I was captivated by the image of Joy in my mind. After dreaming wistfully about her for years, I finally decided that it was high time to invite her into my home. I made the call, and a week or so later, on a crisp, cool fall day, she arrived at my place. I must say that I was tantalized by the glamorous demeanor before my eyes. Such a stunning package she presented, seeming to be everything I had hoped for.
No, I cannot deny that upon our initial encounter, Joy seemed quite accurately to reflect the picture which had been painted for me by others over the course of most my life. Yes, as I gazed at her amidst all of her trappings, she seemed to me truly to be the dearest in the world, as I had heard so many claim.... The epitome of refinement and class, she stood there before me in her gold jewelry and haute couture wrappings—I felt happy and frankly honored to have made her acquaintance at last.
But then it happened: Joy took off her coat, removed her cap, plopped down on the sofa as though she owned the place and propped up her mud-covered, dung-encrusted, four-inch chunky heels on the coffee table. Then, to my surprise and dismay, she opened her mouth and started to chat. She swore like a sailor, loud and brash. What was worse: she seemed to be talking for the sake of hearing her own voice, oblivious to the effect of the volume on anyone who might be present to hear, including me, her gracious host.
Tolerance has always been one of my virtues—which is not to boast, but to state a fact—yet I felt that my patience was being tested by the presence of this larger-than-life personality who managed somehow to cast a shadow down upon the ground in all directions at once. What to do?
Well, as I always say: when life gives you iso-E-super, why not make niche perfume? After all, you can pour it into attractive bottles and sell it at 10,000% profit—all that it takes is a “creative director” wand and a hat!
So, yes, I figured that I'd simply try to make the best of the situation, look at it as yet another opportunity for anthropological reflection on what we have become. How long, after all, could this stare-down with Joy really last?
I began to take note of her mannerisms and compare them to people in my past whose images were evoked by her, as if she and they were linked together metaphysically across space and time—among other more arcane dimensions. This little game, like counting tiles on the ceiling while reclining in a dentist's chair, did distract me for a while, but my plan was abruptly disrupted when two strange men suddenly showed up at my door.
At first I was taken aback—who could these strangers be? But then I saw their manner of dress, dirty jeans and sweatshirts, hammer and wrench-laden tool belts weighting their already low-rise pants down even further to the point where I found myself mumbling yet again that so-oft recited rhetorical refrain: Why bother? Why not just go out in your underwear, guys?
Suddenly it dawned on me who they were. Yes, coincidentally, on the very same day as Joy's arrival, I had scheduled the delivery and set-up of my new Samsung large-screen HDTV. There was no getting around this engagement, so I steeled myself as best I could, opening the door with a smile and gesturing them inside after first glancing at their work boots to make sure that they would not be tracking in any moribund leaves—or mud or dung.
I immediately registered the consternation caused to these two young men by the presence of Joy. Their faces seemed puzzled, a bit taken aback, not sure exactly how to react. They hoisted my television to its proper place and set it up, verifying that it worked in what must have been record time, and then they bustled to the door and went promptly on their way, plumber's cracks in tow, no doubt glad, even relieved, to have escaped Joy's wrath. Or was it, rather, that they feared some sort of trap? A snare of seduction, perhaps?
As far as they could see, there was no one there but me, so were they then wary of me rather than her, whom they had no reason to think might be lurking just below threshold visibility? From their perspective, if Joy did not even exist, as far as they could see, then I and I alone was the cause of what they perceived. Had I, indeed, not laid the trap for them?
Yes, if it was true, as it seemed to be—I had gathered from the looks in their eyes that they were quite anxious to leave—then this was because they believed that I, and I alone, was implicated in the clever scheme. They had no idea that she was there, in my house, invited by me, and let loose to vent her vapors upon them. Was I not, then, ultimately the cause of their unwitting encounter with Joy? Was I not, then, as far they were concerned, numerically identical with Joy?
What, precisely, did that eccentric woman have in mind? they seemed to be musing to themselves as they hurried out of the house and back to their truck, peeling out so rapidly that they burned tire rubber in the process. The noxious stench of black smoke now the only trace left behind, in the blink of an eye, the deliverymen were nowhere in sight, having disappeared forever from the narrative of my life.
Even now, years later, I do not know the content of the ideas circulating about those men's minds on that fated Joy-ful day. I caught their sideways glances to one another and have often wondered what it was precisely that they thought. Had they stumbled upon yet another hoarding cat lady's home, filled with the scent of used litter and hidden infelicities on rugs under sofas, chairs and, yes, even beds? They had been given no reason to believe that the problem had anything to do with Joy at all. The only person whose presence they registered was mine. I was the only one whom they could see.
Perhaps they considered me to be like the woman in her exercise studio accidentally killed by Alex in A Clockwork Orange while trespassing, thus transforming a trivial into a capital crime. It's true that they were younger than me, and the more I thought about this little theory, the more plausible it began to seem.
In my more epistemologically humble moments, I recognize that the answers to these questions I'll never know. The only thing I have to go on is my memory of the looks that passed between the two stocky fellows—padded with both muscle and fat—who had seemed to be so taken aback, to say the least, by this unexpected encounter with what they could not have known was really Joy.
Had I violated norms of acceptable behavior by inviting Joy into my home and permitting her to stay, effectively giving her license to take over the space, leaving traces of her blood-red lipstick on my glasses, clods of dirt on the floor, and a filthy bathroom to boot? My vexed visitors were long gone, but now, having in exasperation altogether abandoned my pretensions to armchair anthropology, I came to the realization that Joy's visit would have to be curtailed, before anyone stopped by to spend time with me or dropped by under whatever other pretext.
In my defense, I must say that I did try for a short time to come up with a way to make it work, but eventually I detected the scent of the rotting carrion of a dead mouse in the kitchen, at which point I had no further choice. I pulled myself together, mustered up the courage and showed her the door. Yes, I threw her out.
It wasn't that she violated the four-day house guest rule, smelling like old fish forgotten in the fridge and unable to recognize that she did. No, the sad truth is that she had become habituated to her own odor, what was from day one an off-putting amalgamation of dirty underwear, sweaty stockings, and old crusty make-up applied from tubes acquired decades ago. She seemed even to be carrying a huge corsage of dead flowers in her bag—no doubt from a jilted lover in her checkered past.
To my amazement, Joy managed to produce a roomful of smells strong enough to offend even some vintage perfume lovers. Yes, I'm talking about those who revel in the scent of sour, dead floral top notes and wait patiently—dare I say it? religiously—for the ecstatic moment hiding somewhere amidst the gooey, gummy drydown.
Joy was just too much for everyone who came in contact with us—albeit unbeknownst to them. Enough was enough, I read her the riot act, packed up her bags and placed them outside on the curb. On the off chance that she had stolen one of my keys, I even called a locksmith to change all the bolts, and, yes, cruel though it may seem, I scrupulously avoided answering her calls for years.
With time, my memory of Joy's visit, as of all negative experiences, slowly faded. No longer did she appear in my mind as a haughty, bawdy harridan, a veritable hurricane wiping everything and everyone out in her path. Now, with the benefit of distance and the smell long gone, I began to wonder, whether I had done her wrong in throwing her out. Did I base that decision on my own hyperosmia of what only to me seemed to have been her nauseating concoction of scents?
I knew from my testing of perfumes such as Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur, that I was certainly not anosmic to musk, but was I perhaps a bit too sensitive, too touchy to the scent of Joy—what would perhaps be truly enjoyable to precisely the sort of person who revels in Musc Ravageur (to say nothing of Serge Lutens Musc Koublai Khan...).
So, yes, I had second thoughts about the whole affair, wondering whether I had blamed her when in fact I was at fault. As the wheels whirred, my thoughts began to multiply, ultimately culminating in pangs of compunction, until I could no longer sleep well at night. I had invited so many other new friends into my home, and none of them had offended me in the way in which Joy had, and yet somehow I sensed that what I had done was wrong.
No, I could not stop myself from agonizing over and over again about who was ultimately responsible for the debacle that her visit had become. Was I not in fact the sole author of this clash? Could she really be blamed for my wishing that she was other than who she was? When I looked at Joy, did I want nothing more than to see a reflection of me?
From there, I began to wonder whether I was not attempting, like the tyrants of the past, present, and future, to create the world in my image. Should it really be peopled only with people like me? Anxiety was now commingling with my long incubated dread of hypocrisy as I lashed out at myself, crying to no one but the walls and God (or reasonable facsimile): No, No, No! How preposterous could something be?!
To calm my frazzled nerves, I prepared a white porcelain cup of sencha tea, foregoing my usual afternoon mug of coffee. I stared into the citrine-peridot green liquid in search of an answer, and at last it emerged, as usual, in the form of a series of questions:
Did I not need to be a bit more open to lifestyles and personalities—and scents—very different from my own? Was I attempting to impose my own values upon the world, excluding anything which deviated from my parochial notion of what is good and fine? Did I not need to expand my horizons, look beyond the little pond in which I lived, like a goldfish bumping up against the edge of an aquarium while resolutely denying the reality of anything beyond the glass?
I concluded, at last, that it was time to invite Joy back, to see if it was not too late for some form of reconciliation and damage control. I must confess that I feared, on some level, a reprisal of what had happened before. To preclude such an unpleasant possibility, I determined that this time we should meet at a secure, undisclosed place, where no one who knew us would see—or smell—us together.
This rendezvous, up until now, was our little secret: only Joy and I knew. In some sense, I freely own, the trial was therefore risk-free. Nonetheless, deeply relieved at the outcome of this tale, I here openly avow that Joy did in fact accept my apology, and we have agreed to disagree about our differences, mutually respecting our divergent perspectives on the world.
I share my little story now with you, O Gently Scented Reader, in the hopes that you, too, will learn from my mistakes.