“Andy would bicycle across town in the rain to bring you/ candy and John would buy the gown for you to wear to the/ prom with Tom the astronomer who’d name a star for you/ but I’m the luckiest guy on the Lower East Side/ cause I’ve got wheels and you want to go for a ride”
–From “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” Magnetic Fields
It could be said that one of the major reasons I have never gotten my driver’s license is because there have always been people around to do the driving for me. And by people, I mean boys. These boys weren’t my boyfriends, they were other boys, boys who were content just to have company as they glided over the roads in the most satisfyingly corporeal proof of adulthood imaginable. I don’t know why I never wanted a piece of this for my own, or why I equated the cars of boys with freedom when I was not the one doing the driving. But ever since I was finally old enough for my parents to allow me to get into the cars of my peers, I have been an avid passenger: all rapt eyes and enthusiasm, even when we weren’t really going anywhere. The same could be said for these not-my-boyfriends and their company. I wanted the sensation without the commitment. And the times that I have been able to obtain that have been among some of the happiest and most terrifying moments in my life.
First came Josh, in high school. He drove me to school (or, often, not) every morning in a secondhand white-and-wood-panel Wagoneer like the very privilege of owning a car was a dare from the universe to drive it as fast as he could. I wasn’t scared. Josh was an honor student. He had a mix tape that we used specifically for driving called “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” This was my first exposure to bands like Archers of Loaf, Man or… Astroman?, Stereolab, and Shudder to Think. I had a copy of it to listen to at home, but it only seemed to work its indie rock magic when we were going somewhere: the mall, the lake, High Rocks, some faraway diner. I have always thought that music was best experienced in someone else’s fast car; I still do. The freedom of being able to get Josh (who never needed much coaxing) to drive somewhere other than school was freedom as pure and absolute as I have ever known it. As Ntozake Shange would say, “WE WAZ GROWN. WE WAZ FINALLY GROWN.”
Eric was a Jersey boy, a pragmatic Virgo in an avant-garde prog band who made my acquaintance when he walked up to the coffee shop table where I was sitting with my college girlfriends and asked us if we wanted to go smoke some weed. From that point on, he and his car were mine, all mine. He’d drive into the city from Jersey at the drop of a hat, get me stoned, and play bootleg tapes of bands whose names I wouldn’t be able to remember even if I’d been sober. Eric was wise to my specific form of crack: he knew I just liked to ride, didn’t matter where. So he’d just drive anywhere. Sometimes we would go to his band’s practice space and I would lie on the carpet while they played, feeling the music’s vibrations through the floor, and it was almost as good as riding. We lost contact for a year or so and then I heard that he died in a car crash. This news reverberated deeply: I’d often experienced such passive ecstasy in his car that I’d thought if I died, it would be a good way to go, with the stereo up and the windows down. But I’d never thought it would actually happen, not to me or to him.
By the time Derek made his big move, my affinity for the cars of boys I was not necessarily going to even kiss must have been notorious, because he knew all about it already. He waited until he had a vintage navy-blue Benz in his driveway before beginning his campaign of phone calls and flowers left on the steps of my job. In the end, all he really had to do was let me see it. As soon as I was situated inside this beautiful beast with the seatbelt buckled firmly across my chest, Derek demonstrated the sound system by blasting Ink and Dagger so loud that I couldn’t even hear my own protests as he drove wildly over the bridge and into New Jersey in the space of about three minutes. This was a trip that should have taken at least ten. I almost pissed myself. It didn’t help when he started screaming over the music, “I’m Batman and you’re Vicky Vale!” I was grateful that I made it home to slam my front door in his face. Later I learned that he had been flush in the middle of a bona fide psychotic episode. Later still, I would get into a different car with him and hold his hand that wasn’t on the steering wheel. Later than even that, I would understand that a passenger was probably the last thing Derek needed, in his car or otherwise.
Bader drove me out to Ocean City one afternoon in October with the sun setting spectacularly beyond the bridge. I was wearing a fuzzy white sweater. My boyfriend did not understand why I would do a thing like this to him, even though Bader was just a friend. He wasn’t just a friend, really. At least, he didn’t want to be. I didn’t care. It was shortly after September 11th and I felt this painful but irresistible pressure to live my life the way it was meant to be lived: the edges blurred, as though glimpsed through a passenger’s seat window. My boyfriend drove me all over the city, wherever I wanted, on his Vespa, and it should have been enough. But it wasn’t. I needed Ocean City, too. Mostly because it was such a luxuriantly long drive. To the amazement of probably all parties involved, I didn’t cheat on my boyfriend that night. But the damage to that relationship had been done. My boyfriend knew all about me after that; he knew I’d get into a car with anyone regardless of where they were going.
PJ was the last of my great platonic chauffeurs. I’m not quite sure where I get off calling him platonic, either, except that he was always someone else’s and therefore not to be taken seriously. He had one of those special cards that police give to their friends to keep them out of trouble and put a lot of faith into this thing. PJ was like that generally; prone to discarding reason for superstition. You couldn’t convince him that the reason police stopped people in the first place was because they were already driving dangerously. I didn’t like this, but I liked the way it felt when he drove like we were in a video game, like the road might suddenly drop out from beneath us and his SUV would just rise into the sky like a shiny black bird. It was like we were eighteen even though we were both much older. Something about the combination of his recklessness and the fact that he was so pretty that he turned everything around himself into a movie soothed me. I knew how these things went; I did not have to worry about permanence. All I had to do was go along for the ride.
I’m not sure whether to be wistful or relieved that there hasn’t been a solid boy-with-car situation in my life for a few years now. My last boyfriend had one, but he doesn’t like to drive and lacks, mercifully, that romantic outlaw quality that makes for what I used to consider a good driver. If he is any evidence, it would seem that I am ready to slow down a little and take in the scenery from a more stable point of reference. By my own rules, though, boyfriends don’t count for this sort of thing. The boy has to be a not-my-boyfriend, has to be willing to work without return, and the conversation has to be tense and hormonal. And the simple fact is that unless I want to take up with someone much younger than myself, these boys have all grown up. Which makes me think that it is high time I grew up myself.
My risks have already been considerable, if prosaic enough. It’s worth noting that I have never found these risks more dangerous than the one I would take by learning how to drive myself. I worry about being my own kind of bad driver–a nervous, joyless one who slows down at approaching curves in the road and keeps the music low so they can concentrate. I worry that even this won’t save me from accidents, disaster, death. I worry that I will be one of those people who never truly feels comfortable behind the wheel. But mostly, I worry about my potential passengers. How will I ever keep them happy?
Filed under: Drugs, Perfume | Tags: Dior, Drugs, marianne faithfull, Perfume
The carpet undulated in little ripples of apricot and ivory. Andee and I were slave girls of the great pharaoh languidly reclining on the royal barge. The pharaoh was fondling James. (It was going to be a very tactile trip.)
We trailed our feet over the edge of the bed into the madder red ruby rosettes of the carpet. Indigo petals floated by like lily pads randomly bearing tiny detached heads of people I had known. I could now read our Persian-Kurdish rug in a way I had never been able to before. It was a mythological map of Samarkand with interlacing arabesques of mechanical peacocks, saffron pavilions, orchards and gardens and cypress trees.
We lived these lives a thousand years ago as courtesans, as opium-eaters at the court of the Kubla Khan. We had drunk of the milk of Paradise and its transforming liquidity made us all quite porous. There were no boundaries where Alph the sacred river ran. No genders, no time and space. We simply sparkled and vibrated. We were all pulsating little Bodhisattvas. I was in love with everybody. Actually, I was everybody.
–From “Faithfull: An Autobiography” by Marianne Faithfull with David Dalton
The thing I’ve always liked about drugs, hallucinogens in particular, is that you don’t actually have to be Marianne Faithfull to experience this sort of imaginative bliss when you take them. The fauxriental rug you got on sale at Marshall’s will work just as well as the real thing as far as undulation is concerned. Your friends will still feel like fellow slave girls and pharaohs regardless of the fact that they are not in or connected to any famous rock bands. The porous sensation resulting from a long draught of the milk of Paradise is the same whether you’re a college student or a sheik’s wayward nephew. Drugs are cheap, democratic, and work just as well on just about anyone who wishes to take them. Spending your whole life on them and having things turn out more or less okay is another story: that’s pretty much reserved for rock royalty only.
The same could be said about Christian Dior’s Addict, a narcotic potion available at almost any department store and priced at an equal-opportunity $42 for 20 ml. Addict sets the stage well for its particular amazing journey: it opens on a wonderfully weird green note that somehow carries all the mysterious dry tang of hash as well as the sensation of being in some dark primeval forest. This green note is not necessarily nice, in fact, on the wrong day it can be downright disturbing. It has elements of bitterness and dust that hold true throughout most of the perfume’s progression, never allowing the wearer to forget that what they are experiencing is not something everyone will want to experience. Then a deep, dark, syrupy vanilla thick enough to drown a woolly mammoth burbles up from the depths, enveloping the green notes and pulling them down into a deadly quicksand of amber and sandalwood. The effect is rich with all the acute fascination and heightened sensual impulses of an afternoon spent in front of an Oriental carpet with your mind blown and your body alternately strong and weak against its will.
It is difficult, when wearing Addict, not to be transported–I would like to meet the woman who wears this to work. It’s strength is such that even one spray leaves it clinging to a sweater until a visit to the local dry-cleaner is made, and its dense sillage makes it practically impossible to wear without drawing comments. Like drugs, once you get down with Addict, you have crossed definitively to the other side–the fun side, where all the bad kids hang out. The problem with this side is the chance that you could actually become an addict–a slave to your senses, existing only to experience an artificial thrill that has somehow become more important to you than actually living. Here’s the difference, though: this state is far more safely experienced with a perfume than an actual drug. I would venture that this something upon which Dior’s advertising executives, if not Marianne Faithfull, would probably agree.
“Here, put on some eyeliner. Eyeliner makes everything better,” Heather told me once. I don’t remember what we were doing or why I needed to feel better, but I know that she pulled a black pencil out of her purse and handed it to me. This would have been a few years ago, when we hadn’t been friends for very long yet and certain dead-serious things she did and said still struck me with all the comedic poignancy of realizing yet another fundamental difference between us. But I took the pencil. I went into the bathroom. I put it first on my top lid, then, boldly, applied it to my bottom lid as well. In my present-tense reenactment of this scene, I am wearing a red Lacoste polo shirt and a pair of ripped up jeans, the sort of outfit that does not lend itself to glamorous makeup. I turn my face from side to side in the mirror, checking for some sort of improvement. Then I start laughing at both Heather and myself for believing that eyeliner made anything better, much less everything. And suddenly, I do feel better.
I remembered her advice this morning, or rather, this afternoon when I finally got myself out of the pajamas it feels like I’ve been wearing all week. After much deliberation, I situated myself in front of the bathroom mirror. “I’ll just put a little foundation on so I don’t feel like a leper in case I go out,” I told myself. The foundation led to blusher which led to eyebrow gel and mascara which led to finding myself strangely reluctant to put on the eyeliner that would finish off my routine. The reasoning went something like this: “Unemployed, unloved, undistinguished people with no friends and no resources and no personality with which to get them who aren’t going to do anything with their lives anyway do not deserve eyeliner. Besides, I might cry.” Then I realized that if I did cry, no one would be around to see it anyway, so I might as well just put the eyeliner on. I did. It looked pretty. If I have learned nothing else in this life, I have learned that being pretty never hurts. Even if it’s just for your computer.
There’s this haunting scene in Rebecca Wells’ popular book “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” where the school-aged protagonist, Sidda, opens the house to a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman, Lizzie Mitchell. Sidda‘s mother, Vivi, is upstairs in the throes of a long depression. When Sidda goes upstairs and wakes Vivi up, Vivi unsurprisingly instructs Sidda to turn Lizzie away. Sidda says that she can’t. When Vivi asks why not, Sidda says, “Because, she’s got on the wrong color lipstick.” This is a crisis that Vivi understands. She goes downstairs in her bathrobe to meet Lizzie and the two women fix each other up with the help of the elite Beautiere line of cosmetics. This is both the beginning of Vivi’s recovery and Lizzie’s formerly stunted career. It also made me bawl my face off when I read it. There is something so undeniably true about the idea that your surface and your inner life exist in symbiosis. And that when you truly need to fix yourself up, it’s best to start small. A little look in the mirror, a little eyeliner, a little effort.
So, stupid fucking hippie-ass LUSH had this buy-one-get-one-free sale just as I was about to swear them off forever. I am ashamed to say that this flagrant tactic to make me spend more money there worked and that I’m back on the wagon. This is the last time, though. I swear.
A brief synopsis of my shame:
Silky Underwear Dusting Powder: My mom wouldn’t let me have any silky underwear when I was a kid. She said they were bad for my vagina. Now, as an adult, my thoughts of silky underwear have this interestingly decadent tinge of poor hygiene and all the exciting girls who practice it. To this day, I still don’t think I own a pair. This is why I like LUSH’s version. As long as I don’t, you know, put any up in there, it can’t possibly be bad for my vagina. Decadent, though? Exciting? Well… yes. It’s a little clumpy, due to the tiny slivers of cocoa butter designed to make it silkier than the average body powder, but that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is the packaging, a lamely constructed cardboard shaker that makes it difficult to get the right amount into your hand. I’ll put up with that for the scent. LUSH says jasmine and vetiver, I say silky-sweet and intimate. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to lick your skin after using because you’re certain it will taste as good as it smells.
Butterball Bath Ballistic: This one’s a little guy who gets the tub all greasy, due to a high content of moisturizing cocoa butter. It smells like cocoa butter too, mixed with some vanilla and possibly sandalwood. Overall, this didn’t freak me out either way. Much like that movie In Her Shoes, I enjoyed it without ever needing to repeat the experience.
Alkmaar Soap: I pretty much bought this because I’ve just been to Amsterdam and feel very worldly for knowing that Alkmaar is a little town nearby notorious for its cheese and (legal!) hookers. I wanted to visit while I was there, but unfortunately, there seemed to be some strange substance in the air that made me lazy. Anyway, this soap is as rich and creamy as a hunk of cheese, and being scented with the same gorgeous stuff used in Silky Underwear, made my skin red-light ready in no time.
Karma Bubble Bar: My relationship with Karma perfume is one of uncomfortable fascination. I want to like it, but its high concentration of essential oils (strangely, one of the very reasons other people seem to like it so much) made me feel like I’d just come from single’s night at Whole Foods. As a perfume, Karma and I didn’t get along. As a bubble bar, however, I was in orange-patchouli bliss. Strongly scented, it filled the whole house with its rock-n-roll-groupie, designer-yoga-pants vibe. To my pleasure, it also turned the water orange and bubbled up like a bottle of Tide in someone else’s parents’ jacuzzi.
Sex Bomb Bath Ballistic: Hey, did somebody say sex? Because, you know, that’s my beat. I’m not happy unless there’s some pulsing techno coming out of the speakers and something that says sex in the immediate vicinity. Even so, I was less than stoked about Sex Bomb. It turns the water mauve and smells mildly rosy-floral. There is also some gross gelatinous flower thing involved that floats around in the water, attaching itself to parts of your body until you finally throw it at a wall… where it sticks. Yeah, call me a pervert, but this is not the kind of sex I’m into.
Honey Bee Bath Bomb: This one can eat me. It makes the bottom of the tub all gritty and painful (Rhassoul mud, anyone?), smells mildly of citrus honey for about two minutes, and leaves you sitting in a pool of water that looks like you can’t control your bladder. Not just this one time, but generally.
Creamy Candy Bath Melt: Looks like a darling little bar of Turkish Delight, smells like an oozing vat of nougat, and makes the bath water nice and slippery. What’s not to like? I’m into cocktailing this one with my Karma bubble bar right now.
Tramp Shower Gel: I went into LUSH because I wanted to bathe deliberately, to cram only the essential products into my basket, and see if I could not buy what it had to sell, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had missed out on something really incendiary in the world of expensive bath possibilities. If I had not bought Tramp, things probably would have been okay. It’s dark green and smells like patchouli and herbs, although not as strongly as some of their other bath products. I gave it to a friend.
All That Jas Bath Ballistic: Here’s a haiku for y’all: Turns the water teal. Smells like some pretty flowers. I have been suckered.
American Cream Conditioner: I’ve been trying to get away from silicone products for my hair recently, or at least to not use so many of them. This one was appealing to me for that reason, as well as the tales people on the internet like to spin of its incredible ambrosial scent. I had to wait three whole days to use it after I bought it because I don’t wash my hair very often. When I did, I found that it sank right in and rinsed clean with little effort on my part; two things I like in a conditioner. Also, the smell was pretty incredible. Rich, earthy vanilla with a little kick of spice. I didn’t find it so strong that I could go without perfume for the day, as I’d read on some of the beauty boards. But I did find that it makes my hair soft, smooth, and pretty, which is something my prior conditioner was not doing. Like it. Like it a lot.
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.
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.
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.
Filed under: Hyperbole | Tags: Emma Kunz, Jane Birkin, L'Air de Rien, Paris, travel
At Le Palais de Tokyo, Aaron and I finally achieve the synchronicity we’ve been groping around for since arriving in Paris earlier in the week. The trick, it seems, is to do things that distract us from each other. We seem to screw it up otherwise, despite the usual best intentions. Tim, our host, has grown bored and found the bar, leaving us to our contemporary art and tentative progress at co-existence. The rooms are so white and reverent that even the people walking around the gallery seem to be part of some larger theme that demands immediate, ravenous contemplation. My shoes tap the tiles carefully and Aaron and I drift apart, then together, then apart, and together again through the exhibit, smiling at each other from time to time.
Things start being funny again. I breathe freely. He puts his arms around me and we tell each other what we think about what we’re seeing. And the thing I feel in Paris, that I felt the whole time I was there, was that nothing we did or said to each other or felt or thought was new or particularly unique; all of it was at least as old as the Seine and yet still completely current, this recycled awareness of being a person doing all the same things that people do with and to and for each other. This is something I’ve been struggling with but I feel better now, in the gallery.
“Aaron, did the French invent existentialism?” I’d asked him earlier, over coffee and respective work in the morning. He typed something on his laptop and at first I’d thought he was ignoring me. A few seconds later: “Nope, it was the Germans.” Another second later: “and the Scandinavians. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.” Oh. Well, I guess I just discovered existentialism in some sort of weightier, visceral practice while in France, then. Which is the exact kind of sloppy, self-referential thinking that I can feel driving Aaron incrementally more and more nuts. Which just makes me feel more and more defensive and therefore inclined to think that way. We both keep using the word “context” against each other. By the time we get there, we need The Third Mind exhibit at Le Palais de Tokyo badly.
In the very last room, Aaron’s breath on the side of my face, I discover something else I’d needed: a good example. Emma Kunz’s work doesn’t initially look like much: geometric drawings done on pieces of graph paper in colored pencil that look like a precocious fifth grader’s science project. They reminded me of a coloring book I’d had when I was a kid. But then I read Emma Kunz’s bio. This wasn’t some recent Pratt graduate. It was a woman who had followed her own quirky, zany, intensely individual dream to the furthest reaches such dreams can be followed. Discovered a molecule? Geometric healing art created with a divining pendulum? Founding a visitable rock grotto full of “stored biodynamic powers?”
Oh, hell yes. If I have been working toward anything in my life, it is a culmination of this sort, where a bunch of seemingly unrelated interests and projects are eventually united into a whole that can only be described as, “her own thing.” And finally I was able to squeeze Aaron’s arm back, not because I needed the comfort, but because I was so excited. I could feel him pick up on the difference in this touch and feed off it physically, the way his shoulders relaxed and he let go of me a little bit. Profound relief. The depth and breadth of human possibility suddenly seemed so much more in focus than the limitations. And suddenly it was all real: I am in Paris with my old, old friend, my most-loved and most-feared, my serious, reckless, funny companion with the mind that is so fascinatingly different from my own, looking at some crazy shit. Of course nothing else matters. Of course, Aaron.
We found Miller Harris’ L’air de Rien at Bon Marche later that night, so perhaps my memories are too intertwined with the way it smells and the way I was feeling to be objective, even my own kind of objective which is… well, not very. The sales assistant sprayed my wrist with some and then, to her surprise, Aaron held his wrist out too. We stood there sniffing ourselves, trying to figure out what this smelled like. Because it wasn’t necessarily perfume, at least not right away. Or else very perfumey perfume, maybe aged for fifty years, buried underground. Easily unisex, with a savory fur-coat-dirty-hair blast made even more gloriously stinky-weird with dusty, pungent oak moss. Oranges, more so than their flower, melding somewhere underneath with an unsweetened vanilla that made it smell a little bit like people eating some sort of sophisticated French version of a creamicle in bed after making an unholy mess of the sheets. “This smells like sex!” Aaron said, just as I was saying, “I think this is doing something to my loins.”
We followed Tim through the store, where he was trying to gently steer us away from the perfume section, waving our wrists at him. “Does this make you want to fuck?” No. It didn’t work on him. But whatever. Tim was the same person who literally gave me a spanking when I showed him my mega-French armpit-hair growth. He was obviously living out backlash to the stereotype, as I suppose many of us do. Aaron and I intermittently held our wrists out to each other for the rest of the night, a display of typically American enthusiasm for the French “nothing much,” as Tim rolled his eyes and wondered what he’d done to deserve two house guests who couldn’t stop saying, “WOW!” even after being soundly mocked for it. Jane Birkin, for whom the perfume was created, probably also would have rolled her eyes. After all, “L’air de Rien” basically translates into “nothing.”
For me, though, the “nothing” had to do with finally locating the soaring sense of freedom on the flip side of existential heaviness, both of the traveling and interpersonal variety. It had to do with Emma Kunz and her Aion A and pendulums and colored pencils helping me to understand that my life wasn’t anywhere near over even though Aaron and I will never be together again the way we used to be. It had to do with finally understanding that it is not my job to make sense of the entire world and to realize that my failure to do so is nothing to feel shame over. It’s all these things, a little nothing moment in time for one girl trying as hard as she can to do her own thing.