The sin of lust. Now there’s a sin I know something about. To my mind, it is the jewel of all sin. It’s a sin of which I’ve been unquestionably guilty, and on more than one occasion. Fact is, when it comes to lusting I’m an unrepentant repeat offender.
One of my favorite pastimes is looking back on my greatest moments in lustfulness—those unforgettable moments when passions hit their peak, vanquished completely all common sense and defied all will for restraint. Whenever I indulge myself in these reveries an afternoon in Perimeter Mall on Atlanta’s north side comes to mind. It was in the early spring. It was 1973.
We had sneaked quietly into Atlanta from New Orleans. No one who knew us knew we were there. For three days Mary Ann and I had been jointly and alternately manning an exhibit booth on the mall’s second floor, thirty feet south of a store that sold ladies hosiery and directly in front of Thom McCan Shoes. We were exhibiting Victorian brass gongs…. yes, Victorian brass dinner gongs… as vendors in a touring antique show.
We had stumbled upon a large cache of the gongs at the right price in a shop on Magazine Street in New Orleans a few days earlier, and we would be headed back to pick up more as soon as the Atlanta show was over. Quite amazingly, the gongs had been selling like hotcakes.
Taking a break from greeting customers and making my sales pitch for the gongs, I wandered down to the mall’s ground floor and into a large drug store that was permanently closing up shop. The place was going out of business, and all the merchandise from the shelves had been tossed into giant bins. The place was one big grab bag.
Near the center of the store, I found a bin filled with cosmetics and perfumes. A sign stuck in the middle of the pile indicated that every item in the bin was priced at one dollar. One dollar. It was the bargain of a lifetime!
Perfume is expensive. Always was. It was certainly expensive in 1973, and that explained why I was never able to buy much of it for Mary Ann. As I dug through the pile of products in the bin I was almost giddy at the discoveries I was making. Bottles of My Sin, Evening in Paris… all priced at one dollar. She might be wearing a cotton print blouse bought from a street vendor on The Drag back in Austin, but Mary Ann was going to be smelling like a million bucks!
Now, don’t get the wrong impression. It wasn’t as though I could buy a lot of perfume, even at the giveaway price of a dollar per bottle. But, I had enough cash in my pocket to buy four or five bottles, and even a little bit of good perfume goes a long way.
I picked out a few bottles of big name fragrances and was ready to head for the checkout register with my loot when a small black box labeled “Styx” caught my eye. The packaging was bolder than that of the other perfumes, and the logo design and printing were intriguing even if the product name was unfamiliar.
As I picked up the small package I recognized the Coty name printed in small type above the fragrance logo. Nobody, I knew, had created more enchanting and romantic fragrances than François Coty. I knew this because I had read a magazine article about him while waiting for a bus at the Abilene Greyhound terminal a couple of years earlier. I think those were the very words the writer used in the article. Enchanting and romantic. I was feeling very cosmopolitan.
After digging around in the giant pile of products I was able to come up with four bottles of Styx. I overturned every package in the bin in my search for a fifth bottle, but there were only four. I left everything else in the bin and proceeded to the checkout register with my four bottles of Styx in hand, confident that I had made the right selection. That magazine article had sounded authoritative, and I was sure it hadn’t unduly praised Coty perfumes.
Once back in the booth, I waited for Mary Ann to finished talking with a prospective gong buyer, then took the opportunity to present her with the fruits of my mall foraging. I was proud of myself. It was a grand gift that I was giving her. The gift of a gentleman. A wealthy gentleman, I imagined.
At first glance, she was shocked, afraid that I had lost my mind, imagined myself wealthy, and that I had spent our earnings from the past three months on expensive perfume. After hearing my story, she was pleased.
“Well, let’s open one up and see what we’ve got,” Mary Ann suggested, taking one package from the bag and leaning forward to give me a kiss. We were innocent and unsuspecting. Neither of us was prepared for what was about to happen. Neither of us was prepared for the power of Styx.
Mary Ann carefully opened the little bottle and daubed a tiny bit of the precious liquid behind each ear, then tilted her head slightly, inviting me to sample the intoxicating fragrance. I leaned toward her, inhaled her exquisite scent and buried my face beneath the canopy of her hair. In the middle of the mall, in the middle of the day, in the middle of our booth, I was suddenly consumed with lust amongst the gongs.
No attractant has ever been so powerful as was the scent of my beautiful, young wife. No mind altering drug has ever so profoundly obliterated sound judgment, distorted perception of one’s surroundings, or agitated the mind as the rush of raw lust that consumed me at that moment. I would be ashamed today were the memory not so very pleasant!
Over the years Mary Ann has applied the Styx very cautiously, producing maximum effect with the smallest drop. It was precious, and there has been no more of it to be had. Even if we’d had the money to purchase more, Coty discontinued the fragrance in 1974. Product liability concerns must have prompted the decision. There was, after all, no way to use such a product responsibly.
A tiny amount of fine perfume, you may know, will last a very long time. Last night, filling my lungs again with that wonderful fragrance and experiencing that rush of lust that inevitably follows, I asked Mary Ann how much Styx remained in her dresser drawer. The Styx ran out, she told me, in 1978.