The Free Squirt

I’m pro-parfum.

I still felt that way after sitting through five interminable acts of Mussorgsky’s “Khovanshchina” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, seated behind an operaphile who was also a Dior Poisonphile. Remember Poison?

I’m quoting the ***** review Luca Turin gives Poison in the must-have “Perfumes:The Guide” he wrote with Tania Sanchez. Honor gave it to me for Mother’s Day a few years ago (knowing my proclivities) and I’ll spend a whole post extolling its greatness at a later date.I’ve spent more time memorizing its contents than I ever did on Bible verses. Just saying.

“Reviewing Poison is a bit like road-testing an Abrams M1 tank in the evening rush hour.People just seem to get out of your way, and if they don’t, you just swivel that turret to remind them you’re not kidding.This is the fragrance everyone loves to hate, the beast that defined the eighties, the perfume that cost me a couple of friendships and one good working relationship…” “Every perfume collector has to have this, but please never, ever wear it to dinner LT.”

Or to the opera. Or within twenty feet of another human being. I think it would be fabulous when skyjumping — brazen and apologetically unnatural. My opera Poison-Mist dispenser hadn’t the sense to tone it down, but hey, I admire her chutzpah, and I’m pro-parfum.

Many disagree with me. My scent-phobic sister-in-law once got on the phone with the billing department at Marshall Field and told them she would cut up her credit card if she ever received another smelly insert with her bill. Sensing she meant it, once a month someone hand-stuffed her bill. But me: go for it. Express yourself flagrantly and fragrantly — I don’t intend to tone it down, even if you haven’t the exquisite taste to appreciate my Apres L’Ondee. (“Guerlain *****”Among pale romantic fragrances, only Apres L’Ondee has the unresolved but effortless feel of the watery piano chords that make Debussy’s pieces[Images is exactly contemporary]so poignant, One of the twenty greatest fragrances of all time. TS”)

I always have a few Guerlain fragrances in rotation — all ***** according to Luca and Tania — and I find them necessary to my happiness in some essential, primal way. Cheap they’re not. But I’m the kind of parfumophile who has no problem with approaching a perfect stranger and asking “What are you wearing?” I don’t know how it is, but they never say “Uh, jeans and a Hawks jersey?,” but “Cool Water.” Not ” Pendleton,” but “Rive Gauche.” They are my brothers and sisters of the atomizer, my educators, and the most personal version of the Free Squirt.

My husband works as a part-time caregiver to a man with serious developmental difficulties named Nelson. The job consists of getting Nelson out of the house — er: into the community. Nelson loves malls and grocery stores. Lou loves malls and grocery stores –it’s all good. All winter Lou’s come home with a pocketful of the paper smellies his sister hates so much, mostly from the Macy’s fragrance counter. During cocktail hour he’ll pull them out, and say “Guess,” or “What do you think?” (I think Angel is overrated.) Free Squirt fun for cabin fever.

But here is the history of the purest form of the Free Squirt.

As a young woman I felt foolishly furtive trying out the testers at Saks. I was afraid of the macquilleed -coiffeed sisterhood behind the counters, afraid that one of them would reach into my wallet with her manicured hand and terrify into buying, say, Poison. My mother, wrapped in black mink and veils of Joy (Patou ***** “Joy does not smell of rose, jasmine, ylang or tuberose. It just smells huge, luscious and absolutely wonderful LT”) loved the Sisterhood of the Spritzers and all those pretty testers on mirrored trays. She knew what she liked and knew she’d receive her “big bucket of Joy” every Christmas from my father. But she too had a curious nose, and would smile at the saleslady who sensed a perfect customer. When asked: “May I help you?” Mummy would say airily “No thanks, I’m just here for my Free Squirt.” She’d leave the store with about twenty of those freebie tiny vials the saleslady pulled unprompted from under the counter. Shopping with my mother, whether for fish or frocks was always a small adventure.

I’m older now, and have real things to fear, not well-groomed saleswomen with swollen feet. Now I smile when approached and say “No, I’m just here for my Free Squirt.” They laugh and chat with me and occasionally hand me one of those tiny plastic-capped vials. Never give up on the chance for a free squirt of joy.


Filed under Body, Free, Into the Mystic, Library Card, Scent

12 responses to “The Free Squirt

  1. When I saw “Poison,” I thought I’d get an essay on talking dirty, or at least something about how every rose has its thorn. Imagine my surprise.

    Still this was nothing but a good time, even though I’m ambivalent about parfum.

  2. Dave, you’re an Eau Sauvage kinda guy. Trust me here.

  3. Maggie, you Psychic!!

    I was just noodling around about my first-time favorite perfume, and had even FOUND and downloaded a picture of my childhood’s coveted bottle.

    (Well, almost—this one has a little pope’s-hat in pale blue—the REAL Grail had the same glass part, but a six-inch-across plastic peacock tail for a stopper).

    Don’t try to guess—a classy dame like you wouldn’t remember Blue Waltz if it spritzed you in Saks.

  4. I like the idea of perfume, but my lungs do not. Anything aerosol’ed sends me right to the inhaler, so, please, no free squirts for me.

    Essential oils don’t affect me like an aerosol –currently I use a little lemon and little lavender. (But mostly I like the smell of clean and sunshine.)

    I like patchouli, too. My son told me it smelled like dirt on leaves, and my ex called it stink bait for old hippies. (I don’t wear it anymore–afraid I might catch an old hippie.)

  5. Rachel, I hang my head that I’d never heard of Blue Waltz until now. Of course I did my research — what a pretty bottle! — and a perfume The Vermont Country Store catalogue carries, and you approve, is good enough for me. Their copy:

    What treasured moments from your past will spring forth when you open this bottle of Blue Waltz? The same sweet and spicy perfume as the one you once dabbed behind your ears as a teen, Blue Waltz evokes memories of high school sweethearts, proms, and bopping to the jukebox. Share a bottle with a young friend and let this delightful scent become part of her memories, too.

    * A popular scent from the ’50s
    * A customer favorite in our stores
    * Two 0.625 oz. bottles

    Blue Waltz is as sweet as always—share this scent with a young friend.

  6. Sparrow: I fiddle about with essential oils. Hmmm. Maybe I can come up with Eau de Sparrowgrass.

  7. Love this post! Free Squirt of Joy!

    I see a volunteer army of free squirters taking to the streets, community centers and retirement homes of the world, spreading good cheer.

    Great stuff!

  8. Here is the formula–run a nice hot bath, shake 2 shakes of lavender and 2 shakes of lemon. Soak til you are pruny.

  9. Kim

    I, too, adore perfume! I wear Ysatis by Givenchy all winter and Cristalle by Chanel all summer. As a teenager, I wore Muget de Bois and still love anything that smells like lily of the valley. My daughter Jessica worked for Nordstrom’s for a bit after college and I still have tiny little atomizers full of new and lovely scents that I wear when I want something different. Unfortunately, I work in a doctor’s office where even scented SOAP is forbidden!

  10. Kim, thanks for reminding me to save up for my annual summer-season bottle of Cristalle! Luca and Tania: *****”There is a business-like briskness that suggests waking up after a night spent with a gorgeous stranger and finding her fully dressed and made up, ready to leave after no more than a peck on the cheek, leaving only a cloud of Cristalle as a contact address, Beautiful, and a little scary.”

    You go, Girl!

    Have you tried Diorissimo if you love liily of the valley? Sublime.

  11. Pingback: Bellissimo Diorissimo « Cheap and Cheerful

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