June 2021


4709; Two too low.

Sometimes it is in random moments that things said to you years ago make sense.

For example, I recall once listening to my paternal grandmother complain about the address of her apartment in New York City.

“I’m so disappointed in whomever picked the house number. Why 4709? It could have been named after a cologne!”

Or something to that effect; the conversation was at least 20 years ago.

I had no idea what she was talking about. If I had to guess, it was said while I was visiting her at her apartment back in spring of 1999, but this point is unclear to me. What I will say is that the apartment was the same apartment that my father had grown up in. It was a perfectly decent apartment and I imagine that rent control made it an exceptionally good value, even if it was not in Manhattan.

It was one of those things that she said that I probably promptly forgot about, never to think about it again.

Until last year when I read Brendan Nash’s The Landlady, a novel set in 1923 Berlin. Buried deep in his excellent book, one of the characters wears 4711 cologne.

It was that moment it clicked: my grandmother loved perfume – I remember that when I was a small child she once gave me a bottle of Aspen cologne for Christmas. I was quite young at the time, probably way too young to be given cologne.

However, presents from my paternal grandparents often carried not so subtle messages – like the men’s hairbrush set. I would guess that the last hairbrush that I owned was, uh, the one I was given when I was about 9 years old.

Being a curious fellow, I did a bit more research: 4711 cologne is still on the market – so I coughed up a few euros and ordered myself a bottle.

Honestly, it smells of my grandmother.

It is not the only bottle of cologne or perfume in my current collection: I have bottles of Joop Jump, Tommy, and Secret Craving (Victoria’s Secret).

Ultimately, I rarely, if ever, wear scents: I tend to think it is rude to wear scents at the office and I do not go to places with people where it occurs to me that wearing a scent would be fun and/or a good idea.

I suppose this represents a generational shift of sorts: the values of my paternal grandparents essentially reflected the era in which they lived.

The status symbols they thought were important also reflected that era: my grandmother would wear this (I presume real) fur coat in winter – as a kid I thought it was fantastic and so cozy to hug. In the last decade, I have seen fur coats being worn by people who are entitled to wear fur coats, people who have come upon the fur in a way that I consider to be ethical and reasonable – but I cannot imagine a scenario where somebody living in New York City today could walk a block in a real fur coat without being shamed.

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