Thursday, November 15, 2007

This stinks

I remember reading one time that your sense of smell is the sense most directly associated with memory. That explains why certain odors seem to cause these almost flashback-like memories for me on a daily basis. What’s really weird is when there isn’t even an aroma present to trigger your memory, but you smell it in your mind and that’s what sends you reeling. This morning, I was typing away with "Teenage Riot" by Sonic Youth playing in my earphones when I suddenly imagined the smell of taco salad mixed with Chinese food. A food court, right? I was immediately whisked back to New Orleans, October 2001. We ate in a food court downtown and apparently that’s what it smelled like. I guess it’s like an acid flashback (I wouldn’t know), but it’s an aroma that imbeds itself so tenaciously in your brain and then pops to the front, years later, for no apparent reason. I hadn’t heard that song until a couple years ago and no one was eating taco salad around here.

My most common smell association involves gasoline engine exhaust. A certain pitch of that exhaust smell takes me straight to the piers in Wildwood, NJ, standing on the boards above the beach-level go-cart track with the incredible noise and toxic fumes from those buzzing engines floating thickly on the saltwater air. Actually, there are a lot of scents that take me to the boardwalk, a blue-collar symphony for the nose if ever there was one. Pizza, molten caramel, funnel cake and stale urine- South Jersey every time!

Of course, there are those seasonal scents that probably hit us all at the same time. My favorite is the smell of winter. That first really cold fall day when you smell the dead leaves and feel the dryness of the air, and there’s that hint, it even happens down south, where it’s surely a lie, that there’s snow on the horizon. I’m still young enough to have a positive attitude about snow, and that winter smell takes me any number of places: Park City with my skis pointing up and my head buried in the powder after a face-plant; trudging back up Wilson Avenue in Claymont pulling a rusty, 40-year-old sled behind me after a screaming run down the icy street; standing at the bus stop wondering why the hell they hadn’t closed school for the day because surely this dusting is enough to make the roadways hazardous.

Or something like that. I don’t even like taco salad.


Courtney said...

But it's good for you! It's a SALAD!

Smells are good memory sparkers. Music is good too. Hearing "Christmas Don't Be Late" by Alvin & the Chipmunks takes me right back to Christmas morning circa 1986.

Chris said...

Sadly, there are too many places associated with a stale urine smell for me to narrow down to a primary one -- high school locker room, New York subway, any large public restroom (airports, ballparks).

The best smell memories for me are mostly food, especially holiday food. Also, some of Meaghan's long-lived bottles of perfume take me back to our high school days, steaming up the car windows... er, I mean stargazing together.

Noelle said...

I love smell memory. It's so eerily precise.

Jacob said...

I read somewhere that the nerve that goes from your sinuses to the olfactory center runs right through the memory center of the brain. It is a creepy memory inducer. I'm not even sure I'd bust someone for cheating if they went to the trouble of smell designing and scent code for their cheatsheet.

And I remember that food court experience. I was hung over and trying to get some food down to fight the nausea. I also remember Kevin being mad at me for not going to any sessions even though you people weren't going either. Maybe Chris was, but you and Courtney sure weren't.

Julie said...

Wow Mickey, you are truly ahead of your time. Did you read ahead in the TV Guide or something to learn that Pushing Daisies was going to be all about smells?