Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sniffing Backwards

I read somewhere that we hold thousands of smells in our olfactory vault. I wonder if I can trace my way back from today’s burnt croissant to yesterday’s gasoline fume at the pump….and back eighty-five years to my first diaper change. I think it was on a Thursday but I really don't want to talk about it.

Donald has provided us with the malodorous stench of deceit and malice. I need to clear my lungs. The flower section of Trader Joe's has many spring blossoms but they have no odor at all. Both the orchids and tulips have traded vivid colors for scent. Even those hot-house roses come to us deodorized. I feel cheated. My nose leads me to the stargazers to take a deep whiff.

Peggy first writes her poems in a notebook with a number two pencil. I’m the guy who sharpens them. I admit getting a temporary high from the shavings. Not high enough to write my own poem but often achieving a height sufficient to write a blog.

I’m seldom hungry………until I see and smell the plate. That wakes my salivary glands and I get in trouble trying to subdue the flow. As I write this I’m thinking of the peach crumble pie in the refrigerator. Speaking of food I’m the only one I know, outside of my daughters, who doesn’t like feta cheese. In fact I can’t stand it. My brain registers it as vomit. Blame it on a blemish in my double helix.

Among other vapors I could live without are newly laid black top, coconut, rancid acacia and asafetida. I don’t expect anyone to connect with the last two. They transport me back to those years in pharmacy. In my father’s days in his drug store there were no glued labels. The pharmacist made his own out of acacia powder dissolved in water turned upside-down with gauze covering the opening of a wide-mouth jar. After a week or two it stunk and that rancidity has never left me. Asafetida is a gummy substance used to ward off evil spirits which emits a pungent odor one wants to run from out of the room along with the spirits.

Childhood fills my nostrils. There were faint vapors of chalk mixed with bubble-gum from baseball cards. Airplane glue for a short time. Neatsfoot oil soaking into a leather mitt. Citronella to repel mosquitoes. Licorice or wild cherry syrup in cough medicine made respiratory infections not all that bad. The eucalyptus and compound tincture of benzoin in the vaporizer took away our suffering. My father’s store breathed a curious mixture of aromatics which he carried on his body … a smidge of Evening in Paris perfume comingled with tuna fish from the sandwich board along with malt from the fountain and all this triturated by the overhead fan with crude drugs leaking from the apothecary jars, sometimes sulfurous, mostly warming, ancient, botanical, and slightly intoxicating.

Subways smelled of sweat especially with raised arms holding onto dangling straps. The straw seats retained traces of everyone who sat there. We inhaled each other and exhaled our communal air. Maybe we even got to like what we smelled recognizing a whiff of ourselves in the mix.

During the war years we had many refugee kids join our class. They wore suits and were all smarter than us. Most of them skipped. But they spoke a broken English and I first thought the boys smelled until I realized it was the smell of leather briefcases. I had a nose for trouble but it was a remediable one.     

Then there was Mrs. Spizzeri’s parmesan cooking on the second floor from which I dashed holding my breath on the way to my sanctuary apartment 3 FB in our four-story walk-up. Today I love chicken parmesan reminding me how far one comes away from those first foreign aversions before our noses can accommodate and finally embrace them.

No comments:

Post a Comment