8/16/18

Summer Vacation Report, 2018


My kitchen.

I'm nearing the end of a two week vacation, and learned a few things while relaxing. Last week I heard a podcast featuring Chandler Burr, in which he commented on the perfume industry, specifically the flourishing niche industry. He offered a few interesting tidbits of information about perfume, the cost of raw materials vs packaging expenses, etc, all of which was very interesting, but he also said something I found particularly disheartening - that he didn't know why, after the great financial crisis of 2008, the niche industry had burgeoned into the success we see today.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the success of the luxury market rides the wave of everyone else's economic hardship. The Martin Shkrelis of the world made out like bandits when the markets collapsed. They had been betting on people's misery for years, offering subprime predatory loans to folks who had no financial acumen beyond what they owed for lunch, and when collective ignorance threatened America's house of cards, the wealthy became wealthier, many in mere seconds.

Now, I'm not claiming that Burr is one of these robber baron elites, nor am I saying that he is intentionally obfuscating the correlation between plummeting middle class retirement accounts and rising luxury boutique profits. I'm saying that Burr, as an economist, should probably note that in times of financial hardship for the middle class, a curious and often remarkable uptick in luxury spending occurs. Likewise, he ought to mention that when the middle class begin seeing personal gains in an improving economy, luxury sales begin to suffer. It may behoove Mr. Burr to ask the question: why does this happen repeatedly?

In my opinion, he should ask how the ebb and flow of our economy parallels movements in luxury fragrance markets, and then offer reasoned answers. Simply expressing incredulity at what we've all witnessed in the past decade makes him look like he's just another armchair economist, which would make him like me. And I seriously doubt that I'm anywhere close to the level of Burr's understanding of economics. So if he's going to ponder the imponderables of the rich and fabulous niche industry, he should highlight the disturbing trends of its success. His comments on the podcast disappointed me, because I expect more from him as an economist (a real economist), and everyone should expect more from him when he discusses the economics of luxury perfumes.

This brings me to, well, me. I'm middle class, clinging to the rungs of that ladder rather perilously at times. Sure, I bought a house, and I have a luxury car (admittedly an older, often mechanically problematic luxury car, with incredible depreciation), and I work a full-time unionized job in the education field. I make enough money to pay my bills, eat well, and occasionally purchase a fragrance or two. But I also live in Connecticut, a flailing state with corruption so endemic to its litany of financial woes, that even the most conscientious citizen is burdened beyond belief. Taxes here are killing us, and there is no end in sight.

When my vacation began, I was staring at the expense of a potentially bank-account killing car repair. I had a serious issue with a wheel bearing on the front driver side, and given the nature of GM design flaws, and taking my past repair history into account, I wondered if I was looking at another summer of Ramen and rocking chairs. Fortunately the repair was relatively inexpensive, nowhere near as bad as I imagined. This enabled me to turn my attention to a few personal projects.

As a Connecticut Yankee, my lifestyle demands that I drive. Not just a little, mind you - a lot. I average twenty thousand miles a year, on a slow year. Thus, car maintenance is a primary concern, and learning how to maintain my own vehicle becomes a necessity. Not only does CT require me to truck hundreds of miles a week, but it offers precious few competent mechanics. I'm not joking about that. Fully one out of every ten mechanics knows what they're doing. My next door neighbor is a licensed mechanic who works from his property. Recently he left the keys to one of his client's vehicles in the ignition overnight, and the car was stolen and totaled. Either he forgot he lives in a city, or he's just a dimwit - either way, he's pretty typical of the mechanics I've crossed paths with in this state.

I've been spending almost a week now learning how to drain and flush my radiator and replace my thermostat, which in a 3.8L Series II engine is fairly straightforward and easy to do. I got around to doing it on Tuesday, with success. I already regularly change my own oil, which a five year old could do with my car. But my responsibilities don't end there. I also need to clean the throttle body, and replace the upper intake manifold plenum and gaskets before the inevitable happens, and antifreeze bleeds into the engine oil. The former project is going to be difficult, and I'll probably end up just replacing the throttle body altogether, since GM engineers have a sadistic love for designing things that cannot be cleaned and serviced easily. And since removing the throttle body exposes the upper intake, I may as well just make it all one big project and replace both at the same time.

Since this project is fairly huge for an amateur with minimal experience working on engines, I'm bucking up for it in a big way, and planning on tackling it during my Christmas break later this year. If I'm successful with these repairs, hopefully it will extend the life of my already ancient car by another three to five years, which is exactly the amount of time needed to pay off my student loans, and free up the funds needed to finance a new car.

Meanwhile I'm buttoning up a few things in my house. Today I'm finally sealing and polishing my kitchen floor with industrial Zep products, and having flashbacks to my college days as a janitor. I installed a Congoleum tile floor earlier this year with the help of my father, and that alone was a difficult project that spanned two years. A quick summary: in the early spring of 2016 I bought the last of a discontinued commercial-grade Congoleum tile, the kind installed in schools and hospitals, and a couple months later began the arduous process of removing the asbestos coverup job of the home's former owners. Egregiously, they had installed ugly white glue-on tiles to hide the 9"X9" asbestos (or suspiciously asbestos-like) original kitchen tiles.

The worst part about taking up those stick-on tiles was removing the glue, a hideous, waterproof, invasive material that managed to taint every corner of the house with its tack. But remove it we did, and then the equally ugly original floor tile sat exposed for eighteen months, sending its friable asbestos particles everywhere I eat, sleep, and blog. (I'm scheduled to be diagnosed with asbestosis sometime around 2030.) However, the new Congoleum floor, which is almost as toxic as asbestos, is now firmly cemented into place, and as I type this, I wait as Zep's Wet Look Floor Polish dries its first of four coats.

Why am I reporting all of this to you? It's August, I'm on vacation, a new school year awaits me less than four days from now, and it's the silly season, folks. Unfortunately for readers looking to learn new and amazing things about perfume, my trajectory this month struggles to stay on message for this blog. However, I'm working on it; later this month I'm hoping to acquire a bottle of Irisch Moos EDT, which I suspect will get a good review. Until then, I'm pretty busy watching mechanics go through what seems like an endless series of unimpeachable steps toward repairing Buicks, hoping to learn as much as possible, and I'm also busy around the house.

To end on an up note, my neighbor gave away a Weber grill, and I've been enjoying some terrific BBQ all season long. You're all invited to come by and have some, but for those of you who don't live in Connecticut, that would mean you'd have to come here. And put bluntly, I can't in good conscience tell you to do that. So I take it back. Don't come by. More food for me.


6 comments:

  1. I work in the education industry too, and have also spent my summer entrenched in home repair work, so I can relate... Fragrance has mostly been in the background, but here are a few notes:
    - I purchased one of those crazy, 16 OZ bottles of Caron Pour un Homme. I have to comment on the bottle design here, as it basically resembles a 4 OZ bottle blown up to enormous proportions (cap included)... I feel a bit like Tom Thumb when I reach for it, but that is kind of delightful, really. This has provided a marvelous dumb reach for summer, as I can just slap the stuff on without thinking in the morning or before bed.
    - It turns out there's a Kiehl's stall at the Portland airport. I'm not a huge musk guy, but I wanted something unobtrusive to imprint with while traveling in California (Big Bear/LA/Joshua Tree/Palm Desert/Palm Springs), so this was it. It is great stuff... Very much the kind of musk that was popular when I was a boy in the 1970's, a real reference musk, with soapy and scalpy aspects coexisting nicely, and very well put together through the drydown.
    - For whatever reason I am fond of wearing sandalwood-type fragrances in hot weather, so for the second year in a row, I wore a lot of Habit Rouge in hardware stores (the drydown actually reminds me a little of fresh sawdust.) I also picked up a decant of the original Egoïste, and cannot disagree more with you about that one -- it knocked my socks off.
    I hope to pick up a bottle eventually, but in the meantime, recently stumbled across Proraso's red aftershave, which has a great sandalwood accord, the more intense and fleeting topnotes of which strongly resemble the Chanel product.

    A final note: I too have had to pull up dubious floors, scrape weird industrial glues and deal with the possibility of asbestos being present in damned near everything (a former owner of our place was a volunteer fire chief in the 1960's...) so I feel your pain. Just be sure to have a nice party when it's all done -- maybe Labour Day weekend?


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    1. Glad you like the Caron and Egoïste, John! I enjoy the Caron and probably would enjoy Egoïste, but really never felt the need to own a bottle. Hard to say why, beyond what I've already said.

      I do want to give the Kiehl's a try. I meant to try it ten years ago and never got around to it.

      Labor Day party? Good idea.

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  2. The Buick V6(3800) is well known for having a faulty upper intake manifold gasket. The other Chevy design V6(old 2.8, 3100,3400 ect.) is known for bad lower intake manifold gaskets. I don't know what repair costs are in the north east, but here that would be a 400-700 dollar job depending on where you go.

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    1. Yeah, I know. It's about twice that much up here for repairs. Fortunately the transmission is a relatively inexpensive fix, and parts for the 3.8 aren't that bad price wise.

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  3. We are on our annual month-long August sojourn until the tourist season starts in September. Bought some fragrance goodies at Delhi duty-free but spent most of our $ on makeup/clothing/gifts for my niece's BIG FAT INDIAN WEDDING! And what a 3 week long celebration it has been- complete with sumptuous 36 course feasts (we're talking 1,000kgs of lamb for 1,000 guests), numerous fancy dress obligations, redonkulous displays of jewelry & ostentatiousness, tedious protocols, recurring folderol, meaningless etiquette, and elaborate ceremonies so archaic & esoteric no one even remembers WHY they are followed and performed. And of course the usual assortment family blowouts, tantrums, & hissy fits. Whew. I need a vacation but next we have Eid so many more sheep must die and family relations may possibly be restored?
    Anyhoo- my kitchen is white, green, and yellow too! Marble is cheaper than Congoleum here in South Asia so my floor & countertops are the most luscious green marble (perfectly bookmarked because labor is cheap here too!) Skilled cabinetmakers are a rarity though so my kitchen just has melamine shelves.
    On luxury purchases- Bizarrely, the sales in my art gallery went up during the Great Recession and only lagged during the double earthquakes of 2012.I don't know what to make of it but my clientele is now split equally between Westerners & the ever burgeoning & newly monied middle class of both India & China!

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