Sweet smell of Ker-ching !
"The Sweet smell of Ker-ching ! "
On Saturday 22nd December 2001, Bloomingdale's did no business at all.
The cash registers were unopened since the paper rolls of coins and
notes had been put in at 8.00 am, ready to surrender change to
customers. Not a card was swiped, no cheques had been helpfully printed
for the customer to sign. This was true of the entire store, nobody had
sold a goddamn thing that day.
And the store wasn't closed for staff training or fumigation or any
other thing that could have prevented the usual Christmas rush. The
doors were open to the public and the public were coming in. It wasn't
that Bloomingdale's were being viciously undercut by a nearby
There was no reason whatsoever that anyone could ascertain why all of
the customers who came in just thumbed through the racks, holding
things up and looking in the tall sheets of mirrors, picked up shoes
and sighed before putting them back down.
They wandered aimlessly. They shrugged, they walked towards the
counter, then walked away again. They sighed. Nobody bought a goddamn
* * *
It was November. Stacey was, as usual, looking through the Help Wanted
section of the newspaper and pushing some pancakes around on her plate.
The nails on her right hand were bitten and ragged. She did this when
she was worried. She'd been worrying since about March that year.
Things were not good. Things, in fact, were bad.
But wait, here was something. An old vaudeville joke had caught her
"My dog has no nose... Enterprising company seeks someone with no sense
of smell (anosmia). Good pay, fun times. Call Vacillation
At last, Stacey's life was looking more Capra than Kafka.
* * *
Vacillation Conglomerates turned out to be two guys in a rented office
downtown, just upstairs from a pole-dancing club. Stacey wondered about
applying there, if things didn't work out upstairs. She'd done a little
dancing in the past, but she never had the temperament to put up with
all the leering you get from the bosses.
The two guys were Ralphie the Chemist (he always specified Ralph-ie,
because he didn't want anyone to call him Rafe, like that poncey
English actor guy) and Average Tony (so called because he was Italian
and his circle of friends already included a Nice Tony, Fat Tony, Big
Tony, Mean Tony and so forth. Average Tony had no standout
Ralphie the Chemist had a scrawny looking beard and eyes that seemed
kinda freaked out by the world. Average Tony was someone you'd never
pick out in a line-out, he was someone you'd see twenty of on the way
to the store to pick up some milk, only much more so.
There wasn't a computer or anything in the office, just loads of flasks
and bottles of chemicals. Some of them really tiny.
Stacey's first thought was 'drugs' and her second thought was 'so
What she couldn't figure, is why this geeky-looking Chemist and his
bland friend would want to pay someone just because they had no sense
* * *
They explained it to her.
Turned out, Ralphie really was a Chemist. With a degree and everything.
He wasn't interested in drugs, he was interested in emotion-inducing
scents. He'd been sacked from Ralph Lauren ("at least he knew how to
pronounce his name right, I've gotta give him that") and Calvin Klein
("that guy should stick to underwear. Scents, he knows nothing about")
because he produced scents that had top-notes that did exactly what the
fragrance is supposed to hint at being able to deliver.
"Turns out, that wasn't what they wanted, " said Average Tony, "They're
supposed to make you feel sexy, but what Ralphie was giving them was
more, ah, overt. "
"Nice word, " said Ralphie, "Y'see, basically, my scent was Viagra for
the nose. I even wrote to Pfizer, to see if they wanted to market a
Viagra fragrance, but they weren't interested. "
This was a lot of talk about fragrance for a girl who had no sense of
smell and Stacey told them so. The two hundred bucks they counted into
her hand to hold her attention while they finished the story did the
trick. They had all the attention she could gather together.
Ralphie had become bitter about big business, globalisation and all
that, and had hooked up with Average Tony at a Naomi Klein
book-signing. Who knew why Average Tony was there ? He didn't say
anything. This was Ralphie's story. They had both decided that they
wanted to do something to get back at corporate America.
And as luck would have it, Ralphie had accidentally hit on a blend of
fragrances that would allow them to do just that.
* * *
"Here it is, " said Ralphie, putting a bottle onto the table. It was
black and square, a ridged bottle with a gold stopper.
"This is just Xeryus, " said Stacey, "Someone made this already. My
ex-boyfriend used to wear this. "
"It's just the bottle, " said Average Tony, "My sister gave me a bottle
for Christmas last year. The stuff is in the bottle. "
"This is Indecision, " said Ralphie the Chemist, "A fragrance for a man
or a woman. One whiff of this and you can kiss goodbye to any ability
to reach a decision for a good two, three hours. "
"Powerful stuff, " said Average Tony, "That's why we need you. "
They had tested the fragrance and it was quite clear that once wearing
it, it would infect people within quite a wide radius, and that it
really did completely inhibit that part of the brain that reached
conclusions and took actions.
The first time Ralphie had used it, the two of them had been unable to
even get out of the office, instead, just sitting there for two hours
throwing pencils at the ceiling fan and when they ran out of pencils,
"It's too good, " said Average Tony.
The plan was to go into the store, with one of them wearing the
fragrance and infect everyone else with it, thus meaning that nobody
would be able to complete a transaction. Start small like that, but
work up to disrupting entire malls, maybe even Wall Street. Problem
was, as soon as they applied the fragrance, it was impossible to
actually execute the plan. Ralphie couldn't decide whether to get a cab
or go by train. And Average Tony, who was supposed to guide him, was
infected as soon as Ralphie came within twenty feet.
* * *
And that's why, on Saturday 22 December, amongst the many customers who
were wandering around, unable to decide between the navy or the dark
blue, or even which credit card to pay with, stood a woman with
well-bitten fingernails holding gently onto the arm of a geeky-looking
man whom everybody thought smelt just lovely.