Boomtown Boudoir

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.

Swimming Sweet Eddy
July 21, 2007, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

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:

Kiehl’s Original Musk
June 26, 2007, 3:56 am
Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: , , ,

jules et jim

There is something brisk and responsible about the Kiehl’s store. It has to do with the lab-coated sales associates, apothecary-styled packaging, no-nonsense displays, and the way you feel as though you were doing something good for you, like climbing a mountain, simply by shopping there for beauty products. To walk into a Kiehl’s store and buy a vial of their Original Musk oil or a big glass bottle of the EdT feels as wholesome as a therapy session or sports massage.

Given this context, it is somewhat discordant to discover that Kiehl’s Original Musk goes on with all the subtlety of the rose air freshener hanging in a truck stop restroom. It is a thick, opaque floral tempered by a blast of citrus that seeems to be trying to disguise the dirty load in its drawers. Kiehl’s generous sample policy is an all-important in the case of Original Musk fragrance–this is a fragrance that needs to be brought home and given time to settle.

Back when I was just starting to get into perfume, I thought it would be a good idea to spray some of my Kiehl’s EdT sample directly into my then-man The Red Guard’s gamey armpit. This wasn’t the bitch move it sounds like. I was infatuated with The Red Guard’s gamey armpits and thought that spraying a unisex fragrance into one of them would only make it smell better. Something to do with pheremones, or the already-funky aroma of the Kiehl’s itself which I had not liked on my own skin during initial testings. I didn’t know what I was doing, and the effect was not particularly pleasant, but I will always hold the image of the two of us lying in my bed with both of our faces pressed into his fragrant armpit in my mind as one of those bathetically poignant moments where all is right with the world.

This was in the summer. By Fall, The Red Guard was in (where else?) China, and the weather had cooled down enough for me to dislike sleeping alone. One rainy Sunday afternoon, I missed him enough to spray myself down with the dreaded Kiehl’s in hopes that I could olfactorily summon up a little piece of the armpit-perfume memory to snuggle up to. This time, it worked. The rough-and-ready topnotes melted down into a wistfully human-smelling skin scent, like the back of a much-loved neck. There was a little bit of dirty hair, a little bit of freshly-washed laundry, and a lot of smooth warmth.

The oil strength of Kiehl’s Original Musk is very strong and very oily on the skin, but I like its uncomplicated coziness better then the more-complex, sharper EdT. It’s a little dirtier, a little warmer, and a little closer to the effect I’m looking for. The EdT is similar-smelling enough to the oil to layer the two, though, for when you really want to smell yourself, which I usually do.

This scent’s carnally evocative tendencies, when married to Kiehl’s briskly unisex marketing, makes me think that this is a scent for people who need a little comfort at the top of their various personal mountaintops. The photo above is a still from the Francois Truffaut film Jules et Jim, whose main character (played by Jeanne Moreau) has always seemed to me like someone who still needed a hug even with two boyfriends.