Monday, December 13, 2010

Sixteen Candles: Jake Ryan (Gloria Vanderbilt, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, Aramis JHL)

This week, Abigail and I and a couple of friends are using characters from the films of John Hughes to talk about some of the perfumes we remember from high school and the eighties. First up: Jake Ryan, the guy who made such a lasting impression that still, all these years later, he inspires pangs of dreamy infatuation in women my age all over the country (see above photo of unknown internet user and her, um, date) and plenty of men, too. Trust me.

Jake was like no other guy I'd seen on screen before: sensitive, drop dead good-looking, sleepy-eyed, quiet, relatively smart, and far more interested in the odd girl out than the prom queen. There was something sad about Jake, too; something melancholy. It seemed like he was trapped by circumstances beyond his control, which made his determination to do the unexpected something close to heroic. It was the first time I'd seen the most popular kid at school depicted as such an underdog.

In case you aren't familiar with the character and the film, we're talking about Sixteen Candles here, which came out in 1984. The movie is set in fictional Shermer, Illinois, where another Hughes character, Ferris Bueller, also resides. Molly Ringwald plays Samantha, whose birthday is the sixteenth in question. No one remembers--not mother, father, siblings, paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents--mainly because her older sister is getting married that weekend. Everyone's in town visiting, and in the chaos of preparing for that happy event, Samantha gets pushed to the periphery.

It's nothing she isn't used to. Most of the movie deals with life at high school, where Samantha is equally ignored. She's crushing hard on Jake Ryan, one of the most popular seniors. She worships him for afar. As it turns out, he's not quite as far away as she thinks. Jake is crushing hard on her, too, only it takes a while for her to put this all together. The movie roots for her, and for getting them together. If these two can end up together, high school can't be all that bad. Before that can happen, various mishaps and complications ensue. A geek and a foreign exchange student add to the mixed signals and misunderstandings. Oh--and Jake has a girlfriend, Caroline. There's that to be straightened out first, too.

Michael Schoeffling, the actor who portrayed Jake Ryan, had been a model. He'd done GQ covers, among other things. Many of the people who saw Sixteen Candles at the time of its release were used to admiring him from afar, like Samantha. After acting in a handful of movies he retired with the girl he was dating during the filming of Sixteen Candles. They're still married, and live outside the public eye. It was almost like Schoeffling understood the audience's need to keep him preserved in memory the way he was in Sixteen Candles. In reality, he probably got sick of the bullshit of the business. But that's in keeping with Jake Ryan, too, who seemed equally frustrated by the rules of high school.

The following imagines a parallel universe in which Jake attempts to figure out a.) what perfume Samantha wears, and b.) what it is about said perfume that drives him crazy:

"The skinny geek with the braces swears on his mother's Tupperware collection that the perfume Samantha wears is Cinnabar. According to him, she got it at the mall. He seems to know a lot about her--at least he says he does--but he says she gave him her panties, too, and I highly doubt that.

I wanted to be sure--not about the panties but the Cinnabar--so I sort of grilled him, and he went straight as a rod, then he got all bent out of shape. He was pretty indignant.

'Don't you trust me?' he wanted to know.

Of course, I said. Of course. I just want to be sure. I want to be sure that's the one she wears. You're sure it's called Cinnabar?

'What do you want with her perfume,' he said, a little suspicious. 'Don't you think that's...I don't know...kind of...creepy?'

This from the guy who stole her underwear. Spoken like a true panty fiend, I said.

Later, I went to the mall to smell it, the Cinnabar, and I'm pretty sure he's right. I can't tell you what it does to me. She comes up to me in the hall and I freeze; I go numb. Samantha. It's the most amazing thing ever. It's so serious. It's so heavy. It's some seriously heavy stuff, that Cinnabar. It smells like experience--not, like, slutty experience--I don't mean like that. But maturity. Like she's all grown up. The rest of them are children.

When I asked the lady at the counter to let me smell it, she asked me how long my mother's been wearing the stuff. I told her it isn't my mother, it's my girlfriend, and she got a very confused look on her face.

'How OLD are you?' she said. She had her glasses perched on her head and raised her eyebrows so high she nearly knocked them off.

My girlfriend is a freshman in high school, I said. She's almost sixteen years old.

Her glasses really did fall then, and she said she'd never heard of a girl wearing anything as...sophisticated as Cinnabar. She said sophisticated like somebody'd used her counter for a bathroom.

My girlfriend isn't like any other girl, I said.

Which isn't exactly true, given that my girlfriend is actually Caroline, not Samantha.

Caroline isn't like most girls either. The problem is, she's exactly like all her friends. They dress alike and talk alike and feather their hair all alike, and I think if I heard them coming up from behind I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Caroline wears that perfume with the swan on it. It's got that weird looking lady in the commercials, the jeans lady. She looks like your mom trying to act like your sister, which totally creeps me out. She's got a smile like the joker from Batman. A white face and a big smile that splits her face in half, and she sells those jeans like if everybody doesn't have at least three pairs in two years she'll jump out the window with a lit piece of dynamite clenched between her teeth.

The stuff smells okay but it's everywhere. Vanderbilt! That's what it's called. It's the perfect name for a rich girl's perfume, the kind of girl whose daddy wears Rockefeller after shave. Caroline's friends spray it in their books, their bags, their hair. She gets in the car when we go on a date and it's unbelievable how much she puts on. If I want to kiss her I feel like I have to break through a wall of stink. Not that I want to kiss her much anymore. She mostly WANTS me to kiss her, and of course she expects me to make the first move. She sits over there in the passenger seat winking at me and I try to figure out if I can drive without passing out at the wheel. Vanderbilt. It smells like flowers in the shape of a big mallet. The big mallet is whacking you over the head.

Samantha isn't like that at all. You have to get right up close to her. You smell the Cinnabar where you'd want to kiss her. It smells of cinnamon--like the name. So soft. It's like a blanket. Spices. Deep and dark and rust colored, just like the cap. Just like her hair. It's weird, because Cinnabar is technically so much stronger than the swan stuff, but she knows just where to put it and just how much to put. It should be a shout, but it's a whisper. It's something whispering in your ear.

I think Caroline knows something. And I feel bad. Maybe she sees me watching Samantha. I try to be careful. I can't help myself. Samantha draws me in.

My dad tells me we're incredibly lucky, for Shermer, for Illinois, for America, for anywhere, we're lucky. I'm lucky to have such a pretty girlfriend. I'm lucky to be popular. I'm lucky I have both of my legs and wasn't born disadvantaged. I feel guilty a lot of the time, because I am thankful, but I'm also miserable. We were riding in the Rolls and we passed somebody in a pinto, and he turns to me, my dad, and he says, "always remember how lucky you are." He says stuff like that like he feels bad for what we have that other people don't have, but if he knew I was watching Samantha all the time he would tell me to remember where I come from and where she comes from and how sometimes people aren't meant to get too close. In other words, I'm lucky, but don't press my luck.

I figure he wouldn't know his head from his ass, so what can he tell me about keeping the proper distance?

I don't like who I am. I don't mean I don't like myself, exactly. I mean that if my life is driving around in my dad's Rolls talking about people from at least several yards away, if that's where I'm going, I'm going to be seriously unhappy. I can feel the weight of that forcing me down. So I'm lucky, but the luck is so heavy it's crushing me. I'm not that person, the guy my dad wants me to become. I'm not sure who I am, yet, but I can tell, looking at Samantha, being with her, that the decision is mine. I can be happy and close or I can keep my distance and be lucky for the rest of my life.

I went over to the cologne section while I was at the mall. I smelled everything they had. I don't know how close I can keep getting to Samantha without people raising their eyebrows so high their glasses fall off their heads, but maybe our smells can reach out to each other. I wanted to pick out something that seemed like the best possible answer to the question Cinnabar is asking. I wanted something Samantha could smell and use to read my mind. Something she could smell and use to see that guy I want to be.

Here's what I picture, with this perfect cologne. I'll spray it where I want to be kissed. I'll stand at my locker, across the hall from Samantha's locker. I'll stand there with the cologne on, waiting. I'll stand there until she smells it. I found the perfect thing. It's called JHL. It smells like we were kissing, me and Cinnabar, and Cinnabar rubbed off on my stubble. JHL is saying something about cinnamon, too. It's saying something like, 'Please get closer.' It's a code. Cinnabar needs JHL and JHL needs Cinnabar; they need each other, to figure the code out. Once they get closer, they'll put it all together.

The geek said I wasted my money. He rolled his eyes and huffed and puffed and postured and clicked his tongue like he was disappointed in me. He said I didn't need to spend half that much. What was I thinking!? I said it was money well spent. I said I would have paid more, much more, if that's what it took. I would have traded in my dad's Rolls, that worthless heap. What else is it good for but keeping a distance? The geek rolled his eyes some more, halfway off his face, and called me a sap. He said I still have a long way to go. Such a long, long way to go. Stick close, he said: look and learn. Lesson number one: he showed me HIS cologne. He got it from his father. Jovan makes the stuff. It's called Sex Appeal for Men and it smells like arm pit.

No wonder he has to lie about girl's panties."


Brian said...

Angela, until you watch these movies, I think these posts are going to be more than a little lost on you! You're going to think we're all nuts. What are we TALKING about, you'll say.

Angela Cox said...

Oh but that makes it so much more fascinating . I will order the movie but I have a friend who might just have it. We share a taste for some off beat films like "Eating Raoul" . If there is a great 1980's movie that is the one. I acknowledge your comments too but something odd happens when I try to type on my own blog . Thank-you for the comments , The Smiths are on my list of must order now and Amazon are lucky this week.

Anonymous said...

(HEY. I LIKE Sex Appeal for Men. I actually picked it out of the drugstore lineup several years ago, when looking for a fragrance for my husband. Old Spice was out of the question - my dad wears that - and an old boyfriend wore Brut, so that was impossible too. I just picked up bottles at random and sniffed, ignoring names and brands. The CEO has since moved on to Acqua di Gio, despite all my attempts to get him to wear C&S No. 88, or Eau Sauvage, or various other things. I dragged the remnants of the Sex Appeal out of the bathroom cabinet a few months ago to smell it again, and I still like it. Phbbbllpphs, so there! :) OTOH, in his teenage years, The CEO - we were just friends then - strongly resembled Anthony Michael Hall's geeky guy, from hair to build to brains to opportunism...)

But I digress. You know, it's funny - Jake Ryan seemed so made-up to me, unreal and ideal. He's popular enough that everybody comes over to his house to throw a wild party, and he's not the least bit bothered by the mess, either that he's going to have to clean it up, explain to his parents, or toss it in his parents' faces that he's sick of their crap and chose the messy-house way to tell them? Popular, successful kid secretly rebels? Huh. And he's interested in the quiet, quirky, artsy girl instead of his cheerleader girlfriend, so he's got some self-awareness, but only some...

I dunno, maybe my personal history, which featured my parents very prominently, is misleading me here.

I'm not one to eschew floral mallets, but Vanderbilt I remember as being completely unfriendly, and decidedly right for Caroline! I didn't like Cinnabar, either, but I had a good friend who wore it in college, and there are some similarities between my friend Suz and Samantha, so I can see that choice too.

Brian said...

Muse, I LOVE Sex Appeal. I own it and wear it. But it stuck me as something imperfect Jake would dismiss, and something that would appeal to Anthony Michael Hall's character just for the cheesy name alone.

I also really like Vanderbilt, but it was definitely something the Caroline girls wore. EVERYONE seemed to wear it. Cinnabar, to me, seemed like something Samantha would have found on her mom's dresser and decided to wear.

No judgment from me on any of these. I like them all.

Why oh why won't our CEO's branch out a little? It's hard to believe Acqua is still such a bestseller, although I guess it does what that kind of fragrance does better than many of its peers.

It was hard to figure out what Samantha might wear, because she's suburban--though close to Chicago--and outwardly she seems sort of girly (the pink room, the frilly bedsheets, the lipstick), but she wears a fedora and sort of masculine colors and seems to appreciate vintage feeling things. I can see her in something floral but it seemed less interesting.

Angela, I love Eating Raoul.

tarleisio said...

As a lifelong John Hughes fan, a fan of 'Sixteen Candles' and even a fan of Cinnabar (although I never wore it), I have to say, this was a trip down memory lane and I enjoyed every minute. Man, the things you forget...Vanderbilt jeans, Vanderbilt, even, and the angest of teenaged existence caught so well in both the film and in your story!

Signed...the geeky semi-Goth in the corner, who wore 'Lauren'...;-)

Brian said...

Lauren was my second choice for Samantha. I had it sitting out on the desk as I wrote the post. My sister wore Lauren and man, that stuff was divine. I would love to get my hands on a vintage bottle. Do you remember Ralph Lauren's "Tuxedo"? It came in a black bottle identical otherwise to Lauren.

Angela Cox said...

Oh I love Lauren , I bought Vogue just to ogle Lauren's adverts. I made a lot of his clothes from Vogue patterns . I have a miniature Lauren . My daughter collects old Vogues and because she is a student she has to go for the cheapest which are mostly 1980s . Some of those perfume adverts make me grin.I bought some Demi-Jour mins and then realised where I'd seen the ads,in Holly's Vogues.