About 15 years ago I used to work right across the street from Penn Station in Manhattan. It was one of the least chic neighborhoods in the entire city but it had its own unique pleasures, chief amongst them all the strangeness that can usually be found at a crossroads. When the circus came to town, we got to watch the elephants parade from the shipyard on the Hudson River up 33rd Street, trunk to tail, moving very slowly. Once a year the Grateful Dead came to Madison Square Garden, and the area was overrun with temporary hippie camps. Every day, I passed a bar with a red door called El Distinguido Wakamba. I never had the temerity to go in but I pictured a dive bar with a wealth of mysteries, the kind of place where you could buy a monkey’s paw, find someone who knew how to make a Gollum, or hire a mercenary to help you fight an epic battle of good versus evil– yes, I read far too much speculative fiction.
We were also close to the flagship Macy’s store, which is a fascinating destination in its own right, especially in early April when they cover every surface on the ground floor with flowers for their annual flower show.
But Macy’s is better known for the Christmas season, as seen in a Miracle On 34th Street. One Christmas my friend Eric came back from his lunch hour all excited, saying, “You’ll never believe what just happened to me.”
It turned out he’d gone into Macy’s to do a little Christmas shopping and recognized Dee Dee Ramone, one of our favorite punk rockers. He went up to Dee Dee and explained that he was a fan, and thanked him for all his work. But that wasn’t the end of the encounter. Having said his piece, Eric expected to go on his way and complete his purchase. However, Dee Dee wouldn’t stop talking to him. He kept going on and on, even when Eric politely said, “Well, it was nice meeting you but I have to go pay for this before my lunch hour is up.” Dee Dee ended up following him around the store, and Eric had to duck into a fitting room to escape him.
Around this same time, a story about another one of our punk/post-punk idols, Adam Ant, was circulating. Apparently he was bipolar and off his medications, and had gone into a bar naked and waving a gun around. The story was sad to me, as Ant had full custody of his only daughter, at the time a small child.
I put all these disparate elements together and came up with the idea for the only novel to date I have ever completed the first draft of, a tragicomedy. What if a regular person like me finally gets to meet her favorite musical idol, who she thinks of as a god, but he turns out to be a nutcase? And starts stalking her, and she wants nothing to do with him, but then gets involved because she’s worried about his small daughter?
Unfortunately, the manuscript was lost to a laptop crash. Maybe someday I’ll resurrect it, but in the meantime, if you want to feel like a rock and roll hot mess at the circus, check out Parfum d’Empire Wazamba, which sounds like I don’t like it, and maybe I don’t, exactly, but I am fascinated by it.
Notes, according to Luckyscent, are Somalian incense, Kenyan myrrh, Ethiopian opoponax, Indian sandalwood, Moroccan cypress, labdanum, apple, and fir balsam. This fragrance is apparently named for a West African musical instrument used in initiation ceremonies, but it makes me think of that odd little bar near Penn Station, and not just because of the similarity in names– that bar seemed like the sort of place that would have incomprehensible initiation rituals of its own. Wazamba starts out smelling sweet and spicy on me, not unlike home made root beer, but it quickly morphs into something strange. The sweet evaporates very quickly and it’s left smelling very dry, like something that was meant to be sweet but has gone stale.
Take stale dried herbs and throw them onto a campfire constructed on rubble from a knocked-down building. Go into a used bookstore and take an ancient tome off the shelf to find a proper incantation. After you have done your spell, throw away the evidence in the dumpster in the alley, past which the elephants have paraded on their way to the circus. This is Wazamba on me.
I’m sure I’m making it sound awful, but it’s not. I am very prone to migraines and nausea from the wrong fragrance, and in spite of these not-quite-pleasant notes, it never once veers into that territory. It’s not ugly or sickening at all. What it is is profoundly strange, and a bit forbidding, and absolutely unique, all things I am highly attracted to in art. It is not something I would want to wear most of the time, and yet it’s just the thing for a certain sinister urban fantasy mood.
Luckyscent has Wazamba for $75 for 50 ml or $110 for 100 ml. For a full list of retailers of Wazamba worldwide, visit the Parfum d’Empire website. I based this review on a sample I purchased of the fragrance from Surrender To Chance. I have no material connection to any of these companies.
Wazamba ultimately reminds me of a modernized, urbanized Ray Bradbury story– Something Wicked This Way Comes, not Fahrenheit 451 so much. Maybe when I resurrect that novel idea I’ll throw in a little magic.