Sunday, May 21, 2006

My chemical romance: Stop and smell the orange perfume

I wear a few colognes and a fragrance oil. I have several scents that I use on a varying basis. Sometimes I wear strong mixes and sometimes I barely put on anything at all. Occasionally I go without. For as long as I can remember, people have associated me with one scent or another, and I have associated people and places with various scents. In fact, most of us can identify about 2,000 scents without any training.

When I was kid, livng in Miami Beach, when I would visit my friends I often noticed that certain homes had a pungent, "something's cooking" smell. Some homes had a sharper, crisper sophisticated fragrance. Some homes seemed "flat" to me, having no smell at all. I occasionally wondered, in my child-like way, why that should be. I came to feel more comfortable with my home's "flat" smell, but some homes were so cool to visit just because the kids' moms kept them smelling so nice.

Many years later, while watching a rerun of Sanford and Son in those awkward late Saturday afternoon hours where there is no point in going somewhere because you have a date or a party or are going out with your friends, I caught an episode where Fred and Lamont visited a white family's home. Fred (played by the late Red Foxx) complained that the home had no smell. The audience, apparently sensitive to remarks about homes smell to some people, whooped and hollared. I laughed because I knew what he was referring.

When I was really young, I spent some time with African American women in their homes. They were my baby sitters, or maybe maids who had offered to watch me for a day or an afternoon. I remember their homes vividly. They had what I would call slightly musky odors, which are common in open-air homes in south Florida (or used to be common). One summer my family rented an open air house that had a similar musky odor. It was undoubtedly due to the mold and mildew forstered by south Florida's high humidity. But to a child's nose, a slight tinge of musky odor is not necessarily a warning sign. It's just a curiously different scent that gives a place character.

For years, when I would pass by a diesel bus, I'd be carried back to innumerable youthful afternoons spent exploring Miami Beach with my freinds as we rode those old, un-airconditioned buses with the bars over the windows. The city had air conditioned buses which on really hot days provided welcome rides, but my richest memories of buses come from those older metro models where you could smell the diesel fumes each time the bus stopped. I remember looking out the windows, the people walking along the sidewalks, and how excited my friends and my older brother were about whatever trouble we were about to get into.

When I was fifteen, my family lived in central Indiana. They had cheeky little buses for their "metro" service which I thought were smaller than the outdoor trams I had loved to ride in Miami Beach. These midwestern buses were built for a small town that needed mass transportation. It was a college town so plenty of people needed to ride buses.

One day I was taking the bus downtown and a woman got on. She was dressed in tight white slacks and a white top to match. It was a pretty sexy outfit. I would guess she was in her mid-20s. She was attractive but not incredibly beautiful. In fact, I hardly remember her face at all. Her hair may have been light brown and shoulder length. Her perfume, however, was to die for. 15-year-old boys are still just learning to deal with the hormonal surges of adolescence, and this woman was wearing a scent that would drag grown men down to their knees. She enveloped the bus in a cloud of exotic fragrance and I spent the rest of that ride, until she got off, in a euphoric state of mind. People today would say I was in a DIHL mode -- deer-in-headlights.

If you have ever seen a deer standing in the middle of the road late at night, stairing your headlights as you try to bring your car to a screeching halt without hurting yourself, the animal, or your vehicle, you know what a DIHL looks like. But unless you have been sent off to la-la land by a fragrance so out-of-this-world that you are left totally unfocused, incapable of any coherent thought, you have no idea of what it feels like to be the deer. I have been the deer.

Women occasionally ask me what the fragrance was. I have no idea. An older friend of mine sometimes wears Chloe and it sort of reminds me of that fragrance, but she doesn't put me into a DIHL state. Maybe I am now partially immune to the effect. Maybe it was some other product that smelled like Chloe.

A couple of years ago a girl who used to go dancing with my group at Sullivan's Ringside and Tropicana came to the club one evening wearing an absoluetely incredible fragrance. It wasn't like the one from my youth. It didn't drive me to complete inaction, but it was captivating. She told me it was called Intuition. I assume there is only one perfume called Intuition and that would be the product by Estee Lauder. Would it smell that great on every woman? I doubt it. Fragrance experts and some salespeople have told me that perfumes and cologne mix with our body oils and that changes their scent.

One fragrance I almost bought for Linda last year was (I think) Miami Glow by J.Lo. But I decided against it because I had no way of knowing what it would smell like on her, or if she would like it. But just coming out of the bottle it was an intriguing scent and well worth a try, I think. I asked someone else to wear a perfume for me a couple of years ago, and she surprised me by doing so a week later. The test fell flat because I couldn't detect the scent. I did not win any poins for that faux pas.

I went out with a friend last night and at the beginning of the evening I gave her a short ride in my car. When I got into my car this afternoon, I was carried away by an overpowering aroma. Wow! I don't know what she was wearing, but I hope she keeps it stock piled by the gallon. The whole evening came back in a flash. That's the stuff memories are made of. Of course, the fragrance is gone now. Or maybe now I'm trying to detect it my mind is just converting it to flat fragrance. I don't know.

I actually have a terrible sense of smell. Many odors that make people gag barely register on me. And I have occasionally been told I put on too much fragrance oil. One girl I used to work with said to me one day, as I changed work locations, "I'm going to miss the smell."

"You mean I stink?" I asked, quickly estimating how much money I would soon be tossing down the drain.

"No," she said. "You smell great. But sometimes it's just a little strong."

"But you'll miss it?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah," she confirmed. "You smell great."

That wasn't always the case. When I was a younger man, my mother gave me a cologne for Christmas. I think it was English Leather. I didn't really like it and only tried it on one date. I have no idea of what my date thought of it. Back then, I didn't know much of anything, though she did agree to go out with me again. A couple of years later, someone (perhaps my sister) gave me another cologne with a strong citrus-like scent. I didn't get the message then, either. It's bad when the women in your family are buying colognes for you (or maybe they were just subtly saying, "Michael, we like our men to wear colognes and your dates will appreciate that, too").

I wasn't entirely without a fragrance. I fell in love with Coast deoderant soap. Love the scent. Use it to this day when I'm not letting someone else buy the soap. But I had to wonder, one day when I was in college, if I was making the right choice. I had car trouble one day and got down under the hood to do whaever ineffectual things I knew to do to car engines. A couple of neighborhood boys, seeing a car hood up, came over to learn how to be a real man from an older guy. So, there I was: surrounded by wannabe Alpha Males-in-training, trying to figure out how not to look completely stupid and incompetent (although I may have just been putting coolant in the radiator -- still trying not to look stupid and incompetent), and one of the boys said, "I know what soap you use."

Well, I couldn't help but smile in that manly, what a creepy thing for a kid to say way and I said, "You do, do you?"

"Coast! The Eye Opener!"

That might have explained why I wasn't dating anyone at the time.

When I did start wearing colognes, I took the plunge carefully. I bought something without knowing anything about it. There was a citrusy scent to it. I splashed it on, went to work, and snuck up to my cubicle. Thinking I had gotten away with changing something about myself, I was about to start relaxing when I heard a sniffing sound. An older lady I worked near was walking around the room, sniffing the air like a hound dog. She tracked me down quickly.

"What are you wearing?"

I had to fess up. She decided I had made a good choice. She was just so surprised to catch me wearing a cologne. But after that day, I became bolder and tried more fragrances. My favorite is now a product by Amouage, which is not something you'll find in any department stores. I'd seen a few references to Amouage Gold on the Internet and decided to try it. Houston has a good selection of perfumeries and it turned out that one of them was the only licensed distributor for Amouage in the United States (the cologne is made in Oman). The saleslady persuaded me to try the Dia because they were out of the Gold. I've stayed with the Dia although another saleslady there has occasionally suggested I try the Ciel.

I knew the Dia was good for me when I went grocery shopping one day. A couple of really cute girls came walking past me and as I turned a corner one of them said to her friend, "He smells so great".

I'm not entirely sure what's in the Amouage. I'm sure I may still have a little card somewhere that tells me some of the ingredients, but I just go with what works. And I like it, though occasionally I can get a little headache.

Perfumes (and colognes, which are perfumes) can cause headaches, other allergic reactions, and in some cases even toxic effects. Some people are highly allergic to them. I learned that one day when I was visiting a doctor's office. A man who was just checking out started sneezing. The receptionist asked if he was all right. He said, "I'm allergic to his cologne," nodding at me (I don't think I was wearing the Amouage). I was hardly wearing any. I felt really sorry for the guy, considering how popular colognes and perfumes are. He undoubtedly charts a different course in social life than I do.

Nonetheless, some fragrances actually have medicinal properties. One study indicates that citrus fragrance acts like a highly effective anti-depressant. There is a difference, of course, between a natural fragrance source like oranges and a commercial perfume, many of which use alcohol as a carrier. I try to avoid the Eau de Toillette (alchohol-based) fragrances, but that is no guarantee that people with allergies won't have a reaction to my scents.

Being (I think) reasonably tolerant of the fragrances I wear -- enjoying their scents -- I continue to wear them. And I appreciate the occasional fragrances people wear around me. But I'm no expert, and I don't pretend to understand all the reasoning behind advice that fragrance experts provide on how to select perfumes and colognes. I won't buy a cologne without getting a couple of women to share their opinions with me, although saleswomen may just be telling me they like something without caring. I think I once bought a cologne on the basis of bad advice. Or maybe the salesgirl did like the way it smelled on me, but I couldn't work my way through the entire bottle. I eventually threw it out. It was just too wrong for my own sense of smell.

But I know when I like the way someone else smells. I almost wish my car could smell so nice all the time.

1 Comments:

Blogger boinky said...

Interesting...
Some illnesses can be diagnosed by odors...diabetes, GI bleed, sepsis, uremia...and interestingly as a doc I can smell them even though perfume and garbage odors don't bother me much...
I didn't know citrus odor cut down depression. But odors are often associated with good and bad things, just like songs, and if you grew up in Florida, citrus or orange blossoms would probably bring pleasant memories.

7:11 AM  

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