Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I smell funny things, sometimes

As those Axe commercials* laughingly mention (passing off some five-finger discount wisdom as their own), smell is very much attached to memory.

In college, my acting teacher told us the story of why he couldn't have the scent of cloves anywhere near him. Apparently, when he was in the 6th grade or so, he was running home, pursued by the school bully. Just as he crossed into the grass of his yard, he turned, and the bully gave him a swift kick to the groin. At that moment, the smell of cloves wafted from the his mother's baking through an open window, altering his ability to enjoy mulled cider or, for that matter, any harvest season cooking, forever.

His balls seize up with a phantom nut-jab from the distant past.

I have a similar visceral reaction to most smells (obviously, not in the nuts, but you get the gist). Walking down the street, after hitting a cloud of misty exhaust from an apartment building's laundry room, I am bathed in an overwhelming sense of comfort. The smell of laundry detergent and fabric softener, heated and vaporized, takes me back to my mother's house, as she is folding shirts and corduroys, watching the Love Boat (Followed immediately by Fantasy Island) on a Friday night. At the age of seven, everything was right with the world when Captain Merrill Stubing was on the tube and Bounce dryer sheets were strewn on the floor.

Of course, not every smell carries the tranquil nostalgia of a specific time and place. Many (and I would hazard, most) call up an awkward and ambiguous emotion, particularly if the the feeling is of unknown origin. Why on Earth does the smell of a Waldenbooks force me into an undefined sense of longing? Is there some dark reason I can't handle the smell of Tussy deodorant?

Below is a list of smells and the crazy things they call up for me. In some instances, I know exactly where they came others I have not a clue.

Stinks and Thinks:

Cherry Chapstick = Second grade Wintertime (Similarly, the taste of Luden's Cherry Cough drops, which amounted to little more than candy, brings up something around the same period...only more tubercular.)
Wet Wood = Giddy Anticiaption caused by The Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disney world
Garage = Sleepover
Oriental Flavor Ramen Noodles = The Neverending Story Movie
Aquanet = Stage jitters
Spaghetti-O's = Nausea (Of the most explosive sort)
Drakkar Noir = Desolation and aggravation
Elmer's White Glue = expectation of the unknown
Carpet Glue = September
Finesse Shampoo = Inner conflict
The smell of new plastic tubes = An Asthma Attack
Burning paper = Christmas
Old Cigarettes = social hesitance

I may add more as they arrive unexpectedly up my nose.

On a final note, my friend Jan is a make up artist and works at Sax in LA. I was visiting and trying to entertain myself with the different tubs of lip gloss and eye shadow, when I came across a bar of soap called "Beach". I brought it to my nose and suddenly I was eight years old, staying at our beach house in Wrightsville, walking with my sister, covered in sand and suntan lotion towards the pier to buy ice cream. I shoved that bar up my nose and completely freaked out, snorting at it again and again, trying to reawaken that swell of memory.

I think all Jan's co-workers were a little geaked out by my complete lack of composure. But wouldn't you be jumping up and down if you were flooded with a complete and full body reminiscence of something so awesome as buying ice cream on the beach?

Jan understood. She bought me the bar of soap as a going away present.

*I will probably be doing an Axe rant at some point...although bitching about Axe commercials is like shooting hamsters in a barrel.


Jan Smelk said...

HAHA! I'm famous now! PS I work at Saks not Sax, but it would be way cooler if that saxophone player from the Lost Boys were at work. I bet he smells like Axe.

-j-j- said...


Lord knows I ain't accustomed to the kind of finery Saks wonder I spelled it wrong.

The Lost Boys? Wow. Now I want to watch it. I bet that dude TOTALLY smells like Axe.

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