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…



At Sunday, October 08, 2006 10:26:00 AM, Blogger ZaPaper said...

I think I would have an easier time getting into the odor-nostalgia mood if I weren't in China where the olfactory assault is constant. On hot days the school bathrooms (in particular) radiate a stench so powerful you can smell them halfway down the corridor, and even breathing through your mouth doesn't help when you're actually in them, because the smell settles as a taste on your tongue. Other times, there are strong smells of acetone-like chemicals (near construction sites), sulphur (near water), cigarette smoke and general air-pollution (everywhere), and some unidentifiable indescribable smell different from all these which I can only label "Asian city smell." Anyway, as a child of the deodorized generation, I could do with some Mountain Fresh right about now...

At Sunday, October 08, 2006 3:04:00 PM, Blogger gloria said...

Oh, I feel for you. I'm very smell sensitive--actually get migraines from some strong odors--so I can't imagine what you're going through. The bathroom situation sounds like a nightmare. Did you see that movie, The Grudge? I didn't, the TV commercials for it were plenty for me, thank you very much, but I envision the stench you describe as having a physical sasciency (is that the right word/spelling?).
No wonder the photos you see of Asian countries often show the people with surgical masks on. Maybe you should consider that. I think I would.

I worked as a tutor for migrant children for a while and met with them in their homes. One of the families was Laotian. And to this day, I can still summon up the smell of their kitchen. A steamy, starchy smell mixed with spices that I could not quite identify. Not unpleasant, but not one that I found particularly appetizing either. Their mom was always preparing food, usually rice balls that she formed on the floor on a mat of reeds (though they had been given a table--hey, I have certain pots and skillets that I *have* to use even though my kids give me new and "improved" ones).

Anyway, eveytime I walk into the organic food coop I'm hit with a similar smell and I think of my students and wonder where they are today. Are they still eating rice balls or have they become Americanized and now mom cookes microwave french fries? Hmmm...

Thanks Z, for sparking some nice memories for me and as always for opening up the world a little bit for those of us back here. Glad you're still visiting My Front Porch.


At Thursday, October 12, 2006 1:42:00 AM, Blogger Netter said...

My Grandpa and Grandma Slaters house always smelled like coffee and cooked greenbeans...mixed with a slight rootbeer candy smell. On holidays, it was turkey and candied sweet potatoes.

Grandpa and Grandma Kasters house smelled like wet clothes left in the washer to long...slight detergent smell mixed with mildew.

My friend house always smelled like 'Love My Carpet' powder.

My house smelled like home...and I can't quite put a lable on that.

The one house loved the most was my Great Grandfathers. He smoked a pipe and his house always smelled like cherry pipe tobacco. Dealing with the actual smoke sucked...but the odor an hour later was wonderful. I still find myself sniffing with a smile on my face when I am in a public place and a cherry pipe smoker has walked by.

You are right about the candle isles though....and you know what is just as bad?! The laundry detergent isle. My Sister has always been allergic to Tide...a walk down that isle and she would break out in hives.

At Friday, October 13, 2006 9:29:00 AM, Blogger ZaPaper said...

netter's comment on turkey and candied sweet potatoes made me feel very nostalgic. I don't think they celebrate Thanksgiving here but they have sweet potatoes roasting on every corner--delicious smell, so it's not all bad, I must admit. gloria, tutoring migrant children must have been really interesting. I often wish I could use my skills in the service of some good cause, which could really make a difference here, if what I've heard is true... but it's such a big commitment to do anything at all here that I've hesitated. I'm still not very efficient moving around and buying things myself, let alone trying help other people! Btw, I have the same reaction to cherry pipe tobacco... I'm pretty anti-smoking, but it's just such a sweet old-fashioned smell.


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