Scent of a HOO-HAH!

This week, Janet asks:

”What are some of your favorite smells and is there a reason attached to why you like them so much? And in a two parter, what smells can't you stand and why? (try not to pick the obvious ones we all can agree upon here, k?)”

I'm going to exercise common scents(sorry), and get the bad smells out of the way first. In no particular order, I can't stand:

1) Truck Exhaust. This is the time of year when the ubiquitous they decide to pave every road on my commute. Sitting in traffic is never fun, but when a truck expels black smoke and you're sitting near fresh asphalt, the experience is even worse.

2) Broccoli. A girl I asked out in college may forever be known as “broccoli-face” in my memories. She was cute, but when I finally got the nerve to ask her out, the expression she made was similar to the way a child, and of course I, would react to certain steamed vegetables. She wrinkled her nose back into her face, narrowed her eyes, and shook her head violently. Looking back now, it's pretty funny that my follow-up inquiry was, “What's the matter? Don't you like me?”

3) Certain Air Fresheners. This one needs explanation. Certainly there are many artificial scents, from flowers to candy to pine, that are preferable to the smells they're masking. But then there are the more sterile, medicinal Lysol brands, that might be sprayed three rooms away and still seep under my door and make my eyes water. I prefer flowers or fruits to ammonia stinging perfume.

4) Old Ladies in Church Who Bathe in Perfume. Yes, like air fresheners, there are both good and bad perfumes. I haven't experienced this problem often, and there was only one serious incident, but it's stayed with me since I was about 10. Some lady sitting behind us in church reeked of something suspiciously like Lysol and worse, there was still a hint of body odor beneath it. Given a choice between a shower and no perfume, or perfume and no shower, she clearly made the wrong one. I don't know who it was, but when it came time for the sign of peace, I didn't shake anyone's hands besides my parents. I'd spent too much time gagging.

5) The Seafood Section of the Supermarket. Why is it bad? Like some of the previous examples, this too is a hybrid. You're walking along, through pleasant odors from the cookie aisle perhaps, or the bakery, and as the smell of chopped meat greets you things are still wonderful. But then it segues into sudden, overwhelming fish, and perhaps just a hint of the ammonia used to mop the floor.

6) Ammonia and Bad Vacuum Cleaners. I have nothing against cleaning products or germ killers. When I was a Senior in high school, I worked on a student cleaning crew on Friday nights. I managed to latch on to window washing, a bottle of Windex and a roll of paper towels my companions as I went from classroom to classroom, working my way down from the third floor. I managed to stretch this task across my six hour shift, as I found mopping and vacuuming far more unpleasant. Industrial strength ammonia is potent, mixed with scalding hot water in those little yellow buckets on wheels. Finding the right formula was difficult, and even slightly too much would blind and choke me in the small janitor's closet. The vacuums meanwhile were old, and I'm not sure the bags were ever changed. There was a burning smell, burnt dust I suppose, and I always feared the roaring old machine would burst into flames.

7) Crabgrass or Onion Grass. I'm actually not sure which it is. I've always called it crabgrass, but onion grass seems to fit the description better. It stank worse than an onion and usually had a small bulb underground. When elementary school bullies would throw sun dried grass clippings down the back of a nerd's shirt, it was an itchy inconvenience. Have crabgrass rubbed in one's face was a torture that lingered.

8) Play-Doh. Some bad smells pervade a body's taste buds, and while I enjoyed this brightly colored clay for what it was, and never ate it, hours after washing my hands they still had that smell and that was enough for me to imagine what it might taste like. Maybe some was under my nails, or maybe it was psychological, but I wouldn't eat any food with my hands afterwards for fear of accidentally poisoning myself. As my mom used to say, I was a strange child.

9) Cigarette Smoke. Watery eyes. Difficulty breathing. Clothes that reek all the way home. This is all from second-hand exposure. It was my least favorite aspect of bars and clubs, and of people in general.

* * *

Isn't it great that we got the unpleasant aromas out of the way first? Here are some smells that I do like:

1) Mom's fresh baked Apple Pie. It's a cliché, but when my family used to go apple picking on Eastern Long Island, I couldn't wait to get home. My dad is old school, and could pick an apple off the ground, wipe it on his sleeve, and chomp into it. I've unfortunately led a more sheltered existence, so I'd wait for the apples to be sliced, washed, and baked in a pie. It's been years since I had one, and while bakery apple turnovers and store-bought pies offer the same smell, there's nothing like a slice right out of the oven.

2) Wood burning. Whenever I'd be lost in thought, and tell my mom I was just thinking after she finally got my attention, her favorite expression was, “I thought I smelled wood burning.” We have a fireplace that we've never used in the 35+ years my parents have had this house. My mom feared fire, as well as harm befalling our cats. Her favorite calico was named Cindy, because when they first bought the house she couldn't find the cat, until she emerged covered in soot, earning her the name “Cinderella”. It was years before I learned her full name and its origins. Though wood was never burned literally in this house, I did enjoy sitting around a few campfires with my college friends, and I've been to some excellent bonfire parties at the beach back in my 20s. The smoke eliminated any sand fleas, provided warmth, and generally created a unique atmosphere.

3) What The Rock is cooking. He's got a good acting career going, and this was something of an obvious obligatory inclusion.

4) Good Perfume on Clean Women. This of course is the natural opposite of #4 in my first list. My ex-girlfriend had a great perfume, and it's killing me right now that I can't remember the name of it! I can remember the distinct scent of vanilla on a crush I never acted on, but I can't remember the name of the scent someone I dated for more than two years wore. Don't get old, kids. At least I can still remember her birth date, and the fresh out-of-the-shower smell of her shampoo. I have a feeling I'm teetering somewhere between creepy, sad, or risqué here, so I'm going to move on.

5) Vanilla Cake Mix. I love the smell of vanilla, and the best part of my mom baking even the simplest cake was licking the beaters and the mixing bowl afterwards. I'm sure we've all done this at one time or another in our lives, and remember the sweet smell.

6) A Bakery. This needs little explanation. Some food smells blend horribly, but walking in to a bakery, everything smells good in the diverse selection, and it's the perfect cure for a wrong turn down that seafood aisle. I think donut shops fall nicely in this category as well.

7) Clean Linens. Why is a bed always softer and smoother right after fresh sheets are added? In the Winter, they gain extra points when their hot out of the dryer.

8) The Beach. I love the salt air, and the balance of the various aromas. Balance is key, and while that seafood aisle in the supermarket overwhelms, the beach is just right.

9) That Smell Right Before It Snows. Is it Ozone? Whatever the smell, there's always something crisp and toasty in the air that I pick up on a day or two before a snowstorm, and I like it. I also like the smell of toast itself.

10) The Sweet Smell of Success. I imagine it must be quite pleasant....



Blogger Sayre said...

Great List!!!!

Your play-doh addition (which I agree with) made me think of another one. I call it the "rubber monkey" smell, but it is actually one of those erasers that you add to the end of a pencil. The ones I had as a child were shaped like monkeys and I think something in the process of shaping them is what made this particular smell... It's pretty awful. If I call you a rubber monkey, you can bet you smell bad.

Another smell is the smell of my ghost. It smells like burnt apples. I never can find the source of the smell, but it happens a few times a year. My mom says it's a ghost. I think I believe her.

9/28/2006 1:04 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Very, very creative answer. I love the inclusion of the sweet smell of success and of course, what the Rock was cooking. Classic!:)

9/28/2006 7:53 PM  
Blogger Lorna said...

Can you just do my thinking for me? I imagine your brain must be like those vaults theyhad in the X-files....only not so dark and dusty

9/29/2006 2:18 AM  

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