C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites, first published in 1987.
I was passing innocently through a department store on my way to neckties when a young woman sprang out from the shadow of the escalator.
Times being what they are, naturally I threw up my hands and waited for her to take my wallet.
I’m a liberal on the equal opportunity issue. And it gave me a certain ideological satisfaction to know I was about to be robbed, or maybe worse, by a woman mugger.
But all she did was hand me a scented card and a small envelope. My karma for the day did not include an assault. What had happened was that I’d stumbled unaware into a point-of-purchase giveaway.
I examined the things she’d pressed upon me. They were promotional items for Lust, a new fragrance for men. It was available, the card said, in no fewer than 10 preparations to be sprayed, sprinkled, dusted or smeared on the body or absorbed in the bath.
The odor of the card itself was incredibly powerful. It stank like anything.
“What do I do with this?” I asked the young woman.
“Put it in your pocket.”
I opened the envelope. Inside was a tiny vial of fluid.
“You don’t have to tell me,” I said. “I carry it in my mouth like a cyanide capsule. And if I get lonely, I crush it between my teeth.”
From her expression, she thought I was some kind of wacko.
“Just a joke,” I assured her.
“Lust is nothing to joke about,” she said seriously. “It could change your life.”
“I don’t want my life changed. I only came in here for a necktie, not a total retooling.”
“You have a closed mind.”
“If that’s your opinion, you’re entitled to it.”
“And you’re also very rude.”
“Look,” I said, “I didn’t start this. You did.”
“All we’re asking is that you try it. Carry the card in your pocket.”
“What if I meet someone I know?”
“Almost anything could happen.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said. “Suppose I just carry it until I get out of the store.”
“It’s a deal. Have a nice day.”
Moving in a strong and faintly phosphorescent nimbus of Lust, I walked on toward menswear, where a clerk approached.
“I’m looking for a necktie,” I told her.
“Any particular kind?”
“One without gravy on it.”
The salesclerk seemed flustered.
“My goodness!” she said.
Perspiration suddenly beaded her lip. Her voice trembled and her breath came in ragged gasps.
“What is it?” I asked. “Are you ill?”
“It’s that smell,” she said. “I feel funny all over.”
I will not speak of what happened back there among the racks of neckties and shelves of dress shirts. All I can say is that the clerk and I were not responsible — the perfume people were. And I promise you their lawyers will be hearing about it.