Friday, April 8, 2011

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

I like perfume. Generally I tend toward a musk or a spice, something of the earth. Vanillas and tobaccos and cardamoms and leathers. I like musky, even musty I think, like if an old library dotted with handsome brilliant women studying in massive oak and leather tufted reading chairs under the warm light of tasteful photographer's lamps, smoking pipes, and having pomelos for lunch was a scent, I'd wear that. Some kind of a high note that's bright, balancing things at the end. 

I have cute toes and I smell good. These are some of my best selling points.

Of course, I didn't always smell awesome. I did some time in my twenties with my lips wrapped around small glass pipes and my nose stuffed with rolled bills. There are all the regular horrors of crystal methamphetamine that everyone speaks of: rotting teeth, insanity, bruises, bleeding gums and so forth, but I, by the grace of something kind, did not suffer these atrocities the likes of Breaking Bad. I loved the stuff. I did. But the intoxicating scent of sixth grade mimeograph paper, the wet purple ink out of the ditto machine that swirled around the pipe transformed itself once it made its way to my lungs, through my blood, and up out of my blotchy pores. 

People on speed reek.

My armpits stank of something acrid, rancid, something like a sad New Jersey alleyway, too late to be night, too early to be morning, the leftover booze and vomit of loss by a dumpster, and then mixed with biochemical waste from a lab. Even the dog seemed shocked by it. Maybe especially the dog. 

And this got me to thinking this yesterday because I gave up coffee for about two weeks. Then my friend came and collected me in the morning and we went to chat about so many things and I ordered myself a gorgeous cup of drip, a light roast, and proceeded to get so tanked on the stuff, the rush of it slammed into me, up and around everything not unlike my old vice. First there is the sensation of the world getting Windexed. Everything is brighter, more pronounced and funner. Life goes to 11. Then slowly thoughts begin to move too fast to latch onto, distinct and then gone, my mind like a greased pig. Albeit a delusionally intelligent one, each thought mistaken briefly for genius. I imagine, or I suppose during this state I know, the world must see my singular specialness, my coffee induced crown of beauty and class. Even sitting there in Old Navy spandex. Now, this is only coffee. That's how rock and roll my system has become. 

And as we have learned from Tony Soprano, there is a rise, and there is a fall. And also, there is a smell. In the shower as I crash right in time to head into work, I scrub the remnants of indulgence from my body, the same magical fetor from my twenties, downgraded in this, my triumphant middle age. And I wonder: Is this what dogs smell when scared people walk by them on the sidewalk? Is perfume not just about attraction, but about masking the stench of fear? Did we formulate it in times of less bathing to mask not only a simple unpleasantness, but is that unpleasantness about fear itself? Do we retract from stranger's scent in the mall because it's too intimate, too much to know about a person, too much to face in ourselves, that we are actually so terrified it seeps out our pores? Our mortality just wafting through public space for anyone to sense? 

Gus always knows when a person is scared of dogs. He hates it. He growls and barks reinforcing the thing in the poor stranger, a terrible cycle creatures play out. Prey. Hunter. Scent. Even on San Francisco sidewalks. Even ladies with perfume. 

I'm off the coffee again, but it tastes so good. Maybe a decaf on special occasions, just half the insanity on the side, please.

Sara Elise

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