WASHINGTON, D.C.

Five o'clock on the Friday before Mother's Day probably wasn't the best time to go looking for a summer fragrance for myself.

Near the fragrance bar of Hecht's department store in downtown Washington, hordes of women and a few men were examining fragrance gift sets displayed on small tables.

Others were lined up 12 deep waiting for help from one smiling, but understandably frazzled, sales associate.

A second counter was tucked behind the first one, unnoticed by most shoppers. Half hidden by a Mother's Day display, a sales associate there was biding her time straightening rows of yellow boxes of L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci.

"I'm looking for a summer fragrance," I told her.

She enthusiastically sprayed the back of my right hand with L'Air du Temps and told me the fragrance is a "classic" and "always elegant." I agreed it was nice and summery.

She couldn't find the tester for her second recommendation, the Van Cleef eau de parfum, so she pumped some Van Cleef lotion onto the back of my left hand. It smelled slightly medicinal.

Then she found the tester and enthusiastically sprayed some perfume on the same spot -- as well as on my ring, my Bulova watch and my jacket cuff.

The lotion-perfume combination smelled awful, so I asked her if she had anything else.

Steering me to a counter in the back -- past Giorgio Armani's Gio, Calvin Klein's Obsession and 360O by Perry Ellis -- the sales associate found a bottle of Paris by Yves Saint Laurent.

The fragrance is fashioned from 100 different roses, she said, squirting it on my wrist.

"This one is made especially for brides to be," she said cunningly.

I had told her earlier that my fiance might buy me a fragrance.

"Very romantic," I agreed.

Rather than showing me more of the dozens of fragrances at the counter, the sales associate said those were the only three she would recommend for a woman my age to wear in the summertime.

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