December 02, 2005

Scent of a Woman (or Ham)

A friend of mine decided that she’s going to make her Christmas gifts this year, since she has a new hobby, and the best part of any productive hobby is that your friends reap the mad benefits. I just want to say here, on the record, that I love it when people make their Christmas gifts. It just feels so Victorian Era. Knowing that someone put their time into something—not time shopping, or agonizing over whether you’ll like it, but that they liked you enough to spend hours knitting something because they wanted you to be warm, and having you in the back of their mind with every stitch; you just can’t match that kind of sentiment with a store-bought gift. With a normal present, the two or three minutes spent thinking about the recipient is usually spent thinking how much someone will appreciate it, not how you feel about them personally. Therefore, every Christmas, I embrace every feeling (positive and negative; the negative actually improves the speed) invoked by my family and friends, and channel it all into a bevy of fabulous homemade items. Not a year goes by that I don’t agonize, well into the wee hours, trying to finish the necklace, blanket or scarf I am working on so I can get started on the next one, usually working right up to Christmas Eve in a blind panic that I’ll never get it all done in time. It adds a lot of stress to the holiday, but between that and the mall, I’ll gladly take on the pressures of speed-crocheting, which I can do in my nice, warm living-room chair.

So, anyway, this particular friend has decided to make scented lotions. This is doubly fantastic, because it’s an awesome idea and because none of my friends are already into it. You buy the flavored oil, mix it with unscented body lotion, et voila—your own personal scent in a jar. Now, it sounds pretty cool to me, since I really don’t care for most perfumes (they either smell like old ladies or rich ladies, I am neither), and I generally stick to vanilla or other mildly-scented body products because they are much lighter. I typically go for natural smells, like plain orange blossom or almond extract, so the thought of mixing just the right flavor combination that I smell like my own personally-devised dessert item is pretty appealing. I am still just the tiniest bit wary, though, since the mixture of any substances in the privacy of your own home (whether it be cooking, soap-making, or a meth lab) can turn into a horrorshow real fast. However, my friend instilled nothing but confidence in me as she guided me through the procedure; I was really impressed by her asking me which scents I liked, showing me the site she orders the oils from, and reading me the list of ingredients for each scent, making sure there was nothing I hated or was allergic to (she also scored an A on the Holiday Shopping Quiz from yesterday). We picked out a few that she put on order, and one she had to hunt for on ebay. It is this last that inspired today’s entry.

This scent is supposed to be “the very flavor of Autumn”: pumpkin, ginger, honey, red apple, red patchouli, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Sounds pretty tasty, huh? I bet I know what you’re thinking: “Beedoo, you just freaking said that you don’t like heavy or complex scents. This one has like, fifty ingredients. You know this can’t end well.” Yes. I know. But I like autumn. I like pumpkin. I like leaves. I like patchouli. Maybe, MAYBE this one will be okay. Maybe it won’t be too strong. It could be awesome; I’ll never know unless I give it a try.

It arrived in a package yesterday.

I opened the tiny little bottle and it smelled… really bad. Like menthol Chapstick. There were spices, yes, and pumpkin-y flavors, but mostly it smelled like cloves. I felt like it was a salve rather than a perfume, like back in the day where they would cure things with mustard plasters. It’s both ancient and balmy; it’s beginning to make me regret the Victorian parallel from earlier. But it was a gift, and I know that oils will sometimes smell completely different once you actually put them on, so I dabbed a tiny bit on each wrist. I rubbed them together, and waited a minute. My wrists felt unusually warm. I put my arm to my face, schoolmarm-y voice reminding me to be objective, and it smelled… much the same… only stronger. And now, it had a sticky-sweet smell, like I had smeared honey on my arms. I capped the bottle back up and put it on my bookshelf, wandered back into the living room wondering how I could tell my friend that her ebay quest was all for naught, when I noticed something strange; my wrists were going numb. I started freaking out, wondering what kind of strange unguent that, when applied to my body, would act like novocaine. It was then that I spotted the fatal flaw in this wicked little brew: it has CLOVES in it. Cloves, which have numbing properties (I once had an impacted tooth, which was treated with clove-soaked stitching, and for three days I could taste nothing but ham). Cloves, which overpower any and all flavors in any combination—you could probably kill a skunking with clove (the downside being, of course, you’d smell like clove). The honey smell only intensified the spice of it, and all I could think of was that I smelled like a ham. It was awful. I was really sad, because I wanted to like it; I wanted my friend’s first commission to be a total success. I decided I would sleep on it. Maybe the smell takes a while to bond with your skin.

I woke up in the middle of the might three times to use my inhaler.
This scent has got to go.

I tell my mother this story, culminating in the actual smelling if the wrists. She flips OUT: “That smells soo good! I love it!” She’s, like, snorting my forearms. “Really?” I ask, “because I was going to send it back…”

Mom: Oh, no. Give it to me.
Me: Momma, it gave me an asthma attack.
Mom: So?
Me: So, just breathing irritates your lungs half the time—I’m not going to be the vessel for the instrument of your death.
Mom: Oh, it’ll be fine.
Me: Oh, I’m sending it back.
Mom: You probably just put it on wrong.
(I blink at this woman, the source of my life, who would rather trust this small bottle of perfume over my ability to rub my hands together.)
Me: I put it on wrong.
Mom: Yes. It’ll be too strong on your wrists—try your elbows, or the backs of your knee.
Me: The back of my knee.
Mom: Yes.
Me: And… who is going to be smelling my knee-crooks on a regular basis?
Mom: You never know.
Me: With this stuff, I’ll bet it’ll be the dog, shortly before she attacks, prompted by the overwhelming scent of fresh hamsteak.
Mom: You do not smell like a ham.

But I do. I smell like ham. And that is why I’m sending it back.

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