Elizabeth Arden White Shoulders
So I think I’m finally getting the hang of this whole work/life balance thing. I got up at 7:30 this morning so I could pick up Shelley at 9am and give her a next-to-last driving lesson. She takes the test next weekend, so keep your fingers crossed for her.
As we drove back to her place, I passed a blocked off street in the local Pearl district. From the tents inside, I smelled the delicious waft of dry rubbed, sauced and smoked meats. BBQ. So I stopped and wandered over. Turned out Rogue Brewery was having its annual Bones and Brew street festival After sampling pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, and brisket from seven different Oregon vendors, I wandered out stuffed with meats and smeared with sauce. Then I went over to Oil Can Henry’s and got a ton of much overdue maintenance on my car done. As I headed on my way back to the house, pleased with all I’d accomplished, I saw a sign for a local estate sale, so I stopped.
After a bit of perusing, I walked out with a few things, including a half full 100ml splash bottle of Elizabeth Arden White Shoulders for the princely sum of a mere $4. It’s always been a drug store level scent, but the top bit, which is mostly tuberose after the immediate grape bubblegum part peels away, can be really nice, especially at the price point I got.
But the remarkable thing was standing in this woman’s house, her bedroom really, among her things I felt a real sense of self-consciousness about being there, looking through her perfume. She didn’t have much, most some mall level lotions, but there were four partial bottles of White Shoulders along with a set of White Shoulders loose powder with big fake furry powder puff. Standing there, I thought, this was her scent. This is what she smelled like, this unknown and faceless woman, what she smelled like every day. She smelled of it so often that people had bought bottles of it for her as gifts, resulting in four partial bottles. This smell was part of her, who she was. For people who knew and loved her, it probably is HER, like an icon or aspect of her that appears, a hazy and unexpected apparition, throughout their days.
Looking at those bottles seemed like searching for bargains through the most private and personal parts of her life, never mind her clothes or shoes or dishes or cookbooks or even her mattress, all tagged up and ready for sale. And yet, I figured, if I take one, at least I’m the sort of person who will think of the phantom woman any time I reach for the bottle. I'm the one who will wonder if she started wearing White Shoulders in 1945 when it came out, if she was a war bride who wore White Shoulders the day her husband returned home. I can think of so many scenarios, and there is the scent hanging around these phantom lives. And while I like the way the scent rolls down my skin twenty minutes into wearing it, warm and dark and rubbery and yet sweet and floral, I ultimately handed over my $4 because I figure, of all the strangers who will traipse through that house this weekend, I’m the one who will be most inclined to keep the notion of her alive.
And all of us deserve that.
"This town seems hardly worth our time
And we'll no longer memorize or rhyme,
Too far along in our climb
Stepping over what now towers to the sky,
With no connection "
- "Phantom Limb," The Shins (You can listen to the song here)