Tuesday, December 16, 2014

top ten Tuesday: smells + memories.

They say that smells are one of the most powerful links to memories. While I’m not sure who “they” are, I agree completely with them. A slight whiff of a certain fragrance can transport me to a different time and place – for better or worse. I have a list of ten smells that, in my mind/nose, are inexorably linked to a specific time or place.

In this case, all of these smells happen to be scented health and beauty products – primarily perfume. I have ordered them from earliest to latest, and I really wish that I could provide smell samples through the computer for you. (That sounds weird.) Alas, you’ll just have to smell these for yourselves if you’re so inclined.

Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo – Sarah’s house
I’ve talked about my friend Sarah quite a bit on this blog, and for good reason. She was the first friend I ever had, and we’re friends to this day. We’re closing in on thirty years of friendship, and that’s bound to make an impression. Sarah and I were friends all through our formative years, and we spent plenty of time at each other’s houses. Herbal Essences was just becoming trendy in the 90s, and Sarah had persuaded her mom to buy her the Herbal Essences rose hips shampoo. It smelled amazing – especially with the corresponding conditioner. It was the kind of intense flowery smell that would stick in your hair all day, and I wanted that. Until that point, I’d only ever used tear-free kid’s shampoo and whatever mismatched White Rain happened to be in the shower. It wasn’t long before I begged for an allowance and used the first of that allowance to buy my own rose hips shampoo. And let me tell you: my hair smelled fantastic. (Side note: this shampoo recently made a comeback and is now once again available for purchase. I have not bought any yet, but let me tell you, the temptation is strong.)

Purell – fourth grade
God only knows why certain things become trendy. Fourth grade was trend central: wearing keychains on your belt loops, the color lime green, calling things “groovy,” feather pens… need I go on? Another bizarre fourth grade trend was hand sanitizer. Suddenly, you HAD to have hand sanitizer with you at all times. After all, germs were everywhere. Purell was THE brand, and I can’t tell you how many bottles I went through in 1997. The hand sanitizer trend lasted well into junior high, when we all kept bottles on the top shelves of our lockers. Inevitably, the trend came to an end (hey, a poem!), and I was left with a handful of half-used bottles of hand sanitizer. Such is life.

Herbal Essences mousse – my perm
(I couldn't find a picture of the original mousse. You'll have to forgive me. It was white with a green top and had 90s looking leaves all over it.)

Herbal Essences again. What can I say? It’s powerful stuff. When I was twelve, I decided that it would be a good idea to get a perm. (It wasn’t.) My hair is thick and a tad wavy, but I wanted curls. However, when it came to hair, I had no skill and no patience (which is still true), so I wasn’t about to spend time with a curling iron. I wanted hair that was curly and required little to no effort from me. Hence: a perm. Turns out that perms aren’t the same as naturally curly hair. My perm was unruly and looked very much like a perm. The only way to tame it was to use generous amounts of mousse, and Herbal Essences was my go-to. It took FOREVER to grow my perm out, and I used cans and cans of mousse in the meantime. On the upside, I sure learned my lesson: a perm is never a good idea.

Glow by JLo – band camp
We’ve talked about how I went to band camp at SDSU for two junior high summers. Band camp was completely ridiculous, but it brought me some of the greatest memories of my young life. (link to the story) Junior high also the time when we started discovering perfume. I could not afford perfume, so I stuck with Kmart body spray. However, Sarah (who went to band camp with me for both summers) had Glow by JLo, which was hugely popular amongst the junior high set. She – along with a gaggle of other junior high band camp girls – would liberally apply Glow by JLo at every opportunity. Sarah was my roommate at band camp for both summers, and our dorm always smelled like Glow by JLo. But then again, so did every inch of band camp thanks to the gaggle of Glow-addicted junior high girls.

Lucky – junior high/early high school
The other go-to perfume of the early 2000s was the Lucky brand perfume. It wasn’t called anything other than Lucky, and the girls’ version came in a tiny pink bottle. (The cologne was green.) For a naïve small-town Midwesterner like me, Lucky Brand was as mysterious and elusive as Chanel. Lucky jeans were the most coveted brand – even more than the Silver Jeans and the American Eagle jeans that dominated junior high. (And God help you if you wore Arizona brand jeans like yours truly.) There were an elite few that owned Lucky Brand jeans in junior high, and they inevitably doused themselves in Lucky Brand perfume as well. All of junior high and well into my freshman year, the halls were hazy with Lucky perfume. The jeans were way out of my price range, and even the perfume was out of my financial reach… until I got a job. I bought my very own bottle of Lucky perfume when I was a junior in high school… three solid years after the trend had reached its peak. I wore it a few times, realized that I’d smelled enough of it in junior high, and promptly tossed it in a drawer.

Hollister August – the summer between high school and college
Lucky was the first actual perfume I ever owned, and many others followed in its wake. Among others, I tried such clichés as Adidas for Women (remember that?) and the fake Clinique Happy that you could buy in little spray cans at Walmart. The latter half of my senior year in high school marked something of a transformation for me: until that point, I cared very little about makeup or clothing. But then, something changed. I started wearing makeup and going shopping. From that point until my second semester of college, every item of clothing I owned had to come from Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I was THAT girl. If it didn’t have that little seagull, moose, or eagle on it, then I would pass, thankyouverymuch. It was during this odd time in my life that I purchased perfume at Hollister. It was called August, and I wore it nonstop during the summer right before I went off to college. It was a very teenager-y scent, and it embodied the end of my carefree summers: the last summer before college, research papers, career goals, and student loans.

Burberry Brit – my freshman year
It took one semester of college for me to realize that I wasn’t a high schooler anymore. At UMM, nobody cared if your shirt had a moose logo on it or if you wore Hollister’s perfume. Among the sophisticated college students (many of whom hailed from exotic Minneapolis), I felt like a small-town kid with my teenager perfume and my teenager logoed shirts. I steered away from those obviously branded shirts and began cultivating a more subtle wardrobe. I also ditched the Hollister perfume and scrimped and saved my work study money to buy the most sophisticated perfume I could think of: Burberry Brit. The plaid on the glass bottle exuded class, and I finally smelled less like a dumb teenager and more like an urbane liberal arts student – but the kind who showers.

Calvin Klein One – my sophomore year
It must be a requirement that, when you take a picture of a perfume bottle,
you absolutely must take a picture of the box next to it. 
My sophomore year was what I like to think of as my “lost year” of college. If you ask around, I bet a lot of people have one. My sophomore year was a total 180 from my freshman year. I spent my freshman year doing dumb freshman things, but I was filled with the joy and wonder of college and being on my own. (Or, more on my own than I ever had been.) I met Hipster Boyfriend at the tail end of my freshman year and thought he was a cool art student who could introduce me to good music and take me to gallery openings. We started dating in the summer, and I dated him all through my sophomore year. In September of my sophomore year, things with Hipster Boyfriend were already falling apart. He’d have bouts of tearful depression during which I would skip whatever obligation I had to stay with him in his dark room and tell him how great he was. This happened over. And over. And OVER. Hipster Boyfriend was sucking the very life out of me. When I wanted to hang out with my friends, I’d get a big sigh and a “well… I GUESS,” followed by text messages all through the night asking when I’d come back. So yeah – my sophomore year was significantly less fun than my freshman year, and significantly less fun than my junior year (when I moved off campus with a bunch of friends and started dating James). Calvin Klein One reminds me of that horrible year because Hipster Boyfriend’s mom had given him a bottle for Christmas the previous year. He wore it for a while and deemed it too girly, so he gave it to me and would become mortally offended if I didn’t wear it. Needless to say, that bottle of Calvin Klein One went in the trash long ago.

Caress Evenly Gorgeous – my first week in New Orleans
I graduated college with a degree in English, a degree in Art History, and no clear idea of what I wanted to do next. I kind of wanted to go to grad school for art history, but I was also hesitant to encumber more student loan debt. I knew that internships would look good on any future grad school application, so off to unpaid internships I went. I spent the summer after graduation at an unpaid internship in Denver, and I spent the fall after graduation at an unpaid internship in New Orleans. It’s hard to describe how much I love New Orleans – I first went there on a week-long jazz trip in college, and as soon as I set foot in Louisiana, it felt like I belonged there. (I had the same feeling the first time I visited the U of M Morris campus.) It was love at first sight. I was dead-set on going back, hence the internship. Having established a place to live via Craigslist while I was in Denver, I drove to New Orleans by myself and arrived to claim my rented room. Turns out the landlord was super creepy – he had claimed to live in the house next door but in fact lived in the same house, had no door on his room, and tended to sneak around the house. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when one of my roommates (who I never saw) stuck a note under my door urging me to “get out while [I] still can.” So I did. Despite the rocky living situation, I was also filled with joy at finally being back in New Orleans and having the grand opportunity to live there for four months. I explored the city, reveling in the sights and sounds. Before I left for New Orleans, I bought a brand new bottle of body wash called Caress Evenly Gorgeous. It claims to be made from burnt brown sugar and karite butter (whatever that is), and the smell of that body wash reminds me of that first tumultuous week in New Orleans.

American Eagle Bohemian – being super poor in Minneapolis
Minneapolis was the final stop in my unpaid internship tour: I moved there from New Orleans to intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where my unpaid internship required a minimum of twenty hours a week. James, who was student teaching in Buffalo, moved to Plymouth with me, and we shared a studio apartment that had once been a garage. We were scrimping to make ends meet, and at one time, I had four part-time jobs. (Well, three, if you don’t count the unpaid internship.) One of those jobs was at American Eagle – the mall clothing store. I had originally gotten a job there while living in Denver, and I had been able to transfer to a store in New Orleans and finally to a store in Maple Grove. And let me tell you – my American Eagle job was a lifesaver. While it was a minimum wage retail job, it did allow me to eat – not much more than eggs and Spaghetti-Os, but eating is eating. (James’s and my big Valentine’s Day dinner that year was a frozen bag of Bertolli’s pasta. What can I say: we splurged.) While I was working at the Maple Grove American Eagle, the company released a new perfume called Bohemian. While I could never afford a bottle of my own, they encouraged us to spritz on a little from the sample bottles so that customers would smell the fragrance and hopefully decide to buy some for themselves. So when I arrived at the store, I’d squirt on some  Bohemian perfume and go about my day. I don’t know if anyone actually bought any perfume because of that – I know that nobody ever asked me just what that enchanting scent was. I did finally acquire a full-time job and was able to quit all my part-time jobs. One of the first mistakes I made was buying a small bottle of Bohemian perfume. Months of wearing it around the store had fooled me into thinking that I liked it enough to wear it outside of work. One sniff of that, and I was reminded of how poor I was. That bottle is still floating around in a purse somewhere, but to me, it smells like minimum wage jobs and skipping meals and never filling my gas tank up all the way.  Not the greatest smell.


There we are: ten smells, ten associations/experiences. Now that you know the stories behind my ten scents, feel free to think of me when you smell any of these memory-laden fragrances. (That sounds weird, too. I can’t figure out how to say not-weird stuff in this blog.)

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