The Wrong Scent


Our Daily Correspondent

From a vintage Bienaimé advertisement.

When I rejoined my husband, the first thing he said was, “I love that perfume!”

“That’s just as well,” I said shortly.

Here’s what had happened: I’d taken refuge from the weather in a shop. Guiltily aware that I wouldn’t be buying anything, I sniffed at a series of perfume stoppers. Some customer in a fishing hat, a pair of white socks with sandals, and a bag with a picture of Liza Minnelli on it was chattering with the saleswoman about the exorbitant price of neighborhood tea and his depression. “Maybe some cologne will help your day,” said the saleswoman. 

The perfumes were sort of Victorian in style—ornate bottles and old-ladyish scents. I was sniffing at something called Golden Jubilee when a voice said, “You’re not going to get anything out of it like that! You have to put some elbow grease into it!” And suddenly I was blinded by a stream of Tea Rose. As I sputtered cartoonishly, my assailant—who I could now see was fishing-hat guy—continued to spray the rest of me enthusiastically. The saleswoman beamed.

“It’s like sex, right?” he said horribly. “No point unless you go all the way!” You’d think it couldn’t get worse—and for once, I had no interest in seeing how things turned out—but somehow, as I hurried away, he managed to say, “It’s like I tell all these young girls—if you don’t want to have sex with someone, don’t get naked with them! Don’t get into bed with them! Because after a certain point, there’s no stopping—a man can’t stop!”

I should note, at this point, that the shop in question was on a university campus. At any rate, by then I was nearly out the door, and I heard him saying to the woman behind the counter, “What a horrible day!”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.