Friday, November 30, 2012

Joy and I have finally made amends...




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 leavesor 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. 


16 comments:

  1. A lovely piece of writing, S! There are so many scents that were appropriate when people bathed less often and smoked a lot, but don't mesh with our current scent environments. I only had the courage to meet with Joy once, but I found her so indolic that I wouldn't choose to have her over to my house, either.

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    1. Thank you, pitbull friend! What a great point you've made: that our tastes are importantly affected by cultural factors. That sounds like an excellent topic to bring out of your comment and develop into a full post!

      I had not actually thought about the effect that our society's changes in smoking and bathing habits might have upon our reception of a perfume such as Joy. I was of course baffled by the disparity between my perception and her reputation, but you are right: we do live in a very different space and time from when she was launched!

      Thank you for bringing up this important topic. I hope that you'll be able to comment on the upcoming post... (-;

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    2. My pleasure, sweet Sherapop. I know the idea is not original to me, but can't remember where I first saw it. Too bad I can't be a social smoker (I'm enough of an addict that I have to abstain completely). I would love to try Joy, Shalimar, and Habanita with cigarette smoke. (Wasn't Habanita the one that was created to scent cigarettes?) I had a friend who smoked a LOT (2-3 packs a day - died in her 60s of lung cancer) and wore a lot of classic Lauders (Cinnabar and Azuree especially). They went beautifully with the smoke.

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    3. Habanita definitely could cover up the scent of cigarette smoke! Azurée and Cinnabar are pretty hefty, too. A propos: I finally sprung for a bottle of Aromatics Elixir--a blind buy, because the only bottle I ever saw was the one at the local Sephora which appears to have been there on the lowest shelf in front of a very bright and hot light for about a decade.

      I got a fresh bottle in a gift set from Lord and Taylor, and I have to say that I was taken aback--even shocked--at how sour the opening was. It even reminded me of reformulate Rumba (yuck). I looked at the ingredients and found evernia furfuracea way ahead of evernia prunastri, so I immediately suspected reformulation foul play.

      But then something funny happened: I became a believer by the drydown. It was gorgeous! Scrumptious savory patchouli!

      Regarding your point about originality: Nihil sub sole novum est. (yes, including that phrase, lol)

      The difference in the twenty-first century is that we can actually verify this verity by googling! (-;

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  2. I have always ignored Joy at the first glanced. Then one day I got a sample I gave a test and I thought oh my god..what a scrubber at the first 5 seconds. I couldn't give her a chance, but maybe a few years since that experience I wonder if I will still think of her as a scrubber or maybe tolerate her with a tiny bit. hahaha Who knows... Bisous.

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    1. Salut, ma chère, belle canadienne! Je suis ravie de te voir ici!

      I am so glad that you have stepped forth from the shadows to share your own reservations about Joy. This is great--I no longer feel like a perfume pariah!

      Merci beaucoup, chérie--à bientôt, j'espère! xxxooo

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  3. SUBLIME by Patou is a powerhouse too, one that I fall in and out of love with depending, I guess, on my chemistry that day and the weather. Some days, it smells absolutely rank on me for 20 minutes. I've always been curious about Joy, but don't think I could try it after reading this! Maybe Sublime is my outer limits for this house.

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    1. Hello Diane1953!

      I have no issues whatsoever with Sublime. I really find it beautiful, no qualifications necessary in my case. I imagine that it has been reformulated by now, under the aegis of P&G (gasp!), but my bottle is very good...

      If I apply Joy now very lightly, I can sometimes enjoy it. But it's definitely a gamble, and I would never wear it to the library! lol

      Thanks for stopping by--it always nice to see you here! (-;

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  4. Very nicely written, Sherapop. I might have to experience Joy's personality myself, if I could find a sample.

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    1. Hello Flaconneur, and thanks for stopping by! By the way your new blog is fantastic. We need to spread the word.

      Fragrant Friends, check out this incredible resource:
      http://perfumuschicago.wordpress.com/welcome/

      As for Joy, well, I have about 73/75 milliliters in my bottle, so I'm happy to provide a sample! I'll pm you at parfumo. (-;

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  5. Hi there Sherapop, I know we love perfume and we love to give it a lot of attention. We think it has magical powers :))) But I think that the effect upon the two young men you described above was more situation induced than perfume induced. Ok, I don't know how much you sprayed :))) In all honesty, I wouldn't want to have a job that includes going to strangers' houses. I sometimes do house-sitting for friends when sb has to come to fix something but they have appointments that cannot be postponed. I noticed that people that come to someone else's house are sometimes stressed by the situation. As if they were more alert or something.
    But you could do an experiment. Choose a perfume that you think will make strangers respond positive. See if it works :))) And then on second thought maybe it will be your different behavior. When I wear perfume that I feel sure about I send different signals to my environment: relaxed, at ease blablabla When I wear perfume that I have doubts about I cannot help but communicating my uneasiness through the way I act and react. However, the others can't read my mind, they don't know that I'm secretly obsessing about perfume. All they see is the surface. (Maybe they smell something; maybe they think, "This lady should open her windows more often and give this place some good fresh air.")
    Liebe Grüße, Girasole.

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    1. All valid points, meine liebe Girasole! It's wonderful to see you here again. Thank you for reminding us of the impossibility of isolating variables in assigning causality when it comes to human subjects! The wheels are always turning bei Girasole! (-; Yes, you are right, the whole scenario may have been a figment of my imagination. Or perhaps it was all a work of fiction!

      I'm skeptical about the possibility of carrying out your experiment. I'd need to invite the same people back for multiple trials, and that would ruin the whole test, since they'd be different people each time they returned. And, yes, as you say, I'd be different, too, wearing a different perfume.

      So much for the dispassionate quest for social scientific truth...

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  6. Fabulous essay Shera!! As you know, Joy and I are long term buddies having fallen for each other in the 80's. She truly allows my inner slut to roam free :) ... what can be more joyful than that?? Had those delivery gents knocked at my door I sincerely doubt they would have escaped so lightly ... teehee. I agree with some (and only to a certain extent) that this Grande Dame is a little piece of fragrance history ... but I can't help feeling that her voice is just as pertinent today. I'm all for 'room-clearing' frags when called for ... sometimes the spotlight can get a little crowded :). Suffice it to say that Joy is eternal for me ... perhaps the industry is ready for a return to greatness such as this. xoxoxoxo CG.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, my dear Couture Guru!

      It was your action-packed review of Joy (at Parfumo.net) which first caught my eye and alerted me of your very existence, so I am delighted to read you here, needless to say!

      I'd like to believe that the industry is ready for greatness again, but I'm not expecting much from the conglomerates. My hope really lies with the independent perfumers at this point...

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  7. A great essay, and one that touches some great spots of memory for me. Joy was a great favorite of my mother's, and I have a wonderful memory of buying a bottle of it for her for Christmas (one of my first 'I'm not a kid anymore' presents for her.) But even she reserved this perfume for evenings when it was cold, and usually only if she was going out with my father. When you smell Joy straight from the bottle, it's so luxurious, but unmistakably, there it is, just after the roses hit your nose: jasmine-&-civet. That combination is one of the strangest around. It's been duplicated to varying degrees of success, but Joy really did push that button.

    I have often laughed at the Pepe la Peu cartoons and thought of the trickery that Joy can play on its wearers. I remember when M. La Peu gives a bouquet of roses to the lovely cat, and she seems delighted until he teasingly pulls them away, and his natural animal scent overpowers her. Joy!

    Joy strikes me as a 'serious' perfume (which is funny, since it has such an effervescent name!) I often see it alongside perfumes like Ma Griffe and other strong pre-1950 scents which really packed a punch.

    In the end, I really and truly love this perfume, but as one of your readers wisely says, times have changed, and our constantly scrubbed society has probably made perfumes like Joy seem unbearably strong. It sometimes strikes me as too many things at once: too rich, too flowery, too animalic, too golden, too extreme in its polarities. So I wonder sometimes if my affection for Joy is born out of it's historic place, or just some pleasant personal associations. But your comparison to Joy as a crude, wicked city woman (who reeks of new money) really brings a smile. Joy really comes on strong!

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    1. Thank you, john greenink! So it's true: you really are strolling about the salon de parfum! It's wonderful to read your feedback and insights. ;-)

      I've been thinking a lot about whether Joy could have enjoyed the success of Chanel no 5, if only it had been supplied to the troops and their loved ones circa World War II. What if Marilyn Monroe had revealed that she wore to bed only a few drops of Joy?

      I'm torn. If Joy had been promoted as ingeniously as Chanel no 5 was, would we all be a lot stinkier today? Would more people still be smoking? It's hard to say. Other "stinkers" (relatively speaking...) have enjoyed great success: Dior Poison, Thierry Mugler Angel, but then they began to fade away and in fact may have spearheaded the anti-perfume "clean" revolution. Would the same have happened in the case of Joy, I wonder?

      Now that I think about it, the current Brad Pitt campaign seems perfect for Joy. He looks as though he hasn't showered in days. ;-)

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