Woe Be the Day I Discovered Scented Candles

Ah, the breeze of autumn and its Instagrammable allure. How can one resist the seductive golden sheet of sun, so soft and non-aggressive that it is unimaginable that one would get so dishonestly sunburnt after a mere hour in its embrace? What kind of hermit would barricade themselves indoors instead of heed the calling of fall, a distinguished, inviting sound of delicate crunches of leaves and thunderous hooves of humans flocking to the nearest Starbucks for its American-sweetheart autumn drink? (Pumpkin spice, whatever that is.) I mean, even with only one functional nostril you can still catch the note of low-calorie sugar underneath the beloved urban carbon monoxide. In the summer, without the assistance of AC, it would be too sweet. Sickening, even. But it’s fall now, and the minuscule drop in temperatures plus the none-too-distant promise of holidays perfumes city-dwellers’ minds with the victorious scent of permission: permission to rush to the nearest store, with even more vigor than the coffeehouse stampede, and, by Lord, bend heaven and earth to find themselves at least one scented candle. Whatever mansion, apartment, dorm room, or friend’s couch from which they have gloriously risen, they all share this seasonal obligation to swipe their cards and sniff away.

Of course, being a city dweller myself, I, too, rose valorously from my AC stupor and sprinted to the nearest Target.

The candles and scent diffusers found their home on the left-hand side of a 20-foot long aisle, resting meekly on neat shelves, innocently offering themselves for judgement and even slightly ashamed of the greasy fingerprints of previous customers who had picked them up and had so heartlessly abandoned them. I should have taken those oily prints as warning signs. But I didn’t.

There must be some fable or allegory somewhere about how man is stunned to inaction when confronted by absolute freedom of choice. If there isn’t, then I’m writing one now: it took me three whole minutes and three thousand years’ worth of human will just to direct my hand to any of the candles. The culprits were the name. Who, who was the sadistic maniac that named these things? Is it truly their heart’s deepest desire to see overhyped brains like mine frizzle and come to a standstill with the floating Mac spinning-beachball cursor? And don’t you dare tell me these names weren’t the work of evil – why else would anyone put three random words of fruits, wood types, and adjectives describing the qualities of leather in a single, coma-less phrase and slap it in a pretty font on the front of a pastel-color candle? A pastel-color candle!

Not only did the names punch at curiosity like a sudden mugger in the park, they were insanely deceptive! The meek candle with such inoffensive names like “bergamot mandarin citrus,” “pine oak mahogany,” or even “relaxing jasmine” sure didn’t smell so inoffensive! “Bergamot mandarin citrus” absolutely did not bring to mind any of the above three words, just a painful, stinging, burning rush of hellish aroma straight from the nostrils to the prefrontal cortex. Oh, but I should have anticipated it! Thoughtless by default and reckless with curiosity, I made the rookie mistake of inhaling too deeply and as a consequent, staggered backward, the candle held stretched out from me like a ring of garlic from a vampire, and choked out in complete shock and insurmountable betrayal, “Oh, God!”

The exclamation drew looks from fellow shoppers, both of contempt and sympathy. Contempt from the scented candle pros who could articulate in spectacular vocabulary just what mahogany is supposed to smell like, and sympathy from amateurs who, like me, had just suffered from the violent nasal assault and had half a mind to get their sinuses cleansed. Valiantly I brushed away the contempt; weakly I smiled at my sympathizers. One nodded encouragingly back. What she wanted to say was clear: we have made it this far to turn our creaky carts back in defeat and shame. There is no other path but forward, forward into this pungent battlefield, because, my urban fellow, there is nothing that matters more than this mission ahead, the mission to find a decently-priced, pleasantly-perfumed candle. Because it is not just a perfumed candle, it is a perfumed apartment we are fighting for, and for it we shall fight and fight until we have found our perfect lump of aromatic wax, or until our nostrils get wounded in action and we grow delirious with fear.

In the end, I did find a candle that I like, a modestly-scented, humbly-sized candle in a fake glass jar stamped with others’ fingerprints. As it turned out, the scent was too weak to make a difference in the air. But in honor of the candle aisle’s terror and for my own inadequate enjoyment, I kept it burning and got through the wick in three days, just to discover that they don’t sell candle wicks at Target. Blasted industry!