Recently I had to go into a Victoria’s Secret by myself. The “had to” refers to the fact that it was necessary to go alone. It was not medically necessary for me to go there. To my knowledge, they sell very few items that qualify as life-sustaining. My girlfriend Gaby mentioned to me several months ago that she wanted new perfume, and she liked the selection that Victoria’s Secret carries. So I went there out of love. I had to go by myself to preserve the secrecy of her Valentine’s Day present.
As a male person with no intention of wearing women’s underwear, I felt out of place. I didn’t look like I was going to steal any merchandise, but they were worried that maybe I was going to smell some of it, which was accurate, but not in the creepy way. The last time I’d been inside of a Victoria’s Secret store was a month and a half earlier. Gaby brought me in with her for a quick underwear purchase. But, as sometimes happens, there was also a sale on bras. So I was left with a literal fistful of underwear while she tried on the bra. A saleswoman had appeared within moments.
“Would you like a bag for that?” she asked.
The implication was clear: “You’re creeping everyone out by standing in front of the fitting room door with a handful of panties.” I gratefully accepted the mesh tote.
Similarly, I was relieved last Saturday when Danielle, a sales associate approached me to ask whether I needed any assistance.
“More than you know,” I replied. Victoria’s Secret attended to me faster than any retail location had since I was a shifty-eyed teenager. One of the perks of having a beard, I guess.
I explained to Danielle that my girlfriend had expressed an affinity for one of the scents she found on a previous visit. I wasn’t exactly sure which one, but I was reasonably confident that I could figure it out through some combination of recognizing the name and the aroma itself. Smell is, after all, the strongest sense tied to memory, if I am to believe that one Snapple cap.
“I think the name has two words in it, and one of them might start with a ‘C,’” I offered.
“Lots of our fragrances have two words in their titles,” Danielle said. She gestured towards an entire rack full of perfumes with two-word names. Oh.
Danielle began the scent recognition process. She located the sample bottle of a perfume and sprayed one to two spritzes onto a thin strip of paper, the kind chemistry students use to perform litmus tests. She shook the strip, to dissipate the smellecules, I guess, and offered it to my waiting nose. I gave a tentative sniff.
“Hmmm,” I said. “I think the one I’m looking for is, I don’t know… sweeter? Is that a thing a perfume can be?”
The moment she handed me the second test strip, I knew I was up against a bitterer dilemma than I’d originally thought. I wrinkled my eyebrows and smelled it, and it was, to my untrained nose, exactly the same as the first scent. I was so convinced that I looked to make sure that it was from a different bottle. The first had been “Secret Angel” and the second was “Dream Angels.” How could I possibly differentiate between those two smells when I could barely understand what made the concept of “Secret Angel” different from that of “Dream Angel”? I’d never seen an angel to begin with, never mind smelled one.
I allowed Danielle to present me with several more strips, knowing that I would never in my natural life or the hypothetical eternal afterlife be able to identify the right one. With each, though, I furrowed my brow and pretended to consider whether the smell matched the phantom scent of my memory. Really I was just pondering whether it looked like I’d thought long enough about that topic to fool Danielle. Luckily, as I rolled my eyes in disbelief at the task ahead of me, I spotted a shelf of different, more familiar looking, perfumes.
“Can we try those?” I asked Danielle.
“I’m here all day,” she said with a shrug.
This shelf contained the Pink collection, which seemed more familiar. Each one bore two adjectives, like I’d remembered, but none of them were “C” words. So I had to decide, did Gaby want to smell:
Pretty and Pure
Soft and Dreamy or
Sweet and Flirty
It felt like an SAT question. After a perfunctory nosetasting of all three, I decided that my girlfriend would find the notion of being “Pretty and Pure” somehow antifeminist. I scooped up a Soft and Dreamy body spray and a Sweet and Flirty perfume, having no idea what the difference between those two types of spray was. As I carefully nestled the bottles into a bag, I thanked Danielle with a firm handshake and a near-bow of appreciation. I figured even though I hadn’t found exactly what I was looking for, I was well into “A for effort” territory.
As I stood in line to pay, I noticed a display of smaller bottles that were not on the regular shelf. Impulse buys. One, a cinnamon red bottle, bore the descriptors “Warm and Cozy.” Warm and Cozy! That was it! I tossed the bottle into my bag of smells and happily purchased all three.
Finding that bottle affirmed my sanity. It meant that my memory of an experience was accurate, and I had not invented both the name of a perfume and the sensation of its scent. Also, as it turns out, three bottles of perfume is enough for several lifetimes. So it will be quite a while before I have to go back to Victoria’s Secret.