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.