There are a small handful of smells I miss. One is how department store toy aisles (and, in some cases, the department stores themselves) used to smell. I’m talking like, Woolworth’s and Jamesway or whatever. The low end type stores. My grandparents used to take me there, and it was a big deal. I’d hop in their big brown Chrysler and we’d go “into town” as Grandpa would call it. Anything that wasn’t “home” was “into town” – usually said with some manner of distaste, though the fact that I loved going out seemed to tickle him to death. I remember being 5 and skipping across the parking lot in my dinosaur shorts (and yes, they were just as awesome as you imagine they are) in hopes of getting some toy or something. I stopped wearing shorts as often after Grandpa died – to me, at least, summer was over after that. I stopped wearing them completely when I started to grow leg hair as a teenager – I truly didn’t understand what was going on with my body and was incredibly embarrassed. Without a guy around to explain it to me, and with a Mom who didn’t know very much about men’s biology, it remained a mystery to me until well into my 20’s. Anyway, that smell reminds me of that. Don’t go sniffing around department stores today for it, though – it doesn’t smell the same. I don’t know if it was because I was a kid and my olfactory senses are different now, or if they’ve started using different cleaner or something, but it’s not the same. I don’t know if I can even describe what I’m talking about, if you haven’t smelled it – it was a new plastic type smell, but it wasn’t cold and impersonal. It was sort of warm and happy. Happy Plastic, maybe? You’ll never see a Yankee Candle labelled as such, though it’d make me laugh my ass off if there was.

Another smell that I miss is the way video stores used to smell – back when they were video stores, I mean. Like…80’s, maybe early to mid 90’s. I remember walking with my Mom up and down the aisles, picking up the video tape sleeves that had Styrofoam blocks inside. I don’t know how to describe this smell either, except that it smelled like VHS tapes, Styrofoam and maybe popcorn. One would think that this smell went away with the big switch to DVD – and it did – but it faded  significantly when VHS tapes became less expensive (or video stores got too lazy) and just started stocking the shelves with the tapes themselves. So maybe what I was smelling was the Styrofoam after all. Hm.

The smell that brings back the most for me, though – the one that literally is like a kick in the head to me – is fax paper. I’m talking before they switched to plain paper – that doesn’t really have a smell – but the old, quasi shiny paper that used to come in a roll. I used to get scripts faxed all the time – in the days before we invested in a fax machine for the house, we’d go down the street to a stationary store and pick up the faxes there. Sometimes we’d actually go there and wait for the fax. Sometimes we’d have to run in, grab it, and take off, if the audition and fax came in the same day. I used to love how shiny the paper was – it was actually really sensitive. If I pressed my fingernails into it, it would leave little gray imprints in the paper. Not necessarily indentations, mind you, but marks. Hell…if I had wanted to (and often I did) I could write with something – say, a pin or a quarter – and make designs on the paper. I got faxes so much that I started anticipating the smell. To me, it smelled like opportunity and success. I remember being seriously disappointed when they switched paper types and it stopped smelling.

Anyway, one of the things the used to do with scripts and sides was go through it with a fat black Sharpie and X out entire parts. Sometimes this was because a scene was changed (or removed) – sometimes it was for clarity. In other words, they were telling you that your part started below the X, so don’t bother reading through the Sharpie. I always read the crossed out parts, though. Always. It provided insight into the characters, or enlightened you about what was going on in the script in terms of the big picture. Another thing about old faxes? They weren’t the clearest. Sometimes a word would come through blurry. Or not at all. So I’d have to sit there and pick through the script – guessing at which words were supposed to fill in the blanks. I got it right, too, more often than not – that’s something I was always pretty proud of myself for.

I also got really good at reading between the lines with life too. I got into the habit of never taking anything at face value. I could often tell something was wrong with people – sometimes even before they knew themselves – and picked and questioned and dug until they told me (or figured out that there was indeed something wrong). If someone said something as simple as “good morning”, it was full of nuance. I sifted through it, seeking to glean any nuggets of meaning. When they said “good morning” did they mean it was a good morning, or they wished it was a better morning? Or were they being sarcastic? In a lot of ways, I was my mother’s son. I wasn’t crazy or paranoid – I was just raised that way. It’s a habit (or a trait?) that cost me a lot of relationships and made me incredibly awkward socially (at least as a teenager). I think it made people around me nervous because I was nervous. My wondering if they were okay made them wonder if they were really okay. And it sort of created a spiral of self doubt and hysteria. Frankly, it probably didn’t have the greatest impact on Mom either.

I just realized that all my favorite smells – or at least a lot of them – are synthetic. Ask anyone what their favorite smell is – a freshly mowed lawn, flowers, rain. My favorite smells were all manufactured. I wonder what that says about me.

  1. dustandsoul says:

    Happy plastic. I know and love it well 🙂

    I’m the same, re: nuances and reading between the lines. I occasionally think of myself as a ‘truth wizard’ since 9/10 I know immediately when someone is lying. Not that I judge them for it. Lying is as much a part of human psychology as truth-telling is. But in all of my personal relationships, I have been known to become utterly convinced of something based on a tiny eye-flicker or verbal stutter, and I’m almost always absolutely correct.

    Another great blog post x

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