The lyrics to “Love Potion Number Nine” contain everything necessary to figure out what was in it.
For starters, the guy in the song got it from Madame Ruth who had a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine and sold it in little bottles. Buffalo has a Vine Lane as well as a Third Avenue, although no Thirty-fourth Street. Close enough, and you don’t have to go all the way to New York City. Besides, everyone knows that song lyrics are meant to be metaphorical rather than literal. This could be the place.
Another important clue: Madame Ruth may have used a deck of Tarot cards to get a general overview of his life this year. After all, she looked at his palm. We know this because the song says so in the second verse.
So I put on my gumshoes and went down to her emporium to check. She said that in the year that song was written, she remembered doing an unusual reading for a man who walked in without an appointment. The 8 of Pentacles and the 10 of Cups were there in the near future, the 5 of Wands had receded to the background, and the 3 of Swords was nowhere to be seen. It all seemed like excessively good fortune all around, unless the guy who came in looking for a love potion wanted more identity crises immediately. He hadn’t.
She said that he told her– and she put quotation marks in the air with both hands– he had always been “a flop with chicks,” and had “been this way since 1956.” She identified the best cure immediately from his ambiguous language, the psychological evidently manifesting itself in the physical.
What he needed, she decided, was a little dose of confidence. “Winking” at him, as the song says she did, let him know that all would be well and that she was on his side, creating a relationship in which healing would be possible.
Here’s an important inference that many have overlooked: The fact that the brew smelled like turpentine isn’t really relevant. Why? Because the intrusion of odors from the cleaners next door may have contributed the turpentine smell. Then, too, he was pretty anxious when he got there and who knows what that did to his perception.
But was Love Potion Number Nine a placebo? We’ll never know that for sure, but if it was, it worked because he started kissing everything in sight. Nonetheless some of the ingredients remain the secret of Madame Ruth, because Potion Number Nine was never FDA-approved.
It was trademarked, and several imitations never worked at all. Although Madame Ruth tried to find volunteers for a trial study, she was unsuccessful because they found out what happened to the poor guy in the song. She also was unable to persuade other laboratories to try to duplicate her methods, so the gold standard for studying these matters won’t be happening anytime soon. After several years of competing for grants, she disposed of the labels, the bottles, and the secret ingredients.
However, the reference to the color of India ink may help in analyzing the ingredients. The fact that India ink is blue-black could be a red herring. It may even have been caused by an old Sheaffer cartridge pen mishap on a previous day.
But Love Potion Number Nine was clearly a dense, dark, smooth, pourable concoction. Let’s see. What is dense, dark, and makes people feel as if they are in love?
Although we can never know for sure, there is one clue hard to ignore that could make the case. Madame Ruth now owns an upscale chocolate candy and chocolate-frosted cupcake shop at Thirty-fourth and Vine in a city where those streets actually do cross. Buying the building was part of her business plan, and it was supported by many satisfied cupcake aficionados. The cop got over his annoyance eventually, reimbursed her for the broken bottle, and now is her best customer.
For more about love, chocolate, and Valentine’s Day, try these:
Falling in love takes one-fifth of a second
What makes chocolate hot?
Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org
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