Stuff I've Been Into (Pandemic Update)

This is what a 228 year-old book looks like.

2020. What a boring year.

Will anything happen in 2020? I expected more from the end of the decade. It's not like the pandemic, the police killings, The Chaz Autonomous Zone, Kim Jong Un's evil-but-kinda-hot sister, the rioting and looting, the wayward political campaigns, the blazing west-coast wildfire smoke that is somehow blotting out the sun in Connecticut, the death of a Supreme Court Justice, and the chaos at home and in the workplace for millions of people is the least bit interesting. It's September. This year had better put something on the table. Let's go, Father Time. Put down the nine iron and pull yourself away from your daily golf game with the Grim Reaper and Joe Biden, and give us something we can really sink our pearly whites into - NOT talking soups with winged mammals in them. But anything else is welcome. Anything else.

I've been getting into some weird things this year. Much of this is the result of coping mechanisms. Some of these things are good; some are probably controversially good, but I turn thirty-nine this year. My youth is gone. My young adulthood has been winding down for the last ten years. I'm entering middle age. I just don't give a fuck anymore. I've learned that life isn't about maintaining a self-imposed status-quo of "safe" and "clean" living; we breathe, eat, and drink our experiences for the pleasures they bring us, rather than whatever moral edification they might impart. We must all abide normal levels of modesty and restraint (civilization depends on it), but as the clock ticks onward we must also probe our collective consciousness by whatever means necessary, and spur our life force toward goals only we can set.

I'm into cheap wetshaver frags again. I've always been into them, but they're so cheap and easy to like that they keep my spirits up. Here's a "preview of coming attractions:" finally, after a decade of procrastinating, I purchased a bottle of Pinaud Citrus Musk. A full review is coming, but here I'll just say I really enjoy it, especially as an aftershave. It's not like I have any illusions about it. I know it smells cheap. But cheap citrus that smells like a cross between furniture polish and hard candy is catnip for guys. Here's to hoping Pinaud never goes out of business.

As many of my readers already know, I've begun exploring the benefits of cannabis. Marijuana isn't fully legal in Connecticut, but hemp flower is. That means THC is off the table, but CBD (Cannabidiol) sativa strains are fair game. I suffer from a couple of chronic physical maladies that frequently throw my body into a state of distress so unbearable that my mind transforms into a lump of overripe Monte Enebro by the third day. Many people use CBD oil - a couple drops under the tongue yields countless benefits - but my mouth is in a condition best suited for the hero in an eighteenth century picaresque novel. Bad gums, dodgy teeth. Modern dental accoutrements have kept the teeth in the gums, and the gums in my head, but rumor has it liquid CBD oil can cause oral cancer, so I'm given to smoking it instead.

The benefits are incredible. I was able to stave off a festering infection simply by taking a few tokes, and saved myself a month of antibiotics in the process. Freebasing CBD helps me sleep better. My blood pressure is lowered. My mind is cleared. My body feels great. Stress dissipates. I used to think potheads were nuts for spinning Big Pharma conspiracies, but having used hemp for a few months, the tin foil is firmly affixed to my crown. Still, there's always a downside. And the downside here is pretty obvious: I'm smoking something. My lungs aren't thrilled with it. It's nowhere near as bad as tobacco. One cigarette puts me out of commission for two days. Hemp smoke is much smoother, softer, easier to breathe. But it's still not wonderful for respiration in the long term. Therefore I severely moderate my use, and have relegated my sativa habit to weekends with lengthy breaks between smoke sessions. The brand I use recently came out with CBD gummy bears, and I plan on seeing if edibles work as well as hemp joints and cigarettes. Hopefully they do. 

In tandem with this interest is a fascination with "weed-tubers," or YouTube personalities whose channels deal expressly with marijuana and all things cannabis. I've discovered a few things by watching them, not the least of which is that female potheads on YT tend to be incredibly hot. Prime examples on my subscription list include Koala Puffs, Silenced Hippie, and Bryscia Dos TV. Koala Puffs is particularly impressive in that she inhales more smoke than air, yet doesn't seem to worry about caking her lungs with plant resin. I guess when you're in your mid twenties you can live like that. Silenced Hippie is almost as prolific a puffer, while Bryscia takes cool baby tokes on her blunts and pontificates about life. I'm struck most by how Bryscia appears at first glance to be what Dr. Philip A. Oliva would call "Basic," yet when I actually listen at length (and attend) to her ramblings, it becomes clear that she's a deeper thinker than I am. 

Another thing I've been engaged in to pass time is reading. Now, I'm not a big reader. I enjoy habitually perusing nonfiction subject matter, mostly news, current events, special interest articles, fragrance blogs. Books are a little tougher for me to stick with because I have an attention deficit for anything longer than two thousand words. Nevertheless, this summer I was intrigued by an eBay merchant who wished to part with a compilation of sermons by Hugh Blair, an eighteenth century Scottish minister. He wasn't asking much for it, considering the edition for sale was published in 1792, so I bought it. It has been on my bookshelf for the past two months, and for the first time in at least a century, it is not gathering dust. I am reading it. And I am loving it. It's falling apart little by little every time I sit down with it, mostly crumbling from the spine (the title flaked off today), but it is still in the original leather binding, so no surprises there. Biggest lesson gleaned from Minister Blair so far: religion and fealty to God is what makes modern man civilized. There are passages in his sermons that are eerily relevant to today's many social problems. Buying a 228 year-old book changed my life.

I am a member of the Church of Eternalism, which houses the believers in everlasting human life. We do not die. We shed bodies. We find the next womb. We are born. We live as people who have changed, but who have risen again the same. Death is a cycle, not an end, an endless procession of Jack Torrances endlessly tending to the Overlook Hotel. We've always been the caretakers. We've always been here. Science calls it "evolution," but how did we evolve? Consider the praying mantis. How do its cells know to go green and mimic tree leaves? No scientist has ever articulated an answer. The mantis prays to nature. The line is always, "organisms evolve." Sure, Jan. Organisms have what I call "interlife memory." Our bodies carry their memories over from previous bodies in previous lives, stacking the experiences and inclinations and weaknesses into what eventually becomes the Divine.

I'm mentioning this because I'm drawn to things that have nothing to do with me. I'm obsessed with the 1940s and 1950s, and the midcentury aesthetic. My house is literally a recreation of that time period. I've had lucid dreams of falling from a ladder in one of NY City's inner boroughs, sometime in the late 1970s, and breaking my neck. I've seen the faces of the African American boys who found me paralyzed and unable to breathe, their eyes wide with disbelief, their mouths moving with words I can not hear, and the last thing I see is the youngest boy running off, presumably to get help. For me, this explains my deathly fear of heights, and the cancer of an organ in my neck that was removed twenty years ago. But my sensibilities go beyond the twentieth century. I'm also drawn to the eighteenth century. I obsess over eighteenth century art, eighteenth century period piece films, eighteenth century food. When I saw Blair's Sermons on eBay, I needed to own it.

Second to last but not least, there's the new thing in my refrigerator: Kedem grape juice. I don't know why, but I recently had a yen for grape juice. It's probably because I don't get enough fruit in my diet. I try, but fruit is expensive and spoils quickly, and I'm always on the go, so it's hard to do. So I went to the grocery store and perused the juice aisle. All the usual stuff - Welch's, Ocean Spray, Minute Maid - and my eyes drifted to the top shelf, where they came to rest on bottles of Kedem.

I've been vaguely familiar with Kedem my entire adult life. It's stocked in every store. It's widely regarded as the premiere American kosher wine and juice manufacturer, the stuff Jews buy without hesitation. Kedem's winery isn't as widely known as its juice outfit, but again, in Jewish communities, Kedem wine is a thing. I'm on the wagon and cannot comment on their alcoholic beverages, but I can and will comment on their flagship grape juice, "Made with Concord Grapes." I'd never tried it, though I'd always admired its oddly dull-yet-attractive label, and figured what the hell.

What the hell, indeed - this shit is incredible. When I say incredible, I mean it isn't ordinary grape juice. What made my yen for purple stuff odd is that I don't even like grape juice. That all changed when I popped the cap off Kedem's bottle (mine isn't as elegant looking as the one in the picture, but they have a few different bottle styles out there). This juice is on another level. It isn't acidic at all, and has a soft and light body, with just a hint of tang under a burst of smooth sweetness. The sugar level is there in force, but it accentuates a fruit flavor that is so pristine that I wonder how they did it. Usually with grape juice there's a harsh, somewhat metallic quality that taints the experience, but Kedem's juice manages to taste like Bacchus himself did the pressing. I've tried it from the big plastic bottle, and from the smaller glass bottle, and while glass does a superior job preserving the flavor, the plastic isn't that far behind, and is completely acceptable. Let Kedem sit on your tongue, and the retrohale of flavor is akin to a medley of blackberries and grape jam, haloed by a deep woody note.

Meanwhile Ned Lamont, in all his infinite wisdom, thought it was a fine idea to let every school in the state go back full-force. Predictably, Covid cases are back up to near 2% again. By this time next month the state will look like it did in April. This is what happens when you vote blue. Fortunately Ned is looking into it, "trying to figure out what is behind the uptick," as NPR put it. Mask up, folks. The fun's just gettin' started.


Stirling Spice (Stirling Soap Company)

The Stirling Soap Company is a trendy niche brand in Booneville, Arkansas, run by an entrepreneurial couple who exemplify the American dream. They specialize in shaving soaps, but also offer a wide range of fragrances aimed at the wetshaver community, which is where I was inspired to try their "Spice" scent. Stirling's website says it's "Our best attempt at recreating the classic Old Spice scent," and when I read that, I pulled the trigger and blind bought it. At $22 for 50 ml, it isn't super risky.

I don't regret the purchase, but do regret the fact that Stirling Spice doesn't resemble any iteration of Old Spice by Shulton or P&G. It's in the ballpark, but way outfield, as a musky, powdery amber. It's related more to Royal Copenhagen, a true powder bomb. It isn't very spicy, aside from a blast of nutmeg and clove in the top notes. There's a bitter vanilla note that cuts through the musk, and a natural oakmoss note in the base, which gives it a woody quality. I can smell the moss right off the atomizer. It's a quality extract, but I have no idea what it's doing in a supposed Old Spice clone. It makes for excellent longevity, at around seven (macho) hours, and it works in this composition. Powdery aftershaves and talcs from the 1930s and '40s come to mind when I wear it, and I think its austere nature would be great in talc form.

It's classical barbershop fare; it isn't "old-school," it's ancient. It harkens back to the Caswell-Massey Eon of Tricorn and Zizanie and Max Factor Signature, when musty pre-Nixonian ambers ruled Pangaea. I'm lukewarm on the scent, but I'll continue to explore their range. I like their aesthetic (beautiful green bottles) and their business ethic. They seem to ignore IFRA regs, which is always a good thing. They also gave me a free bar of bath soap in their new "Varen" scent, a retro fern that smells like it's 97% oakmoss. I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Revisiting Bowling Green by Geoffrey Beene

This one has been the subject of enough controversy to warrant another look. Many have questioned if the bottles being sold online are current or "new old stock" vintage that someone unearthed from a basement somewhere and inexplicably opted to sell for pennies (my 4 oz was $12 after taxes). Having just received a bottle from Amazon, I now have an answer.

My bottle is clearly not NOS or deep vintage. It's also not a weird middle-ages vintage from twelve years ago, but recent enough that there's no oakmoss in the formula, which makes it no more than five years old. It's marked with newer EA Fragrances labels on both the box and bottle, as well as several lines that read "Made in England." It's marked "eau de toilette" and the color of the liquid is medium yellow, not a rich beer gold. It doesn't have the cloth cover tied over the lid like older bottles did. This looks like a recent batch of a very good fragrance. I bought it, I received it, mystery solved.

The fragrance remains familiar, an oily-green mélange of lavender, lemon verbena, and pine, with a dash of bitter herbs and a smidge of jasmine. This bottle smells brighter and more lemon-forward than the actual vintage from the nineties that I smelled ten years ago. That vintage was darker, drier, with less lemon and more basil, an imbalance likely due to age. But it smelled generally the same as this new one.

Bowling Green is compared to Drakkar Noir, which is the reason it annoys me. Grey Flannel was groundbreaking and original, but BG is derivative. It's yet another fresh aromatic fougère, but it doesn't rely heavily on soapy dihydromyrcenol, relegating that material to a minor supporting role instead. It redeems itself by smelling overwhelmingly natural in an herbal fashion reminiscent of Italian fougères like Acqua di Selva and Pino Silvestre, with rich woody nuances and a lemon verbena note that dwarfs the one in Green Irish Tweed, and dwarfs the Empire State Building. If you like lemon verbena, this is a fragrance you should stock up on. It's lemon verbena heaven. 

Drakkar Noir waded from the Precambrian ooze of midcentury Italian fougères, a unique brew from which fougères pushed past their citrus/musky traits and evolved into more complex woody-evergreen ensembles, without losing the connective tissues of clean fruit (lemon analogs instead of straight lemon) and floral musks (honey, juniper, mint). Stuffy Anglo-centric forms of triangular lavender/musks/mosses were reinterpreted, and rudimentary blueprints for postmodern ferns were issued to western five-and-dimes in square-shouldered bottles of emerald glass.

Pierre Wargnye followed that blueprint in '82 by fusing the bushels of herbs and cypress needles in those Mediterranean classics with a huge splash of dihydroyouknowhat, creating a new breed. Four years later, an unidentified perfumer gave us Bowling Green, using a lighter hand and a much larger bushel of the same herbs and cypress notes favored thirty years prior. When everyone was cloning and reinterpreting Drakkar Noir, Beene only nodded to Wargnye's creation before breaking for the Amalfi Coast.

I loosely connect the dots from Acqua di Selva to Drakkar Noir to Bowling Green, and I think few observe the connection as I do. Some think it's crazy to suggest that AdS is a proto-Drakkar, but I submit that precious few companies have revisited the ferns of the 1950s - even the pricey niche firms have sidestepped the genre - and Bowling Green might be the only homage to them that remains.