Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nosy Interview: Rebecca Scherm

Rebecca in Solar Flare from a Sharper Sun, © Solar Dynamics Observatory/AIA, NASA

Rebecca sent me a delightful e-mail last year (after discovering Nosy Girl through her reading of Alyssa Harad) wondering whether I was still collecting nosy interviews. It was a fine question as this interview space has been woefully under-utilized! But let Rebecca serve as signal flare, launching us back into more regular postings of Nosy Interviews. (I've missed them.) Rebecca's debut novel, Unbecoming, comes out next week and after reading her responses you'll probably join me in jonesing to read it. While we wait, let's visit Rebecca's website and follow her on Twitter @chezscherm

What do you like to smell?
I like bracing smells —Aquavit, grapefruit peel, black pepper—and green-grungy smells like moss and damp bark. I love the smell of Sun Bum sunblock, which has the best “postcard from the beach” memory-scent. I love the smell of my gentleman when he has just come in from playing basketball—the fresh sweat of single-minded exuberance. The timothy hay my rabbit eats. Saltwater. Cilantro. And what I sometimes think of as cellar smells: cardboard, wet rocks.

When I was a teenager, I liked all those blue-bottle “clean” scents—Gap Dream and any lotion called “calm” or “serenity.” But one day I was watching a maxi-pad commercial on TV and when they poured the blue juice, I conflated it with all those blue bottles and that was the end of that. Now that I’m older, I guess I like to smell a little dirty.

The first not-food smells I remember loving are grass clippings left on a lawn and the small hardware store, then called Botkin’s, where I grew up. Concrete, dirt, fertilizer, unknown greases and glues. I love the smell of wet paint as you roll it on the wall (the sound, too). Murphy’s oil soap. I love the smell of black mulch and cedar mulch. These are all home-owning smells, aren’t they? I can’t explain it. I don’t own a house. Maybe these are my smells of childhood happiness—the scents of playing outside and then coming home, together.

What do you smell like? 
I was an unlikely candidate for perfume. I turn my nose up at “fancy” things, ads that quantify sex appeal, the notion that you can purchase something that represents you better than you can.

What happened was that I was in Manhattan and needing to pee so I went into Bergdorf Goodman, somewhere I only ever go to pee. On my way out, a man waved a fuchsia glass bottle at me and swore I would love it. Instead of just saying no thanks and moving on, I told him that I didn’t like fruity smells. I may have been prickly. I didn’t like how he’d pegged me. Then he asked me what I did like, and I stopped and said “grass clippings.” I guess I thought that would end the conversation. Instead, he leapt to a bottle at the other end of the counter, and I let him spray it on me. I had no idea what I was smelling, only that my skin smelled rebellious—languid, arrogant, humid, and green. The word I always want to use for it is “humpy.” I felt almost stoned.

That’s how it starts, right? I felt transformed, like this perfume had given me some new quiet power. Later, when I held out my wrist to a friend, she recoiled. To her it smelled like a rich old man offering to show us his etchings. I couldn’t believe it! I second-guessed myself and smelled hundreds of perfumes that weekend, but everything else seemed sweet or powdery or like a red scarf thrown over a lamp. But I couldn’t buy Humpy. For one thing, it was $300—which didn’t jibe at all, since to me it smelled like drunken skinny-dipping in a slippery, algae-skinned watering hole. $300 was out of the question, both really and philosophically. It made so mad that I liked it.

A month later, I bought a sample vial on the internet. My feelings about it have changed since that first spell of mad lust. What we have is a summer thing. It’s only Humpy when it’s hot outside, when it mixes with sun and sweat. In the cold, it smells moneyed, and I hate it and don’t get it at all. 

But that was my first bite of the apple. I know I'm still at the beginning of this, and I only like perhaps one perfume in a hundred, but the odds just stoke my appetite. I have to find them. When I do, I feel this rush of both revelation and recognition, as though I’ve found something I was trying to say but could not find words for.

To finally answer your question: I smell of Annick Goutal L’Eau d’Hadrien and Voyage d'Hermes when I’m feeling nice and Creed Original Vetiver (yep, that’s Humpy) when I’m not. I still have only sample vials. But the scent of my truest heart is Wild Hunt, from CB I Hate Perfume. In it, I feel profoundly mine