, a finger there, a set of keys. This didn’t scare any of us; anyone killed in the river was probably not only an adult, but not from around here. We knew about all the stuff buried in the mud around the pilings because it was right under there, for anyone interested to dive down and dig up. My little brother made an entire month’s worth of obsessive hobby from this very practice the summer before I left for college.
I didn’t put any great thought into you or what you were thinking that day. My main concern was whether or not my hand might brush up accidentally against any lampreys. Eels were one thing. Lampreys have teeth. My hair was short and sleek against my head like an otter’s and the sunscreen wasn’t working. I would go home that night with a classic tubing-sunburn: thighs, shoulders, tops of feet, and nose. We were all stoned and full of ice cream. The river was so low that summer that we could drag our feet in the mud from our comfortable stations in the black inner tubes that we dragged out of Ben Hallowell’s garage. There was probably innocent hand-holding and threats of getting naked. I didn’t know what I was doing then when I did things like that, and any titillation this caused you at the time would be no more or no less than that caused by any other girl we went to high school with.
Except that if we were high, every second of everything that happened was impregnated with an oversaturated sense of both jump-out-of-our-skins beauty and paranoid importance. So who knows. Maybe we touched by mistake and I flinched because I thought you were a lamprey. Maybe we touched and I thought about it while I was falling asleep that night. Maybe a little bit of both. Did you make that crazy bong-contraption out of pipettes stolen from the high school chem lab doctored up with tinfoil, or was it Josh? Did we have a name for that thing? I think we must have, but I can’t remember it.
Afterward, there must have been secondhand cars with the leather seats still hot from the sun against our wrinkly, goosebumped skin. We would have taken showers somewhere, probably my house, in and out while you entertained my parents because unlike the rest of us, you were comfortable with adults. I put on a too-big thrift store T-shirt and a pair of wide-legged khakis that made me look like I was floating inside them. We smoked more pot and drove around, and I stared at the last phosphorescent smear of a firefly that got too close too fast to the windshield while Steve Malkmus spoke in tongues that I understood only when stoned.
Later, when we finally kissed I saw the same firefly smear against the inside of my eyelids, had the same sensation of finally making sense of some fine thread of substance that had until then been only smart-kid jibber-jabber. And everything opened up and sang, all the away-game sunsets over some other town and the novels I propped inside my math textbooks and why the food served at the prom has to be bad and the way the boulders in the field at Ringing Rocks sound like Tibetan gongs if you hit them with the right kind of hammer and the car crashes and the wind in my hair and the terrible, unspeakable tedium of it all when you’re sixteen and trying your hardest to be wild. And I knew you knew what I was feeling because I knew what you were feeling and this was nothing mystical or crazy, we’d both just been to the same place and seen it for ourselves. And I wanted to give you something essential and solid as a relic, some rusted carburetor or golf club or plastic spoon or discarded push-mower or some part of myself that you’d claimed–my watch, my finger, my set of keys.
Upper Black Eddy painting by Paul E. Temple, shamelessly gleaned from his website: www.pauletemple.com
“Oh come with me/my little one/and we will find that barn/And grow us grass and apples there/and keep all the animals warm/And if by chance I wake at night and ask you who I am/Oh take me to the slaughterhouse/I will wait there with the lamb.”
–Leonard Cohen, “Stories of the Street”
Sometimes, lately, I look in the mirror and see this good-natured little blonde milkmaid-type chick and I have no idea who she is or where she came from until she gets this serious frown on her face that looks like vaudeville, a comedic moue. And then I remember that I have gone natural and what I look like now is how I was intended to look all along. After dying my short hair dark as soon as I could get away with it (i.e., after I moved out of my parents’ house), I kept it that way for the next nine years with only the odd interlude of bright red or purple breaking up the monotony. I haven’t touched a box of hair dye or seen a pair of scissors in about nine months now, and the results have been strange. I woke up one day and realized that my ex-boyfriend thought he had a blonde girlfriend for the entire six months we dated, which explains a lot about why things didn’t work out. When I see an old friend in the street, I can see their confusion in trying to adjust their ideas of who I am according to what I currently look like. Since I am pretty much constantly doing the same thing myself, I can relate. You think it’s just hair color until you do it to yourself. It’s a full-blown personality crisis. And everyone knows sweet little blonde milkmaids don’t get those. Are you beginning to see my dilemma?
This is why a perfume like Caron’s Pois de Senteur has such a powerful ability to depress me. Its warm honey/hay/flowers thing is exactly the scent for some buxom young farmer’s daughter, some Daisy Duke hanging out of a hot rod with absolutely no clue that all the boys can’t take their eyes off her twitchy little jean-shorts butt. And it is the absolute opposite of anything I have any business smelling like.
I’m reasonably sure that when the somewhat stuffy French house of Caron composed this fragrance in 1927, they were not thinking about dumb, bouncy T&A rolling around in a pasture, unless it was some sanitized Marie Antoinette version of the same fantasy. The name means “Sweet Pea,” and sweet pea is indeed a prominent note. It’s what causes Pois de Senteur, straight out of the bottle, to smell a bit like the conversation hearts passed around at elementary school Valentine’s Day parties. The conversation hearts soon dissolve in a puddle of lovely, pungent paperwhite piss, send up a creamy-peppery cloud of carnation steam. The icky-sweet combination of hyacinth and lilac wring their prissy purple hands at the raw impropriety of this scene, but they are soundly ignored once that dripping, syrupy amber/honey/hay accord kicks in with its sweet pastoral invitation to rut. Pois de Senteur smells “dirty,” but only to a pervert. It smells “sticky,” but only to a prig. It smells “rustic,” but only to the pretentious. I really like it.
In my blonde incarnation, I could probably even wear it out of the house without freaking anyone out. I don’t think I would, though. I’m too aware that I fall too thoroughly onto the perverted/priggish/pretentious end of the appreciation spectrum myself to pull it off. You can’t un-brunette yourself just by growing in your blonde roots. It’s like Marie Antoinette playing milkmaid: it’s great fun, but it’s also obnoxious and pisses everyone off. But at the same time… tough shit, everyone.
The picture is a painting called “A Milkmaid With Her Cows on a Summer Day” by Julien Dupre, which was totally ripped off without permission from www.artxchangenetwork.com
I spent the earlier part of my day running back and forth from the PennDot DMV, on a quest to renew my state ID so that I can open a new bank account (long story). Upon my first visit, I was told by Willis, the extremely friendly man behind the counter, that I needed to send my money order for ten bucks and completed license form by mail in order to obtain a photo certificate, which would then enable me to have my ID made. Willis noticed my crestfallen expression after he had finished explaining and added, “Unless you feel like taking a little walk on the wild side.”
Those are the magic words. Given the option, I will always take the walk on the wild side.
The wild side, in this case, was an address in Chinatown that led me to the Happy Success Driving School. This was a tiny storefront almost obscured with bright lettering in Chinese and English explaining what-all went on at the Happy Success. Money orders, parking permits, IDs, driving lessons, travel planning, notary services… reading over the window, I wondered if I could also possibly get a happy ending when I was done sorting my life out.
Inside, there was an ill-matched assortment of old couches and office chairs, two desks, and a little window in the back cut out from a wall that consisted of another series of comprehensive signs. I took a seat in one of the chairs and waited. Being conveniently in the middle of reading The Joy Luck Club, I watched the women behind the desks with new interest, idly wondering if any of them had shamed their ancestors recently. One of the girls was about my age, in heavy eye-makeup and a brightly printed don’t-give-a-fuck sundress. I decided that of the group, she was the most likely ancestor-shamer. It was the kind of stretchy-top dress that probably shouldn’t be worn outside of the house unless you’re really fat, which she wasn’t. I started forming a half-baked thesis about America being a culture in which shaming one’s ancestors is so organic and inevitable that it almost becomes its own tradition, possibly to the extent that proof of the willingness to shame one’s ancestors might as well be a visa requirement. I also thought about whether my personal ancestors would even give much of a shit what I was up to. I pictured them senilely smiling and nodding at everything that was said to them because they had left their hearing aid off on purpose, a strategy commonly attributed in family folklore to my great-grandpa Sy.
“Listen here, pops, I’m telling you that when I grow up, I intend to drink, smoke, wear Shalimar, and be the biggest whore this little town’s ever seen!”
“That’s nice, dear. Be a good girl and get me another beer.”
Since my lineage includes both Benedict Arnold and Nathan Hale, I kind of figure the ancestry is generally not in agreement amongst themselves as to what constitutes family honor. It’s never been a secret that the ancestors in my family are just as, if not more, screwed-up than any of the rest of us. To invoke them in any sort of ethical process is basically to pull a crazy card. This suits me fine. It means I can continue doing whatever I want, which is what I was going to do anyway.
Somewhere between the Happy Success girl photocopying my old ID and handing me my receipt, I decide that I, too, need to own a tacky-ass, stretchy-top print sundress of the variety not usually worn outside the house except by the very obese.
On my way home, I stop into a Lot store and find a rack of these very sundresses for $6.89 each. By fate or luck, I have exactly seven dollars in my purse. I select a screaming-orange one printed with not just hibiscus and seagulls, but also palm trees, sailboats, and what look like stucco condominiums. It’s god-awful. I put it on the second I get home. It is in no way flattering, but I don’t care because I just found out that it has a pocket, buried inside the skirt on the right hand side. My shoulders look even pastier than usual rising from its tropical bounty, and my pointy, suspicious-eyed face makes me look like a very uncomfortable missionary who thought that trip to the South Pacific sounded like fun until she got there.
I can already tell that I’m not going to be able to stop myself from wearing this thing every day for the next week. This is the problem with being a little obsessive-compulsive; it just feels so much better when you know it’s all wrong. I justify this by telling myself that after spending most of my life in sleek black and navy blue, it’s high time I learned about life on the screaming-orange side. Complete with hibiscus, seagulls, palm trees, sailboats, and strange stucco condominiums.
If anyone asks why I’m wearing it, I’ll just tell them that the ancestors make strange demands, especially when they’ve been drinking.
When I first noticed that my local Anthropologie had begun selling Dr. Hauschka products three or four months ago, I raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. It’s not that Dr. Hauschka’s super-organic, ethically-harvested, handcrafted ethos doesn’t jibe with Anthropologie’s constant appropriation of that sort of thing–it’s more that buying skincare products meant to be part of a rhythmic, consistent lifestyle at a clothing boutique just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing people would go for in the long run. I was first turned on to the Dr. Hauschka routine by my facialist at Philadelphia’s Eviama Life Spa, and spent the next eight or nine months in what seemed like a constant state of soaking, steaming, press-and-rolling, and massaging my face. The products all smell amazing and work as well if not a little better than anything else, but in the end, I couldn’t keep up the time commitment. Selling this stuff at the instant-gratification mecca that is Anthropologie just seemed a little weird to me.
Sure enough, when I took a brief cruise through Anthropologie’s sale floor yesterday, I found a whole bunch of Dr. Hauschka on the cheap. Although I no longer use their facial products, I couldn’t resist picking up the little silver tin full of sample-sized bath and body products when I realized that it was priced at $7.95, marked down from its original $19.95.
The star of the Body Care Kit was far and away the Rose Body Oil, a peanut-oil based lubricant containing precious attar of rose and rose petal extract harvested from Dr. Hauschka’s own German rose fields (or whatever). This stuff usually retails at a prohibitive (at least for me and all other sane non-rich kids) $35.95 for 3.4oz. For this reason, I will never own a full bottle, even though Dr. Hauschka’s website raves about its aromatherapeutic “antidepressant, tonifying, spasmolytic, laxative, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic” benefits as well as its ability to “encourage resilience in times of stress.”
I don’t know that it does all that, but it does smell really, really pretty. I’m not a lover of rose fragrances, usually finding them either too overripe or too musty, but this one smells just about perfect, like the wild roses that used to grow in my childhood backyard (and front yard, and along the side of the road, and in the woods). It’s fresh without being cloying, warm without being overwhelming, and sweet without reminding me of a grandmother’s Crabtree and Evelyn talcum powder. And so realistically rosy you can almost hear the honeybees buzz. Slathering it on after my post-yoga shower this morning, I basked in this lovely fragrance for the full half an hour it took for my skin to absorb it. Since I’m working with sample sizes, I have roughly enough in my little .34oz vial to do this exactly one more time before I say goodbye and never look back.
I’m a little wistful about this, though, because after using Rose Oil, my skin is now the rarified texture of something that would be scratched by anything but the finest, softest cotton. While this does me no good in my current day-to-day existence, if I ever wake up in one of those lolling-around-on-thousand-thread-count-sheet situations, I’ll definitely reconsider.
To wake up craving the dry, pungent astringency of some proper hippie-oil patchouli first thing in the morning is alarming enough to make me wonder if I’m not pregnant. I mean, I always think I’m pregnant right after things don’t work out with whatever guy, and I’m totally not actually pregnant, but the patchouli thing was weird. I’ve heard stories of the recently impregnated being tipped off to their fertilized state by olfactory hints; things like being able to smell electricity when an appliance is plugged into the wall or finding their own skin scent suddenly and completely foreign to their sense of smell. Female perfume-heads are forever relating to their own menstrual cycles through perfume: much like the taste of food, some things smell better or worse depending on whether you’re ovulating or flush in the middle of Aunt Flo’s consanguine company. It’s not that farfetched to seriously question what’s going on with your body when a perfume component you’ve never gotten along with is suddenly the only thing that makes sense.
Patchouli, in this case. I got home from work last night after thinking about it all day and I needed some right then. I wanted it pure, I wanted it as sharp and bitter and bracing as only patchouli can be. So I went to the all-night CVS and came home with a little 1.5oz bottle of the $13.95 cheapness that is Jovan Fresh Patchouli. I sprayed it on and waited for the moment of truth.
The truth is that this stuff smells a lot more like a horse stable than a head shop. This fragrance packs a blast of ephemeral, strawlike coumarin bolstered up by the peculiar good/bad/weird all-at-the-same-time underpinnings of the patchouli I’d been fiending for all day. The effect reminds me of raisins: something that once was wet is now dry. It’s the smell of a bale of hay drying out after a heavy dewfall on the farm, the smell of that dedicated hour you wake up before school starts to go brush your precious pony, Muffy.
I kind of love it. I’ve never been one of those pony club chicks, although I have been on a horse enough times to be jealous of the pony club’s thinly veiled and completely genius excuse for masturbating all the time. But Jovan Fresh Patchouli, to me, smells like a very specific type of woman that saw its apex of public popularity in the 70s. It’s Katharine Ross in The Graduate and pictures of young Jane Fonda and enjoying the freedom to be “outdoorsy” without having to stop shaving your armpits. You know, you have rich parents but you took acid that one time in Aspen and have taken great pains to discover life beyond your trust fund and the pictures of your backpacking trip through Europe to prove it. You have a bunch of fancy French perfumes that various people have bought for you over the years, but when you discovered Jovan Fresh Patchouli you were very relieved that the one thing that smelled like you in a bottle is actually dirt cheap (so none of your friends know about it).
I mean, it doesn’t smell like me in a bottle. But you know, since I enjoy pretending so much, I’ll probably still pull it out from time to time. Something about it makes me feel kinda thumpety-thumpety-thumpety, like learning how to trot. Hey…. at least it won’t get me pregnant.