This story begins innocuously enough-- with the launch of a perfume. The 2012 debut of Chanel Jersey touched off an upsurge of smack talk delivered by cultural pundits who, for as little they know about New Jersey, ought at least to have known better. (Note to Simon Doonan: I care not a whit if your husband hails from Bridgeton; you are not qualified to judge us, you insufferable prick.) Now, as both a local and a perfumista, I am heartily tired of hearing people make jokes about how much New Jersey "stinks". Pride moved me to declare my abiding love for my home state... and so I wrote and posted the following essay.
It began life as a review of Superworldunknown, LUSH perfumer Simon Constantine's affectionate olfactory portrait of a seaside carnival town. It turned out to be more than merely a product critique-- and while a more measured statement of allegiance may yet show up on this blog one fine day, I still feel proud to have publicly strapped my heart to my sleeve on behalf of the Garden State.
Four months after the Chanel Jersey debacle, Superstorm Sandy devastated the mid-Atlantic coastline from Cape May to Montauk. My home county suffered widespread destruction from the wind and tide... yet it seemed to me that few people beyond our region actually knew or cared about the disaster. (Wherefore wert thou, Simon Doonan, in our hour of darkest need? Dining in the dark?) Already stunned by the storm's aftereffects on my community (which had already been long beset by some of the worst levels of unemployment and homelessness in our history), I felt frankly shocked by the offhanded reactions of some of my perfumista peers to this disaster. Less than two weeks afterward, more than few blithely chirped at me, "But certainly everything is back to normal by now, isn't it?" The harsh future we faced could not penetrate such sunny ignorance, where what is out-of-sight stays blissfully out-of-mind.
Anyhoo. We knuckled down, buckled up, and started the painful task of reconstruction. Tourist revenue being so indispensable to our county, it seemed natural that the Seaside Boardwalks be rebuilt immediately. Our beaches were reopened for one summer only-- and then on September 12th of this year, a stray spark caused by Sandy-damaged electrical wiring turned into an inferno which completely destroyed the boardwalks it had cost us $3 million to rebuild. Fun Town Pier, the Berkeley Sweet Shoppe, Kohr's Frozen Custard, and dozens of other landmarks of our collective childhood-- all gone.
So for what it's worth, I'm posting this cri de coeur once more. We who live at the Jersey Shore will never again see it as we once knew it, but the memories we keep fixed in our minds will have to serve as our homing beacon, drawing our thoughts to a faraway shore now forever out of reach.
There are places only locals know-- down beach, away from the noise and flash, away from the Boardwalk lights, away from the unruly tourists and curbside fistfights. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the invaders own this patch of oceanfront.
Let them have it. We know another shore.
Out here, the water is as clear and green as glass. It spreads over the sand like a sheet of crystal laminate, edging the strandline with foam, dispersing polished pink pebbles and quartz diamonds amongst glossy black devil's purses and violet-edged fragments of shell. Out here, peace lies so deep even the gulls cease their crying, lulled into silence by the waves' white noise. The sound and fury left behind are not exactly forgotten-- just made moot, signifying nothing.
Even in the winter, the sound of a perfect summer song coming over a handheld transistor puts all the past season's wrongs to right:
To dance beneath the diamond skyThe scent of warm cotton candy, fresh-pulled saltwater taffy, and Kohr's orangeade reaches you from far away, borne down the beach and dispersed by a kind breeze. All traces of rank and rude humanity have been mercifully filtered out; what's left in this accord -- composed of equal parts spun sugar, sea breeze and sunlight -- is all summers, past, present, future, real, imagined, hoped-for, lost and found again.
with one hand waving free
silhouetted by the sea
circled by the circus sands
with all memory and fate
driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today
As you stand at the edge of all this beauty, your love finally requited, a new song comes across the radio and brings a curious pang to your heart:
There's no need for living in the pastEach summer the tide comes in, strewing trash; each winter, the tide recedes again, and we are washed clean. We reclaim what is ours: a beach that belongs only to us, an innocence no interloper can touch.
Now I've found good loving gonna make it last
I tell the others don't bother me
Cause when they look at you they don't see what I see
No I don't listen to their wasted lines
Got my eyes wide open and I see the signs
They don't know about us
They've never heard of love
Scent Elements: Lemon, lime, neroli, juniper, petitgrain, ylang-ylang, cacao absolute, rose absolute, cassia, Australian sandalwood, tonka, vanilla, benzoin
Sample purchased from LUSH.. Quotes from "Mr. Tambourine Man" / BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME (1966), lyrics/music: Bob Dylan; "They Don't Know" / YOU BROKE MY HEART IN 17 PLACES (1983), performed by Tracy Ullman, lyrics/music: Kirsty MacColl.