Who Am I and What Should I Smell Like?
Credit: Photograph by Chris Buck

I don't know about you, but I don't think life is worth living without a hobby or two. My hobbies have included: model airplanes (lots of noise, lots of expensive crashes), fly-fishing (I sucked – not even the great Lefty Kreh could teach me how to cast), calculator collecting (LED handhelds from the 1970s, part of my Great Indoorsman series of hobbies), deal hunting (thousands of hours spent on Slickdeals.net; latest score: seven boxes of K-Cups for my Keurig coffeemaker, $84 total retail at the store, $1.93 total for me), selling depressing family heirlooms on eBay (according to Sotheby's, the massive silver pen belonging to the accountant of Czar Nicholas, worth hundreds of thousands, my late grandmother said, is nothing but a stupid pipe fitting), and trying to avoid having to join A.A. due to the above. Great hobbies all, but none is a match for my latest: collecting colognes as part of the hunt for my very own signature scent, the one that says me like no other.

How it happened is another one of those things. It's a Friday, around the time I should be out huffing sour-mash fumes at a local bistro, but instead I'm canvassing the closeout knitted-shirt racks at Marshalls. Next thing you know, I'm staring at the men's cologne display, wondering why I'd never worn cologne before; the next, I'm paying $12 for a bottle of Giorgio Beverly Hills Red for Men; the next, I'm sitting in my Kia Soul, spritzing myself with the stuff, kind of digging the leathery spice of it all; the next, I turn on the radio, Rod Stewart, "Maggie May"; the next, I'm sucker punched by a rolling wave of sappy nostalgia for the peaceful, easy feeling of the early 1970s; the next, all I can think is, if I'd smelled like this back then, I bet I would have gotten a much better class of nookie, maybe even a Maggie May of my own; the next, I'm at home, in my basement, at my computer, hanging out online at a site called ­Basenotes.net, which caters to the scent freaks of the world, 68,043 in all, the vast majority of them guys; the next, I'm trying to explain myself to my girlfriend, who thinks I should stop and go do something useful, like volunteer at a soup kitchen. Like that's ­really going to happen.

"You smell fine," she was saying. "Why do you need to smell any different?"

"No, no, no, that's not the point," I said. "It's not about smelling different. It's about having a signature scent, a smell that's as unique to me as my own fingerprint. Like, I can put it on in the morning and know I'm me the rest of the day. Or when I go to the party, everyone will know when I arrive and paw at the air for my return when I'm gone. I think that'd be cool."

"What party?"

"For chrissake. Any party. The party of life. Come on, hon."

"Well, that's stupid. This whole thing is stupid, like most of – "

"Hey!" I said, stomping my foot. "It's not stupid."

And like that we went, back and forth, until finally I nearly got the last word by going all high-minded on her and swiping some palaver from one of the guys on the forum, most all of whom have also suffered from the ignorance of others, via rolled eyeballs, derisive snorts, pummelings at school, avoidance at work, worried-sick parents, and will-rewriting grandparents. You can collect coins, stamps, butterflies, records, rubber bands, but God forbid you're interested in smells. "My buddies think this truly unique hobby called perfume is just a vice, a pathological waste of cash and the actual reason why I won't get anywhere in life," one Basenotes guy complained. As a consequence, any number of these colognoisseurs (or perfumidors or retroscentuals, as they variously call themselves) have taken to hiding their fragrances (a.k.a. frags) and pursuing their hobby in private, spritzing as spritz can. That's pathetic. That makes me angry. I'm not going to do that.

"You know what the guys say?" I asked my girlfriend. "They say our hobby is superior to other hobbies because it's a hobby of the intangible. It's invisible. It only reveals its beauty in your mind. Right up there, where one day, if you're lucky, you just might get a glimpse of God."

"A glimpse of God," she said flatly, and then gave me a glimpse of her back. I watched her go, and then spritzed myself again with Giorgio Red. It's a soapy little fragrance, a little sour, too, with maybe some oak moss simmering underneath. Very nice, indeed.