Saturday, September 30, 2006

Stink In The Dark

There was a time when a person could have recognized their best friend’s home, even if blindfolded, by smell alone. Same goes for your grandparent’s house, your piano teacher’s and the nice, but wacky, lady down the street that always made you “step inside” when she paid her newspaper bill (then offered you unwrapped candy that had been around since the Roosevelt years, but that’s another story).

Once, everyone’s home had a distinct aroma. A trademark smell unlike any other’s. Believe me, I know, because these smells are imprinted upon my memory.

Best friend’s house:
Bakery pastries. I loved grocery day at her house.

Grandparent’s house:
Motor oil, cigarettes. Poppy was a truck driver with a bad habit.

Piano teacher:
Wet dog. Self-explanatory.

Nice but Wacky lady:
A cross between Brussel sprouts and Raid.

We should feel sorry for kids today. When they grow up and leave home they’ll have no smell memories to take with them. And why is this? I’ll tell you. America has become a country of odorphobes. The thought of sniffing something identifiable is now more abhorrent to the average citizen than a cockroach in the butter dish.

And what is my evidence for this fact? Coupons. I use to be a coupon clipper, cheap…er, thrifty person that I am. But, lately I’ve only been able to find perhaps one coupon for something my family really needs, like Pudding Pops, in the sizable stack that comes in my Sunday paper—the rest of the coupons are for products intent on deodorizing the universe by way of sprays, candles, mists, foggers, electrical outlet gizmos, and now even perfumy, psychadelic light show thingies determined to turn your toddler into a Deadhead.

Yes, America is afraid of stink. And particularly, stink in the dark. Why else would there be so many products that combine deodorization and illumination? Every department store now has at least one full aisle devoted to candles alone with a special team of carefully trained sales associates in Haz-Mat suits to assist you. (see illustration above of carefully trained sales associate who has obviously found the store's dumping grounds where he will determine whether this large candle--a lovely, lime-scented aromatherapy selection for the coffee table--can be put back onto the stocking shelves or must be turned over to the officials at Homeland Security)

The candle aisle is easy to find, just listen for the sounds of apoplectic sneezing or simply walk in the opposite direction of the asthmatic shoppers who are making haste away from that area.

Once you have donned your Area 51-tested gas mask (available at the Lay-away counter), taken a mega dose of allergy pills, and secured your safety goggles, you’re ready to make your selection from the olfactory-dazzling array.

My personal favorite is the one that sends little smelly puffs up into the air at regular intervals. I could see this coming in very handy if I’m ever out west and need to get word to a neighboring tribe. Not only will I be able to signal them that John Wayne and the U.S. Cavalry are just over the next ridge, but I can do it with the aroma of White Linen.

And what about our children? We’ve protected them from head injuries by making them wear helmets when they ride their bikes. A good thing. We’ve taken the cyanide out of their wooden playground equipment. Ok. And there’s now real fruit juice in their fruit juice. Very nice. So the next step, logically, is remove all natural smells from their homes and bedrooms and replace them with glowing nightlights emitting the soothing odor of
Mountain-Fresh Polystyrene.

And when they think back on the house where they grew up, the smell that will instantly come to mind is…uh, wait…um, no, that’s not it…ooh, I almost had it…


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Everybody Sing!

There's nothing quite so engaging as a bunch of people sitting around on a front porch singing. So in that time-honored tradition I offer a couple songs of my own composition that we all might sing together. I've even brought Harriet, the happy housewife, out of retirement to lead us.

In order that we all sing the same tune to these songs, as say, six of you singing to the tune of
Happy Birthday and twelve of you singing to the tune of We Are The Champions would just be too confusing, I have thoughtfully parodied two familiar songs, They Call The Wind Mariah and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I'm sure you're all familiar with these old standards and if you're not, well, just listen, you'll probably catch on by the second verse.

Right then, let's sing. All together now...

(sung to the tune of They Call The Wind Mariah, with ethereal echoes)

When I was young I named my parts,
My nose was Jeremiah.
One leg was Tess, an elbow Joe
And I called my chin Mariah.

Mariah was my favorite part, of this there’s no denyin’.
My other parts could not compete, I tell you I’m not lyin’.

Mariah (Mariah)
Mariah (Mariah)
I called my chin Mariah.

After many years of therapy--
The best that cash could buy ya’,
And now I’m grown, Mariah says,
“It won’t be long til they untie ya’.”

“Untie ya.” (Untie ya)
“Untie ya.” (Untie ya)
“The shrinks they will untie ya.”

So now they say that I am cured--
No more an odd pariah.
If you don’t think that this is true,
Just ask my friend Mariah.

Mariah (Mariah)
Mariah (Mariah)
I call my chin Mariah.

Mariah (Mariah)
I call---my chin---Mariah.

There now, wasn't that fun? Ready for another? Good. Only this time, Harriet would like to hear a little more from the tenor section, you're a bit weak. And sopranos, watch your pitch please, you tend to be sharp on the high notes.

Somewhere Overembellish
(sung to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow)

Somewhere overembellish
Adverbs fly.
Adjectives that you dare to write
Really clarify.

Someday I’ll write the perfect line
That editors cannot malign,
They’ll loove me.
They’ll offer me a big advance.
My agent she will do a dance
Because they looooove me.

Somewhere overembellish
Adverbs fly.
Adjectives that you dare to write
Really clarify.

If happy little adverbs fly
Upon the pages,
Whyyyyy, oh, whyyyyy cannnnnnn’t I?

I don't know about you, but I got a little misty on that last one. I guess I'm just an old softy. Well, this has been swell, hasn't it? We'll have to do it again sometime. You bring the comb and waxed paper, Harriet will make iced tea.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Perfectly Plausible Explanation

Summer time finds most winter-weary folks thinking about picnics, baseball, and sunny days at the lake. However, someone has to consider the serious topics of life. And who better suited for serious thought than I? Yes, lately I’ve been pondering the question that has perplexed the greatest minds for centuries.

Can a person actually make a living selling socks at the flea market?

I don’t get to visit as often as I would like, but every time I do I notice there’s always one merchant set up to meet the hosiery needs of a small, barefoot nation. Boxes of gray thermals with the red toes. Ladies’ crew tops. That dressy men’s type made of that scary material you see being set aflame in those fire prevention films from the 1950‘s--you know the kind, decorated with a scattering of stunningly embroidered fleur-de-lis designs and made to adhere to even the most active man’s shins. And bin after bin after bin of white tube socks, which if laid top to toe, would reach to the new Wal-Mart in Kuala Lumpur, which interestingly enough, is where most Lumpurians buy their tube socks.

My experience has been this; you step within some unseen perimeter of the sock booth and the pitch begins:

“May I help you, sweetie? Highest quality. Full year’s guarantee.”

Guarantee? I want to ask, where would one send the defective socks if one were unfortunate enough to purchase a less than perfect pair? (No doubt, this merchant will be in another state, at another flea market, by 4:00 pm.) Is there a 1-800 number? Or better yet, a website,

So how does one make a decision like that; to sell socks at the flea market? It’s an honest living, I suppose, but why socks? Antiques sure, comic books, crocheted covers for your extra rolls of toilet paper, socket wrenches, Ginsu knives and jewelry, yes, but socks? Maybe it’s the no-competition factor. It’s possible, but it still doesn’t answer my question.

This phenomenon is nothing new, these flea market sock-hawkers. Way back, someone had to be the first. I’ve been going to flea markets for over thirty years, from Florida to New York (not all in the same day, mind you, that would just be exhausting) and there have always been socks.

Did the idea originate when the whole flea market thing began? Was it an example of tandem thinking? Could it have been two brilliant ideas at the same time?

Perhaps one morning in a medieval hovel somewhere in the Baltic's, Yorgi and his lovely wife are having their breakfast bowl of gruel, when Yorgi turns to his wife and says,

You know, I thinketh it be a wise and prudent thing if many merchants come together in our cow field and bringeth hewn log tables and wares from their own hovels that no longer be serviceable and taggeth thy wares perchance to peddle them. And, oh yes, let us peddleth socks.”

At which point his lovely wife turns to him and asks,

“Whateth are socks?”

Of course, I could be all wrong about this, but it‘s a possibility.

Or perhaps the sock thing may have come up at a later date, after the flea market had become an established American event. It could have been that some frustrated entrepreneur had plenty of time to kill due to the fact that his liverwurst waffle stand was not the booming business the guy on the info-mercial said it would be. And so, downcast, he spent his time watching the throngs of flea marketers strolling by. And maybe he began to notice that the socks going by on the feet of the eager bargain hunters were becoming unsightly from the dusty walkways. And yes, I can believe that the proverbial light bulb went off above his head and in an instant of life-changing clarity, BANG! He knew. Socks! The world needed socks and plenty of them. Tube, crew, thermals and those dressy, fleur-di-lis-embellished calf-highs. Thus, the liverwurst waffle went (mercifully) the way of the Edsel and was replaced with socks. A perfectly plausible explanation.

I could be all wrong about this, but it could have happened that way. It’s good to have these questions sorted out, don’t you think?

©g.Slater 2006