Perfume: a Restaurateur’s Rant
Lord love ‘em, but my parents were squares. They didn’t drink or curse. They didn’t holler at us kids to come for dinner; my mother would knock softly on our bedroom doors and quietly invite us to the table or, if we were playing outside in the ravine, she would ring a little brass bell. Once (as my mother told me many years after the fact), they had indignantly left a party when someone sparked a doob. My mom went to the beauty salon every Saturday for a “wash and set”. My dad wore a fedora. My parents listened to James Last, Andy Williams and Herb Alpert, and not in the winking, retro way that an Ossington Avenue hipster dive bar might spin Whipped Cream by the Tijuana Brass on throwback Thursday. When my father came home one day with a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, we kids almost keeled off the Danish teak settee onto the orange shag rug in utter stupefaction. Mind you, it was about ten years after the album had been released and I guess about 1980 my dad was finally coming to the realization that big band was well and truly dead. When I was a teenager, I didn’t want my future kids to think I was square. I wanted to be like my best friend’s mom who walked around barefoot with a flower in her belly button, singing Edgar Winter, on her way to break into someone’s backyard to go skinny-dipping.
As most intelligent, inquiring, reasonable people do, my parents rounded out. Or I grew up. Or some combination of the two. We boycotted South African products to protest apartheid and Chilean produce to support farm workers. My mother refused to vote in any election where there wasn’t at least one female candidate on the ticket. Later in their lives, they even pleasantly surprised us with their support of marriage equality, affirmative action, abortion rights and the legalization of marijuana. After a trip to the UK, my dad came home extolling the virtues of a band he had discovered, and discovered he liked, Oasis.
I guess it is the human condition to think that your parents are squares and to resolve that, when you grow up, you won’t be one. I try to plug in with my own children. I have a smart phone, a computer, an iPod and an iPad. I try to remember to text my kids rather than email them because, as my son told me, “no one emails anymore”. I even text them to come downstairs for dinner (the modern day brass bell). Once, when one of my sons ignored my first couple of texts, I wrote a third text in capitals. “No need to shout mom!” he replied. I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger, Soundcloud, WordPress and Snapchat. We often read the same books, listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows or see the same movies, sometimes simultaneously, but in different rooms and on different devices. Whatever. I indicate to my children my willingness to discuss any subject, in any level of detail, at any time, with anyone, without judgement or discomfort. But, of course, and no matter how hard I try, being a parent makes one a square by definition, whether you have flower in your belly button or not.
My youngest son tells me his friends say I’m the “mean mom”. I am flattered. This means that there are rules in our house and high expectations for behaviour, both for my children and their friends. I am the mean mom notwithstanding that I regularly feed a crowd of hulking, sulking, ravenous teenaged boys. I am the mean mom even though I let my kids have house parties and allow their friends to “crash” when they miss the last bus home. I hope that having their friends over for dinner and permitting them to have parties will teach my kids about hospitality and responsibility. When one of my older son’s friends broke a chair during a party, I told my son that he had to pay for its repair. “But that chair was really old!” he complained. “Yes”, I said, “that’s why it is called an antique!”
I came home early from work one evening and found my youngest son and some of his friends in the front hall of my house, getting ready to leave for a school dance. I barely registered the carnage of plates and pizza crusts in the kitchen behind them, the hair gel and the artfully half-tucked shirts before I was overcome by their competing clouds of cologne. “Cheezus boys!” I squawk. “Did you bathe in the stuff?” The boys laugh, knowingly or nervously, I’m not sure. “No, seriously, I’m not trying to be funny here”, I say, “What’s up with the cologne?” Because I am a parent and therefore a square, and because I am the mean mom, the boys roll their eyes and shrug. “Let me tell you something about cologne and perfume”, I say, “it should not make your eyes water. It should not make you gag. Someone should only notice how nice you smell when they embrace you.” I ask my son, “just out of curiosity, where do you apply cologne?” He answers, “on my wrists, on my chest, on my neck and in my hair”. “Where the hell do you learn this stuff?” I ask. “But girls like it”, my son says. “No”. I say. “They totally don’t like it. You just think they like it because the TV commercials say girls like it. Trust me. They don’t like it. You know what girls like? They like a boy who smells clean, like he had a shower. A boy who smells of soap and shampoo and maybe fabric softener. Seriously, nothing smells better than Gain fabric softener. And besides, cologne just covers up your natural pheromones.” The boys find this hilarious. Because I am a parent I am not only a square but, apparently, I also know nothing about romance, love and sex. How does my own child not see the irony in that? “Ugh, mom”, says my son, “you’re gross. You don’t know anything about girls. And even if you did, I’m not gonna ask for advice from MY MOM!” And off they go, smirking and chuckling. Even though it is winter, I do not close the door immediately. I leave my coat on and wait for the noxious fumes to dissipate.
My favourite table at our restaurant is in the back corner, in a little alcove near the kitchen, farthest from the front door, and away from the clamour of the bar and the computer. The table is roomy and well-spaced from its neighbour. Many of our regular customers request this table in particular when they make a reservation and, because I think it is the prime table, I usually seat our first customers here. One evening, two middle-aged women complained when I directed them to this table. “Oh no”, one of them said, “I don’t want to sit here. It’s too close to the kitchen and I don’t want to smell food cooking.” How bizarre is that? Who goes to a restaurant and doesn’t want to smell delicious food? In fact, who even bothers to eat if they don’t want to smell what they are eating? The kicker was, of course, that I was drowning in this woman’s perfume. There are concert halls, office buildings, movie theatres and other public places that request that patrons refrain from wearing perfume or cologne in deference to the sensitivities of others. I’ve never heard of a restaurant instituting a similar policy, but I’m looking into it…
Sadly, it isn’t just teenaged boys who don’t understand that cologne and perfume should quietly entice not violently overpower. Some people wear so much scent I feel like I am being asphyxiated without being actually touched. Regular applications of soap and water should be enough to tackle most people’s personal funk and, if not, perhaps a visit to the doctor rather than the perfume counter is in order.