Another thing from Slaughterhouse Five. Vonnegut describes Roland Weary of smelling perpetually of bacon. I can see the greasy skin of him, the bulk of his pork. This brought to mind a girl I knew when I was in third grade. She smelled of mayonnaise. She alarmed me, and she smelled of mayonnaise. Or she smelled of mayonnaise and that alarmed me. I’m not sure which. I have never forgotten her.
I am grateful to my sense of smell, for the most part, although my husband gets tired of me saying uh oh the garbage is starting to smell, or when I sit up in bed in the middle of the night and say do you smell something burning. Not long ago on a bike ride I was suddenly surrounded by the scent of sweet clover. There’s a charitable ride I do every spring and I know this one difficult hill will be made easier by the smell of just blooming lilacs from a bush by the road. Whenever I’ve started a new job, I always pause and smell the whiff of the building I’m in, and think someday I will walk out and never smell this again. I’m weird that way. (And always thinking about the end game.)
The sense of smell is tied tightly to memory, and I like to play a writing game in my workshops of putting the scent of something under the nose of the closed-eyed writers and then say okay, write what it reminds you of. There’s a particular kind of fake cherry scent that brings me back to sitting in the car with my mom, going through the drive-in window at the bank and getting a lollipop from the teller — the heat of the unair-conditioned car, the fabric upholstery, hot metal and dusty wind through the window.
Here’s my challenge to you today. Take a sniff. Spend some time in your nose. Discreetly sniff a stranger. Remember this. You may never smell that guy again.