January 26, 2008

Vase final

"I felt dirty in a whole new way."

by Jenn Kelly

We have all known since we were very young that the sense of smell is not to be trusted. Don’t pretend you weren’t one of those little kids who took a swig out of the vanilla bottle even though you were warned that, contrary to its intoxicating aroma, it tasted like ass. Yet we’re taught to not only trust but rely on this sense. People use it to make sure that the milk hasn’t gone bad, that the fruit is ripe, and to lead them to the Froot Loops.

Like most things in life, scent’s trickery comes with rougher consequences as we get older. It’s not just a bitter taste anymore. It could be a scrumptious cologne on a not-so-cute boy eliciting the olfactory equivalent of beer goggles. Or, as I recently learned firsthand, it could actually be someone else’s sense of smell that triggers the regret. The problem is that smell lingers, and it will shamelessly rat you out.

On a Saturday night, I found myself having a great conversation with an awesome boy. He was funny, successful, not a jackass, and met the crucial older and taller criteria. He was great company but when I couldn’t get him to stop trying to make out at the bar, my self-conscious instincts got the better of me. Like a fight-or-flight response where all other thought processes take a back seat until stress levels return to normal, eliminating the potential to become part of the gross couple that needs to get a room became the only thing that mattered. In a flash of impeccable judgment, I suggested we leave.

On the Upper West Side in his one bedroom apartment, he started giving me these eyes like a sexy face gone horribly wrong and I finally caught on that being seen wasn’t the biggest problem here. Oops. Unfortunately, in my dense misinterpretation of the situation, I had left myself defenseless - it was too late to bring up an early morning commitment and I was clearly too lucid for him to believe I could actually pass out. I had no choice but to adopt the cafeteria mentality: in the face of only gross choices, you have to shut off your head and just take the plunge. You can’t think about it or you’ll never make it through. Sadly, we weren’t talking about a questionable turkey sandwich here.

I took my cab ride of shame the next morning feeling completely confused by my own stupidity. Seriously, what made any of the previous night’s decisions seem like the right ones? No more vodka. I was about to give myself a full mental beating when I had the genius epiphany that I could make everything better by simply pretending it never happened! I was one of only two who knew the truth, and I might never see the other again. All better.

I walked past my doorman in my four inch heels and running makeup. “Crazy night with the girls last night!” I unnecessarily explained with a cheesy smile. He gave me one of those raised-eyebrows nods that means he thinks I’m still drunk. As I approached my studio, I was internally rehearsing lines about the dude being a gentlemen and dropping me off at my place on his way home, which I would later feed to my gossip-hungry friends.

At home, I was anxiously greeted by Vijay, the most puppy-like cat you will ever meet, always happy to see me. I reached out to pet him, which usually leads to him leaning his head in as if he just can’t get the affection fast enough. But instead, he pulled back a bit and crinkled his cute little nose. What was this? I held out my hand, hoping he had merely inhaled some of the chili powder that I use to keep him from chewing on exposed wires. Vijay cautiously sniffed. Then he ran away. “Vij?” I called. He looked at me, shook his head, curled up on his cat tree, and refused to make further eye contact. Oh my God, he knows! The cat is judging me!

I love my cat more than most parents love their children, but keep in mind that this is an animal that prefers licking the faucet to his water bowl. Sometimes, he sticks his paws directly into the toilet because he is oddly fascinated by water, and later that day I will find him licking those same paws. Even on nights when I stumbled home smelling like booze, cigarettes, pot and various other New York City aromas that osmotically tainted my being, Vijay still followed me around and bit my ankles until I picked him up. But this smell of lowered standards, this disgusted him. I felt dirty in a whole new way.

I immediately jumped into the first of roughly eight showers I took that day. I moisturized, sprayed perfume and put about fourteen products in my hair. I washed away my sins leaving everything from vanilla, to coconut to lavender in their place to regain the love of my cat. I spent about $25 on the subsequent laundering of all of my towels and another $15 getting a moisturizer that could actually repair my now dried-out skin. Don’t underestimate the sense of smell, it trumps sight and touch. It will give away your mistakes even if no one saw, and if you smell like mistakes, no one’s getting close enough to care how you feel anyway.

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