Is anyone listening to Mike Birbiglia’s new podcast, Working It Out? On each episode, he speaks with a comedian and gets them to share work-in-progress jokes and respond to off -the-cuff prompts. While I was listening today, I was struck by one of the prompts. It struck me as a good one-inch picture frame:
Is there a particular smells that reminds you of your childhood?
I introduce you to: The Smells of My Formative Years...
Early elementary school: freshly photocopied paper. I’m old enough that with they were still using purple-inked mimeograph, and the paper was always a little damp. As soon as that paper hit my desk, I’d raise it to my nose like all the other little huffers in my class and inhale. I could feel the sticky, chemical tang all the way to my molars. Why did they let us do that?
Sundays: scrapple from the Country Squire Diner. We’d go there for breakfast after church with Nana and Aunt Joan. The place it was always crowded but the owner loved Nana and would come and find her in the line and escort us to a table. We’d always order our scrapple crisp and served with apple sauce to temper the salty pork. But the real allure of the diner was a large and colorful machine, bleeping and blooping in the vestibule. It had the word BIORHYTHM on the side and I was sure that if I just had 50 cents I could stick my hand inside and get important and super secret information about my life. I never found out what that machine did.
High School: Saturday Football. On game days, I proudly wore my cheerleading uniform — a blazing show of red and white. The sex appeal of the short, pleated skirt was all but obliterated by the itchy, long-sleeved sweater atop a turtle-necked shirt. Our only connection to the cheer squads we saw on tv was a pair of pompoms that may have once been fluffy and glorious, but had become sad masses of crinkly, greasy plastic that smelled like the back of my grandmother’s closet. But I shook those pompoms with vigor when the situation called for it, shouting myself hoarse for boys who never knew my name.
Middle row, second from left. Not pictured: sad, smelly pompoms.
Our squad had recently been to Cheer Camp where we learned how to make spirit fingers and how to throw the smaller girls into the air. Energized, we become Super-Ambassadors of School Spirit, extending our duties off the field. We hung signs in the halls proclaiming the inevitable dominance of our teenaged idols and recruited ringers to sit in the crowd at the games to return our chants ("When I say RED, you say WHITE"). We were allowed entry into the dank and damp lair of the boys locker room to hang decorations and leave candy in the boys’ lockers. The smell was alarming — a pungent combination of discarded ace bandages, Irish Spring soap, and wet dog. We loved every minute of it.