After last night’s sociopathic Vanilla Fields/Peaceful Patchouli orgy, I found that I had some explaining to do to the clean, soapy little angel that sits, for the most part, meek and silent on my right-hand shoulder. “Cleanse yourself in the lather of simplicity,” she suggested. “Atone for the filthy olfactory sigil you created last night with no respect for the basic rights of your fellow man. Start fresh, and if I ever catch you messing with the patchouli again, the repercussions will be no one’s fault but your own.”
Well, okay. But only because it gives me the perfect excuse to crack open the 3-pack of Dial Gold bars I picked up at the dollar store last week in an attempt to bacterially discourage the bacne I get if I mess around with too many rich body creams (something I cannot help but do sometimes). Unwrapped, Dial Gold smells like Juicy Fruit gum and stainless virtue. It is delicious. If I were five, I’d eat it. At twenty-six, I still have a hard time talking myself out of it.
Lathered up in the shower, Dial Gold smells less like Juicy Fruit and more like the clean, gentle smell that my mind accepts unquestioningly as the smell of “soap.” But what, really, is the smell of soap? Like the scent of leather used in perfumery, the scent of soap is not the literal scent of the thing itself, but rather the chemical components used in processing for the exact purpose of making it smell like itself.
After my shower, I sat down with my bar of Dial Gold and attempted to figure it out. I get musk, rose, carnation, lily of the valley, some green vetiver/galbanum-y kind of thing, and then… soap. The thing that makes it smell like soap. I have no idea what it is. For example, what’s the Juicy Fruit accord? I don’t think it involves actual fruit notes, it’s more of a trompe l’oeil impression of the powder left on the foil wrapper of a stick of juicy fruit. It’s all very mysterious. According to the official Dial website, the soap has a “light clover fragrance” made up of “some 14 different oils.” Oh. Or it could just be that. Doesn’t “light clover fragrance” still sound kind of mysterious, though? Like they’ll never really tell? I think so.
I suppose I should just have faith in my fragrant shoulder-angel. She doesn’t speak up often, and when she does, she usually has some kind of point. So, Dial Soap and unscented Lubriderm for me today. And just a tiny bit of Hermes Caleche, the most goody-goody fragrance I have at my disposal. Have I atoned enough, yet?
Two winters ago I bought a bunch of Henri Bendel candles on sale at Bath and Body Works. My dark horse favorite turned out to be their Vanilla Bean, a vanilla/patchouli blend that was a dark horse because I was, at the time, fond of neither vanilla nor patchouli scents in general. The candle was a revelation, though: dark and creamy and a little spooky, like something a girl assassin might burn on her day off. The patchouli mixed in with the vanilla smells like you imagine the specks of vanilla bean should taste when you’re a kid eating Breyer’s ice cream. I burned these particular candles down to the nothing and have missed them ever since. I don’t know if they’re discontinued or what, but I can’t find them in the Bath and Body Works stores anymore so I assume that they are.
In the throes of an intense midsummer patchouli kick sparked off by Jovan’s Fresh Patchouli, I started craving the harder stuff, the pure shit, the bitter draught favored by unwashed anarchists and middle-aged artiste-type dudes with gray ponytails and a taste for underage pussy. But, you know, a light version. A patchouli that retained all of its funky up-to-no-good qualities without crossing the line into something that might get me arrested. This proved to be a tricky task, kind of like trying to get health insurance to cover your medicinal marijuana expenses. In the end, the best I could come up with was Kiss My Face’s Peaceful Patchouli body lotion. This is like a controllable version of the hard shit. It smells just as raw and rude as the essential oil, but you can control how much you put on a bit more easily.
I like this stuff because when I wear it, people can actually smell me. I don’t know that they like it, per se. But the lotion is definitely strong to cause a loamy, pungent waft of the dark side to emanate from my person for the entire day. Truth be told, it’s a bit much even for me, and I love the way patchouli smells these days. So I’ve been layering it with things. Some minor successes include Kuumba Made Amber Paste, Chanel No. 19, and Gucci Rush for Men.
But never have I had a Peaceful Patchouli success as pronounced and exciting as the one I discovered tonight. See, when I went to the drugstore earlier tonight to pick up shaving cream and under-eye concealer, I saw a small display teetering precariously on top of the deodorant shelf. It was a Coty buy-three-for-ten-dollars joint. They had little body powders that I couldn’t resist, so I got three of them: White Musk, Emeraude, and, oh yes, good old narsty middle-school-smellin’ Vanilla Fields. When I got home, I put the Vanilla Fields powder on my arm, just to see if it was really as horrible as I’d remembered. Oh man, was it ever: cheap and dirty, cloying and heady, floral and foody at the same time, and even the body powder, half an hour later, refused to settle into an innocuous skin scent decent for layering with anything I own. Except maybe…
That’s right. I put the Vanilla Fields body powder on over a thin layer of Peaceful Patchouli lotion and the earth moved. I may still be a little dizzy from the ensuing aftershocks. Most surprisingly, I discovered that my two cheapest, grossest, strong-as-fuckest scents alchemized into a dead ringer for the scent of my long-lost Henri Bendel Vanilla Bean candles. It was (and still is) making me extremely happy, especially now that it’s Fall and we’re going to be all cuddly and mischievous in our army jackets with pentagrams embroidered on the pockets.
I realized after my sinister fragrant experiment that the vanilla/patch combination is hardly anything new in the world of perfumery. First of all there’s Thierry Mugler’s Angel, a satanically potent fume straight out of Beelzebub’s belly if ever I have smelled one (I won’t wear it, but I kinda admire it). Then there’s La Maison de la Vanille’s Vanille Givree des Antilles, a kind of Angel Light that comes in an aluminum can and costs like eighteen bucks or something at Anthropologie. It’s a less complex vanilla/patch that somehow manages to fade into thin air moments after application despite its powerhouse ingredients. I’d enjoyed trying that one on, but not enough to spend even eighteen bucks on it. I’m sure there are others that I have not yet been introduced to, but see, now I don’t need to be.
I brewed my own up devil concoction tonight, and I’m going to torture everyone I know with it for at least the rest of the week.
In response to a gentle, manicured tap from the luscious and wily River City Kitty, this is a list of all the strip clubs in which I have ever shaken it for money. My list is not particularly long or impressive, but I’m glad to participate anyway. To keep this from being a five-sentence blog entry, I’ll add a brief description of these clubs as well as their names. In chronological order:
Club Wizzards, Philadelphia PA
“Every woman has a price,” my old manager Eddy used to say. “Just make sure yours isn’t forty bucks.” Certainly words to live by. The woman who hired me was named Vanity and told me at my audition that I had a really fat pussy. This was almost enough to traumatize me into never going back, but when I spun around the pole for the first time, the entire room lit up with neon lightning that zigzagged across the ceiling on a time-release so that it looked like real lightning. I had a torrid affair with the DJ. Left after almost exactly a year.
Club Diamonds, Charleston SC
I worked here for about a month while trying to avoid the Philadelphia winter during my first year of dancing. What I remember best is that there was a long, rickety metal stairway that was seriously, at some parts, held together with duct tape. Once an hour, “Girls Girls Girls” would start playing and no matter what we were doing, every girl in the place would have to run to the dressing room in order to descend from this long, steep, and terrifying staircase onto the stage. Then we handed out T-shirts and gave 2-4-1 table dances. The trashy factor was counterbalanced by the generosity of the patrons, many of them visiting South Carolina’s golf resorts on company trips. I drink Cristal for the first and only time in the Club Diamonds champagne room. Then a girl named Paris licked some off my boobs. I love the South.
Cheerleaders, Philadelphia PA
I was always sure to launder any hundred dollar bills I got from this place at the convenience store across the street before trying to deposit them at a bank. The management gave us fluffy pink bathrobes for Christmas. And the DJ gifted me with the charming and eloquent soubriquet of “Shady Sadie: The Girl With the Checkered Past.” I learned everything I never wanted to know about football at Cheerleaders and successfully stayed out of the weekly wet T-shirt contest for the entire season, a feat accomplished through no small amount of effort on my part. I stayed here for about another year, maybe a little more.
Delilah’s Den, Absecon NJ
I worked here for a night with my friend Tracey. We wore bikinis under our gowns, which I thought was kind of weird. The lap dances were all performed a foot away from the customer. Slut that I am, I couldn’t, at least in the four hours I was there, figure out how to make money this way, so I gave up and drank shots of Sambuca at the bar with a guy who I still remember was the head waiter at a BYOB in Cape May. Jersey wanted nothing to do with me, pretty much.
Crazy Horse Too, Philadelphia PA
This is the place where all my stripper gear is possibly to this day still hanging in my possibly still-locked locker. When the club was crowded, the money was obscene. The men were rich and easy. The girls were barracudas, and I mean that as a compliment. The bosses were from Vegas and so mobbed up it was leaking out of their eyeballs. Unfortunately, the club was not always busy enough to turn it into the stripper’s paradise that it could be on “on” nights and I was reaching the end of my rope as far as stripping went. This was the last club I worked at, and I lasted about eight months. When I quit, I lived off my last night of work for almost two months. The club has since been sold to Rick’s, and I have no idea how that affected anyone because I removed myself pretty thoroughly from that particular loop.
I’m fourteen, I have just been roused by an alarm that went off at six thirty in the morning, and I desperately need to check the mirror to make sure my hair isn’t sticking out in five different directions. Miriam and Alicia are using it, taking a frustrating amount of time de-clumping their mascara with a teeny-tiny comb that they pass back and forth with such reverent seriousness that you’d think it was something infinitely more important, like drug paraphernalia or a slam book. I stand in the doorway and wait my turn, noticing that Sarah rolls out of Kate’s cot instead of Nikki’s this morning, hitching up her boys’ boxer shorts with one lazy hand on her way to the shower. Heidi watches herself lacing up her Doc Martens, one endless leg stretched out in front of her, half a butt cheek hanging out of her miniskirt. Andrea’s crying because she dreamed that her mom was dead for the third night in a row, Megan slams through the screen door like she’s daring Shannon or Saartje to tell she’s not allowed to go smoke a cigarette, Heather meticulously straps herself into about five pounds of studded leather jewelry, Hannah can’t find her red shorts which are really my red shorts, and the sun is a fuzzy gray filter on the gray floorboards, just barely casting shadows of the bars on the windows. I hold out my wrists to Jo, who sprays me with her perfume. Miriam moves over finally and I see my face: all ashy white bangs, nose, and eyelashes. My own reflection never fails to startle me these days; I expect to see Eyeliner Boy, whose name I superstitiously won’t speak aloud, since that’s whose face has been burned onto the backs of my eyelids ever since I came here and met him.
I’ve never been in love before and I’m taking it like a stoic, my first impulse being to guard the fact that the entire world has suddenly gone fragmented and hazy by simply denying whatever I can’t manage to hide. This uses up large stores of energy, to the extent that I really can’t be bothered to think about whether I’m pretty or not before going to breakfast. Whatever is happening to me is less about putting on lip gloss and more about fire in the skies, plagues of locusts, boiling oceans, crowns of thorns, large and unwieldy albatrosses I killed by mistake, screaming violins, and just about anything else extreme and intense I have read enough about to think I understand. Never once does it occur to me that I should be enjoying any of this, despite the fact that Eyeliner Boy likes me too, probably for the exact reason that I look like some blonde shiksa cookie from the Eddy but do, in fact, walk around all day thinking of kissing a boy I like in the same context as biblical annihilation. At any rate, I don’t feel like smiling or sighing or floating on air on the way to breakfast. I feel kind of like breaking things.
Andrea holds my hand on the steep decline down the path through the woods that leads to the dining hall. I squeeze back; the birds are squalling in an obnoxious manner that refuses to be whatsoever poetic. It’s another misty morning at Camp Ballibay and my heart won’t stop beating too fast like something big is about to happen.
When we reach the bottom of the hill, Eyeliner Boy walks up and takes Andrea’s hand out of mine so that he can hold it himself. I would smile if I could, but I’m thrilled so speechless by this simple, overt act of possession that if there had been any gum in my mouth, it would have fallen out. Andrea wanders off and Eyeliner Boy and I stand up against trees and look at each other. That’s the extent of our relationship: looking at each other, up close, and for as long as both of us can stand it. I don’t say anything. I look at him like I listen to rain on the tin roof of the cabin at night when I can’t fall asleep, like I eat an olive, like I shampoo my hair. If I were to do anything more than stare at him, I think the entire planet would implode in slow-motion. I’m in utter disbelief that not only was he ever alive at the same time I was, but that he still is, and he’s standing there, looking back. The immediacy of this is as simultaneously complicated and simple as the Escher print on the ceiling of my back-home dentist’s office, with all of the accompanying helplessness of having some stranger poking around with sharp instruments inside my mouth. I dig my fingernails into his hand and he unpries them one by one, smiling at me like I’ve just done a soft-shoe routine for his benefit. He touches my stomach and it reminds me that I have to breathe. He breathes too. The bell rings and he follows me into the dining hall with his hand on the back of my head, so lightly that I can just feel it. Eyeliner Boy sticks a finger in my ear and I call him an idiot. Then we go sit at our separate assigned tables and eat breakfast.
For what is possibly the first time in my life, I am grateful to have rules, careful order, schedules, bells, rules, pretend responsibilities. In this case, these rules are the very things that allow me the time to languish freely on my cot with my head full of possibilities, like maybe I’m dying from consumption and Eyeliner Boy will be so bereft when he finds out that he’ll dig my grave up. These new and peculiarly Victorian sensibilities conjured up by meeting my first love at summer camp are the very spidery handwriting on the quietly gilt-edged calling card that is Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue.
From the first spray, this is a perfume about all the things to be learned while you’re waiting. The first notes tingle with a sense of expectancy visceral enough to be almost as uncomfortable as real expectancy: the same sparkly bergamot present in Shalimar coupled with a strong sour cherry-anise accord reminiscent of the kind of hard, dusty grandma candy that is pocketed instead of eaten. Instead of blossoming into an adventure, though, L’Heure Bleue explores the quiet, internal process of having to stay at home while others are out having the adventures. The top notes move into a territory at once delicately doughy with the heliotrope and vanilla that feature so prominently into the drydown and powdery-floral, like the dust from a box of orange-blossom scented incense or an old compact of estate-sale dusting powder that has retained its rosy-iris fragrance after all these years. The sour-cherry-anise disappears, leaving only a ghost of its presence as the opacity of the doughy notes speak in hushed tones to the more hysterical powdery ones. It must have been the very same disappearing accord they were discussing, because before you know it, it’s back again, bringing with it a mentholated cinnamon note that ties the topnotes to the heartnotes into a still olfactory space where all its moodiness has taken on a still, muffled consistency. L’Heure Bleue slowly and gently brings us into a deep drydown that, hours after application, introduces a dry, fragile sandalwood spine dusted with a hot-milk vanilla, tonka, and benzoin. Even at this point, the other notes drop by for surprise visits, or were possibly there all along without our having known it. This is a fragrance that lasts and changes for hours and hours without ever projecting itself into a sillage more pronounced than a quiet waft here and there. Its slow, accumulative language is one that must be learned patiently: if you don’t take the time to languish with it, you’re not paying enough attention.
L’Heure Bleue was created in 1912, a time when a woman could easily spend five hours preparing herself to greet the day ahead of her and if her man wasn’t doing what she wanted him to do, she learned to accept it. In this day and age, these traditions seem not only unfashionable, but oppressive. L’Heure Bleue’s values are the very ones that feminists have sought to remove from the female lexicon in order to gain greater worldly equality. While I don’t disagree with the idea that women should be free to have adventures of their own, it strikes me that there is still, even now, more left to be learned from the fine art of simply enduring before we dismiss it entirely. When I’m feeling fragile and contemplative, L’Heure Bleue reminds me that this is not necessarily a bad way to feel.
Painting “Thoughts of the Past” by John Rodham Spencer Standhope, 1859