Thursday, May 06, 2010

Remembering those smells that really grab you

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Moncton Times & Transcript
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Editorial section

Smells are known to trigger some of the strongest memories in humans. I know that's definitely true for me. Some of these memories are melancholic. Some are nice. Some are sad. Some are just downright weird. Some are definitely not family friendly. (I'll keep those to myself.)

I was at a meeting the other day when someone was writing on a flip chart with a marker. The one they were using didn't work particularly well, so they asked me to check for a better one. I found one that looked new, took the cap off and sniffed it to see if it was fresh. There's nothing like the smell of a fresh marker to put me in a good mood, probably because of the brain damage it causes right at that very moment.

When I was in first grade, it was a real treat when my teacher would let us draw with markers. And back then (40 years ago), those markers made today's look like little girls holding lollipops and dressed for church on Easter morning. The markers 40 years ago were seriously strong. You could literally feel the brain cells dying. The teacher would tell us not to sniff them, but when her back was turned I'd practically have that thing stuck up my nose so far that it caressed my brain with its marker-y goodness.

Note to any brain surgeons reading this: If you ever operate on me in the future, this would explain the squiggly black marks on my temporal lobe. It's not some weird birth defect or anything like that. And please don't judge me!

Another aroma that I've always found intoxicating is Play-Doh, the modeling clay for kids. Christmas morning and birthdays were great whenever I got Play-Doh. Oh, I wouldn't play with it. I'd just sit in the corner with my nose stuck inside the plastic container it came in. That stuff smells so good!

As friends and family started having children, I got reacquainted with Play-Doh in recent years and would never miss a chance to have a little sniff, although I soon discovered from the kids' parents that yanking a container of Play-Doh away from a small child on Christmas morning was not considered polite. "Mummy... Unca Bwyan took my Pway-Doh!" No use even denying it with my nose stained blue from the clay and my pupils distended from the fumes.

I've even been tempted to buy a bottle of Play-Doh fragrance. It actually exists! (Google it. I'm serious!) I'm not sure what you'd even do with it, though. It's not as if anyone attracted to you because you smell like Play-Doh would be marriage material... probably just the opposite. They'd probably be more "restraining order" material.

When I was a kid -- again about 40 years ago -- I also loved the smell of gasoline. And trust me, kids, the gasoline back then wasn't the anaemic stuff we have now. The stuff back then was full of lead and very harsh. Oh, it was so dreamy, let me tell ya. I remember my father would be filling up the car (with a cigarette dangling from his lips) and we kids would have our heads out the window sniffing the fumes and watching those little balls rolling around in the clear plastic cup on the side of the gasoline pump.

I never did find out why those little balls in the plastic cup were there, but they were fun to watch. Remember, this was before video games and cable television. Life was much simpler back then -- and boring. Didn't take much to entertain us.

And then there was the granddaddy of all smells: model glue. That stuff was potent that it could clear up pneumonia with the first sniff. It would also cause you to go blind on the second sniff. That stuff was strong! And, of course, I loved it -- which would explain a few things -- like the involuntary tics. If your parents were like mine, they always had a story about some unknown kid in some unknown city who'd become addicted to sniffing model glue. No one ever knew his name or where he lived, but he was as real to us as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

Speaking of Santa, there's nothing like the aroma of a freshly cut Christmas tree. And at Easter, the smell of an obscene amount of chocolate. I remember the aroma of my both of my grandmothers' kitchens very well and could identify them instantly even now.

There's the smell of a favourite restaurant. The smell of new furniture. The smell of laundry just in from the clothesline. The aroma of a freshly painted house. I remember my eyes burning as a kid whenever my father would paint the inside of the house.

If I was blindfolded, I'm pretty sure that I could tell the difference between several brands of cigarettes smoked constantly by relatives -- past and present. Also, the smell of my grandfather's aftershave -- and the smell of another cheap aftershave I used to buy when I attended university. It was called Blue Stratos and my roommate at the time hated it. Of course, this pretty much guaranteed that I spritzed him with it at every chance I got, much to his dismay.

There's the smell of the forest... the beach... a wet dog... and babies. Speaking of babies, I remember being in a hot car with no air conditioning with a friend's baby girl who'd just dirtied her diaper. He was so used to it that he didn't even blink. Meanwhile, I was gagging and screaming for mercy.

Just promise me one thing. If you ever see me sneaking a sniff of Play-Doh at a department store or uncapping a black marker and shoving up my nostril, don't tell the manager on me. Because that would really stink!

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