The lights? Impossibly bright. The music? Blaring pop that’s vaguely familiar, and just a little too upbeat. The smell? Cloyingly sweet, headache inducing. The atmosphere? Chaotic and crowded. How does it all make me feel? Like I just arrived at home.
No, it’s not the house I grew up in, though besides the loud, off-brand pop music, it’s not too far off. It’s Bath and Body Works, the suburban mall staple that sells soap, candles and no less than 50 different types of lotion.
I worked at Bath and Body Works for about 3 years in high-school, and was even transferred to a Boston area store when I went away to college. In real-person, normaltown time, that’s like a decade. I don’t think I ever liked a job more. It was my first real experience with work, and also with dealing with women outside of my family and school. It was the first time I was seen as an adult and an employee which was a big growing experience. I also got to hang at the mall until like 10pm and got a 40% discount on all things Cucumber Melon, so I obviously loved it.
I remember filling out an application and talking to the manager Wendy, who was probably 21 but seemed so mature and cool. She had curly, blonde hair, wore a white denim jacket, and had a boyfriend Bobby who she was always fighting with. When she called me to let me know I got the job, I was ecstatic. It was my favorite store and I loved it, and Wendy loved 16 year old me and life was great. I loved wearing the red and white checked apron. I loved when the new schedule came out. I loved the managers prepping us for new fragrance launches and being genuinely excited to open and unpack the boxes when they arrived. I wanted to tell everyone about the new Sweet Sugarplum Winterberry Blisstastic line that just arrived for Christmas. I was so happy to work there and to shop there. I loved talking to the customers. I loved to work at the register and see what people picked out. I loved getting pay checks but loved buying things with my discount even more.
Today, on a particularly dreary day in New York City, which is where I work now in an office because I’m a relatively normal person, I’m walking back from lunch with my friend. Everything just feels kind of blah. It’s a Wednesday, it’s Fall, but not pretty Fall, work is boring and I just want to hang with my husband and son. I want a cupcake but don’t want to eat a cupcake because what 36 year old mom who still needs to lose a couple pounds of baby weight goes around eating cupcakes in the middle of the work day like some kind of reckless maniac? And then I see the logo. There’s a Bath and Body Works here. And for the first time in years, I walk inside.
Bath and Body Works has many creative ways to sell fragrances with pumpkin in them (Heavenly Pumpkin Latte! Sweet Pumpkin Sugar Cookie! Pumpkin Pecan Fantasy!) none of which smells like real pumpkin, which actually smells vaguely of vomit. The fact that this all still exists is unbelievably reassuring. In a world literally gone mad, ladies are still out on their lunch hour clamoring for the buy 2 get 1 free fall scented soaps. And everything seems just as it should be. I’m happy and comforted because though all the scents have different names, at the end of the day, Snowflakes in Cashmere is just Brown Sugar and Fig in new packaging, and though I can’t find Sun-Ripened Raspberry, I know I will as long as I keep sniffing around.
And I wonder why I don’t shop here all the time. Why don’t I just walk in and smell all the candles and test all the body butters? Well, it’s obviously only something a total creepy weirdo would do, but also I don’t have that much disposable income, and even if I did, how many shower gels does one person need? Plus, burning candles are really bad for 2 year olds. I will tell you this – all the ladies in my life are getting huge bags of Bath and Body Works for Christmas. I just hope they still make the Sweet Sugarplum Winterberry Blisstastic.