A Candle Solved My Quarter-Life Crisis

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Photo: Piyawan Rujiraumporn/Getty Images

I spent my first weeks in New York hustling and wandering, whelming myself with the requisite lights, jostling and bustling, Googling pronunciations, thinking about modernity, immersing myself in a vibrant froyo scene, and thinking about graduate school, maybe. I woke up at six each day to take the train to my advertising job in the Empire State Building, where I wrote tweets about beer for money. I made plans with strangers from childhood, plans I knew I would cancel. My earliest days alone in the city were filled with these and other dull bourgeois plots, and soon I grew painfully nostalgic for the period three weeks earlier, back when I was younger and more naïve and the city still seemed rich with promise. It was only once I began pondering a hasty move to L.A. that my true calling was finally, delightfully revealed: It was my destiny to shop for and purchase the best candle in Brooklyn.

Finding the best candle in Brooklyn became an all-consuming passion. I was ready to shop. My budget was roughly $1 million, for I figured it was best to begin with the best that money could buy and work backward from there. With so many stores selling so many candles, the smell of success was in the air, and it smelled like laundry day, or blood-orange vetiver, or maybe even a genderless but elegant amber and moss. I felt confident that I would, in short time, know which one for sure.

A candle, in 2015 at least, is something that you buy in order to light on fire a few times and then throw away. The utility of a candle is that it solves the problem of the air in your home smelling too neutral. Surely, this is the greatest lifestyle flex, to expect that breathing offer a sensory experience that aligns with the other carefully considered elements of your personal brand. A candle implies that houseguests must respire on your terms, lest they die on your sofa. Lighting a thoughtfully chosen candle is an act of hospitality dominance, but it also implies you are Zen and balanced and above petty things like acts of hospitality dominance. A candle on the end table suggests that you are the sort of simple-livin’ and self-actualized person who employs an open flame to relax when no one else is watching. I assure you, I did not intend to light my candle unless other people were present to give credit where luxury candle-owing credit was due.

I supposed the best way to find the best candle in Brooklyn was to wander the streets of Brooklyn in search of opportunities to casually mention my search for the best candle in Brooklyn. The script would go something like: a store employee would greet me and I would ask how their day was and they would say good and I would complain about how difficult it was to find a candle that sufficiently encapsulated both the person I was today and also the people I hoped to become by the time the candle was extinguished for the final time.

I might ask a saleswoman, “Isn’t it hard, in today’s wonderland of late capitalism, to narrow down, from our vast field of options, a vision of your own identity, I mean a candle, that is both bold enough to make a coherent statement about something, but also flexible enough to not be outgrown quickly? Isn’t it paralyzing, fear-inducing even, to realize that we have so many options available to us, and that while the best may well be out there, we have no functional means of discerning what best even means?”

This is when the saleswoman would nod, or express sympathy for my postmodern plight, or point me in the direction of the candle section, or apologize and suggest that I try Amazon. I repeated this pattern for almost two months during store hours on Saturdays and Sundays, until I eventually made friends and left the awful beer-tweeting job and outsourced my cosmic stress over identity to a therapist. I ended up purchasing a satisfactory teakwood-and-tobacco candle from Steven Alan, but I suspect the best candle in Brooklyn, or anywhere for that matter, is whichever candle you end up buying and taking home.