One of my vices is scent. I love to smell things and taste them. My lovely husband has been exasperated by my habit of wanting to share it all, too, no matter how bad. “This smells awful! Here, smell it!” (Same goes for food. “This tastes vile! Here, try it!”) Other girls present would, of course, sniff or taste, so they could either agree (“God, you’re right, that’s disgusting!”) or disagree (“No, you know, it’s not that bad. Don’t think of it as gym sock-y, think of it as Roquefort compatible.”) The pleasure of analysis and sharing opinions and sniffing and tasting is not the exclusive domain of the female, but the only people I’ve known who relished the smells of gasoline, nail polish remover, or a wee touch of skunk were women.
Perhaps this is a survival trait for the sex historically more likely to prepare food (is that ergot in the grain?), treat wounds (is that gas gangrene?), and care for the young (does the baby need changing?) — especially from days when we didn’t have refrigerators, microscopes, or sterilizers — but here in the modern era, it’s mostly just a rich sense for enjoyment. And it evokes strong memories.
Backstory: a few weeks ago, I won an auction on eBay for a limited edition fragrance from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, a bottle of Sugar Cookie (“The Devil’s Bakesale”), mostly for the benefit of the aforementioned husband, who is mad for sweet vanilla. (Sadly, it’s more snickerdoodly than sugar cookie-ish, and while I love the cinnamon aspect, it just reminds him of a loathsome ex’s habit of chewing Big Red gum to cover her loathsome smoking.) But the seller graciously included two delicious samples from another purveyor of fine stinkum called Possets. The website seemed legit and the perfumer well-credentialed, so I ordered a sample pack. But after a two days of wearing one of the samples I already had, called Cadmium Red, I turned around and ordered a whole bottle.
Aside: the Possets theme is closer to the medieval, which is more my milieu than the gothic, which BPAL utterly owns. And which I enjoy. But the BPAL ad copy is richly evocative and sensual, the Possets blurbs are…not so much. I don’t know if it’s because the Très Riches Heures (truly Gothic, ironically) is more arid fare than the Cthulu Mythos, or just that BPAL footsteps are giant, but I wanted to offer my services. I would have, if I had had any meaningful experience or was qualified in any way to do so. All I knew was that this fragrance that I loved, and its cool name, were not captured by phrases describing car finishes, nail polish, and high concepts. Those things don’t smell anything like this wonderful fragrance.
To me, it smells like my happiest memories of the 80s. It takes me right back.
Specifically to the back seat of my friend Danny’s car. He never uttered a romantic peep my way, but seemed to enjoy having a friend-girl who deeply dug music, cars, and performance audio. Danny didn’t just install car stereos for a living, he made his own custom speakers, and would drive around with me in the back seat. It being the 80s, he drove a souped up red Firebird with a white leather interior. It being the 80s, I was always made up like a peacock, with tight skirt, long nails, and nylons, high black heels and big blonde hair, tousled, teased, and golden. I’d sit right in the middle of the back seat, close my eyes, and let the music pound through me. Country roads, long after midnight, are the darkest places in the world, but the white leather seats gathered moonlight and glowed.
Danny would eventually loop back, and we would stop for coffee and a baked apple dumpling at the 24 hour diner on the outskirts of town. Afterward, I’d sit in the front seat on the way home, buzzing with caffeine and spiced honey, cozy in the warm white leather, but tingling. Even summer nights that far north are cool, and the breeze from the open window pulled a low-grade electrical current through my skin. We never talked much on the final leg of the trip, but we smiled a lot. Danny’s hair was as white as those leather seats, but his eyes were the truest blue.
I feel obliged to salute Danny, after all these years, and blow him a kiss across the decades. He died later that year, while I was back at university. He was working under his car in the back yard, and it slipped off the jack and crushed him. His only sister had died a few years earlier. I had known her in school, everyone had. She had been the star in every play, choir soloist, debate captain when I was on the speech team. I remember her well. Debbie went to Georgetown on a scholarship, and died in a car accident on a cloverleaf exit in D.C. She was dark-haired, with high coloring, and very vivacious; really the complete opposite of Danny, who was quiet, pale, and strong. But they both had those cornflower blue eyes. And I will never forget how beautiful I felt with Danny, in our 80s finery, his rich red sports car, and my youth.
Maybe the Possets ad was right after all.