Smelling Old Shirts

Stephen Colbert just made fun of me. Ok, not me specifically (maybe one day) but the attendees of LA’s Pheromone Party. In the hopes of finding a mate, attendees sleep in the same shirt for three nights and then place them in Ziploc bags. You bring your bag to the party, and it’s anonymously labelled, pink numbers for girls and blue for boys. Then everyone gets down to sniffing the shirts. If you find a scent you like, you take a picture with the numbered bag. The pictures are projected around the party, and if someone sees their number on the screen and thinks you’re cute, they will approach you. All these many steps and instructions obscure the fact that, as Colbert put it, you’ve resorted to smelling old shirts in order to get a date. Of course the good news, when you come to that realization, your head’s already in a plastic bag, and you can just seal it right up. Believe me I thought about it.

Swinger time!

There were many things that made me nervous about the Pheromone Party. I felt like I was going to a Swingers party–a social experiment that frankly I was too uptight for. Besides, was my scent really what I wanted to lead with? Your smell doesn’t make witty quips or give good back rubs. At least, mine doesn’t.

As I do when I’m nervous, I did too much research, obsessively re-reading the creepy Pheromone Party website and making sure I understood all the instructions. During the day, I was supposed to keep my shirt in the freezer for maximum smell retention. They also suggested I refrain from eating spices, garlic or onions. Were they asking me to pick men over Mexican food? I quickly ignored that suggestion and moved on to a more pressing problem. I didn’t have a plain white t-shirt. Well, I had a gym shirt with two huge, yellow sweat stains underneath each armpit. I was going to have to find another shirt.

I almost bought this shirt

I spent the first night in my roommate’s t-shirt. I thought I could just borrow a shirt and imprint it with my own sent. I was wrong. Even after a night on me that shirt smelled strongly of my roommate, a lovely gay man. I would be attracting the wrong gentlemen callers. So I had to buy a new t-shirt. I was pissed. Tickets were already $30. I wanted to at least buy a shirt I would wear outside of odd singles’ events, so I found myself looking at a lot of boxy tunic shirts (they’re in, I swear). But I realized my potential suitors would think I was fat. You aren’t just representing yourself with a smell. I should have gotten a tube top and called it a day. Finally I bought a shirt, but I don’t have a washer and dryer, so even after two nights and a day of wearing the shirt, it just smelled new. They would know I was trying too hard–a cardinal sin in dating.

How did I think someone who lived like this would be a good companion?

So I was a mess when I arrived at the party. I relaxed when for the first hour my friend (blogger Phylotopia–she was there to examine the science of the event) and I were the only ladies there. It was a sausage fest. Although hosted by a movie theater, the party was held in a yard behind the theater. There was booze, thank goodness. The bags were out on tables and after you got your drink, you got to sniffing. Cups of coffee beans were provided, so you could cleanse your palette. It took me a while to find a smell I liked. Most of the shirts smelled musty and dank and reminded me of all my worst boyfriends’ houses–the unwashed sheets and beer cans. One shirt just smelled like marijuana.

I found a shirt that smelled brand new, and I almost picked it out of solidarity. Here was an obvious kindred neurotic. Only one person picked my shirt, and I believe it was the owner of the other clean shirt (probably a germaphobe). But I don’t want to date myself. I also avoided the ones that smelled like Old Spice or Irish Spring, even though outside of pheromone parties I find those smells attractive. I guess I had some romantic notion that I was looking to find someone’s natural essence. It was also hard to ignore the other obvious characteristics of the shirt. My friend and I spent more time smelling a V-neck American Apparel shirt because we imagined it’s owner might be attractive. Depressingly, brands have apparently become synonymous with sex.

A primitive pheromone party.

I took several pictures with shirts but only one gentleman approached me. He had frosted hair and a slight European accent. He was wearing Ed Hardy. He introduced himself and handed me his card. I found myself wondering why he was talking to me. We were so obviously mismatched. Then I remembered I had made the first move! I’d made a pass at him. Nervously I tried to make small chat. From the looks of him, I assumed he wore cologne, and there had been one shirt I picked that smelled like an amazing cologne, so I told him he had super cologne. He blanched and swore he didn’t wear cologne anymore. Now I’d said something that made it seem like I could instantly recognize his scent and match it with one of the many shirts I’d smelled. I was that tuned in with him. He was looking at me like we had this deep connection. I think I said I had to go to the bathroom and politely ran away.

The rest of the night was a wash. I saw a lot of people chatting while they sniffed, and I think the party essentially works as a way to easily talk to people. Hey, you’re both standing there doing something weird. I unfortunately, stuck to my friends, made some flirtatious smiles and then melted into the night. BUT a gentleman later found me online. I have a date, dear readers. If it goes well, you probably won’t hear about it, but you might. Neither of us picked each other’s shirts.

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