Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stories of scent

This seems so trivial after my last post, but life is in the details, at least for me.

In haste, I dabbed my wrist with Serge Lutens' Un Bois de Violette right before I went to sleep. I had never sniffed it before. Even though I seem to have completely different taste than Luca Turin's (The Guide, again), I was seduced by his loving words for this scent. I was hot, sticky, and the idea of violets beckoned.

What I got instead was this bedtime story:

When I worked at the cafe, there was a man who came in every day at exactly 5:45. I could set my watch with him, if I had worn one. I had first thought he was Tom Wolfe, in his white suit and shoes, but I never knew who he was. I only waited on him once, after Jenn had finally had enough. He looked harmless and never spoke in a loud noise, so I really had no idea why she looked sour every time he walked in.

He always ordered top shelf single malt scotch, no ice, and sipped it slowly before ordering a small salad. He was what I think of as "persnickety", a word I would not utter aloud and looks silly in print. This man made much of everything - the proper placement of the white napkin on his lap, on top of his white suit, of course. He dabbed at the corners of his mouth continually as he slowly ate his salad. It was at neat as the scotch he drank before the meal.

I didn't work there every day, but I knew he ate there daily, always had, and yet no one knew who he was. He seemed otherworldly, rather like a Michael Jackson, who, of course jumps to mind since his death. I doubt I thought of him then. But this man was different than others and held himself aloof. He never had company. He tipped, but it was exacting. Exactly 18% was what I figured out. Not a penny more or less.

As I already mentioned, Jenn always waited on him, and she thought him distasteful, but she wasn't gossipy. Even though I figured he was gay, or asexual really, I assumed he had hit on her. She was a willowy thing whom all men seemed to fall for. And she was sweet, so no, she could never bring herself to join in fully with the busboys and waitstaff who loved to moan and gossip about our loyal customers, of whom we seemed to collect quite a few. It was a homey little cafe, a neighborhood place that served decent food and had a full bar with a good collection of Scotch. So, maybe we just attracted the Scotch drinkers in the neighborhood. I never gave it a thought. I hated waitressing, even in a nice place like that.

When Jenn left New York, I only stuck around another few days. I had thought of quitting since the first hour I started working. No matter how nice the customers were, for me, being a waitress felt like one long groan of humiliation, especially with women customers who gave lousy tips and treated you like you must be an idiot loser (for why else would you be waitressing?)

So, I waited on that man in white for a few nights. There was nothing wrong with him really. He was only a pretentious little man, who reeked of booze and Choward's violet candies. And he could really stand to brush and floss his teeth. He was polite, well-mannered, but the smell of him, well, it was too much, even if he was perfectly clean looking in all white. I used to eat Choward's violet candies too, come to think of it, after I took a smoke break. I wonder if they smell terrible on everyone's breath?

I found out later that Hans had put him at that corner table permanently after the first week he had turned up and seemed determined to keep coming back. He said, "No one should have to smell that man's breath. Prissy alcoholics should stay at home." But, he was a good customer, so Hans would never have turned him away. I wonder if he still eats there. Nah, he's probably dead by now.

Photo note: Tom Wolfe

1 comment:

Tania said...

That's an interesting story! And it shows how potent memories of smells can be.
Nah, those candies don't smell that bad on everyone's breath - I would think his lack of dental hygiene was the culprit. The combination must have been rather unpleasant!