Tuesday, April 20, 2010

3/2/10: Patchouli

I write, therefore I keep a ledger of new words, which I populate throughout the day and then look up at night. One such word was patchouli, which came from some short story I read last fall. It's a plant, for those who don't know, as I didn't when I wrote it down, and it's used for a perfume. What does that tell you, though? I mean, if someone asks you what patchouli is, you can now look down your nose and tell them it's a plant that yields a fragrant perfume -- but how, exactly, does that perfume smell? Ah, we now meet the limitations of language. Sure, I could throw out a laundry list of adjectives describing the fragrance, but, ultimately, you'd never really know until you smelled it yourself. The nose knows, and more than we can cram into the clown-car vehicle of language, as it were.

This lacuna occurred to me a couple months after I made the maiden entry, in the ugly depths of February. I was studying my ledger, eating (I maximize), and as I happened across patchouli, I asked myself the same unanswerable question I just raised: But what does it smell like? The question arose idly amidst my study, like weeds in a garden, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me, enough to stick with me the rest of the day. It didn't, however, hound me enough to go foraging for a sniff of the perfume, and eventually the question drifted into the cluttered mental locker into which all such minutiae must go.

Fast forward to later that week, around the 20th, I want to say -- the last leg of the month, in any case. I woke up one morning, and was instantly struck by a realization: I had to go to Myrtle Beach, SC, the first of the month, to my parents' vacation trailer. Illogical as it was, the thought came with the lightning-strike peremptory of all the other little God-bombs that pop into my head, and I knew resistance was futile. So I made the plans.

Luckily, this venture wouldn't cost much, thanks to my parents' pro bono policy regarding use of their trailer. I still had to dip into my savings, of course, but the trip wouldn't do them much harm. That said, though, the whole premise was awkward: I had no one to go with, no real reason to go, and nothing to do once I got there. All I had was the inscrutable and subjective inkling that I Go, which isn't too easy to explain. It seemed much ado about nothing, like I was dressing black-tie for a trip to McDonald's. However, I had submitted my first novel manuscript that week, just meeting the contest deadline, and I was celebrating that job done, inconsequential as such a contest entry was; so I used that as my excuse to take off to the beach for a week. It was still awkward, of course, but it was better than, "Cuz God said so. See yas."

Fast forward again, to March 2nd, my arrival at my parents' North Myrtle Beach vacation trailer. My trip from North Carolina to the coast had been uneventful, and though I still had no idea why the hell I was there at all, I was enjoying the outing, lonely as it was. I spent the day in the trailer, doing what acclimating there was to be done, and when night fell, bringing a chill (I may have been at the beach, but it was still winter, and a pugnacious one at that), it came time to find the controls for the trailer's heater.

I had been to the trailer before, a couple years ago when my parents had first made the much-toiled-for purchase, and I remembered the controls, a little coppery box sporting an -ometer of some flavor, being along a wall partitioning the two halves of the doublewide -- or so I thought. It wasn't there, so I ended up having to hunt for the thing. I covered every wall of the place, and no box, which led me to begin tearing through cupboards and cabinets and closets and every other potential hiding place, however unlikely. After exploring every square inch of the kitchen and master bathroom, I wound up in desperation opening the shutter of a shoebox-sized cubby I'd never noticed before, set into the wall a couple feet from where I thought the box should be (the box was behind a propped door, for what it's worth). The cubby had a collection of various this-and-thats, some batteries, some aspirin, an alien-looking plumbing doodad whose purpose escaped me -- along with two bottles, teeny caramel-colored glass bottles with white labels.

I took one out and read the label: Camphor, it said, and I discerned it as a thing for smelling, as used in aromatherapy. Bemusedly, I halted The Great Heater-Control Pursuit, unscrewed the childproof top, and took a whiff. It smelled good, so I replaced it in the cubby and removed its kindred bottle -- Oil of Patchouli, according to its label.

I laughed, loudly, and then opened the bottle. It, too, smelled good.

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