It was an unlikely purchase, but the temptation to possess a Febreze ScentStories player grabbed me by the nostrils like the summer-fresh smell of new-mowed grass. And so I paid $25 for the hottest thing in home environment management: think Smellevision. Or maybe, smellephone.
ScentStories is an electronic device, akin to a CD player, that puffs out a series of air-freshening bouquets such as "Wandering Barefoot on the Shore," "Relaxing in the Hammock" or spokesperson Shania Twain's signature "Wishes for Spring."
Let's just say that you usually have to sniff the dashboard of an airport shuttle to find smells of such effrontery. But the fact that my new toy stank like a mall bathroom didn't keep me from unveiling it at a dinner party of cynics whose own scent stories lean more toward "Emptying the Gin Bottle" and "Closing Down the Krystal." We plugged in ScentStories and gathered 'round as if it were a parlor game. Within seconds of hitting "play" on the introductory CD, there was concern that "Walking Beside Wildflowers" might sully the taste of perfectly good Scotch. One smeller edged his chair away from the table, mumbling something about the baby-fresh scent of a local adult entertainment venue, while another likened the aromatic output to the end product manufactured at an ass factory.
The fundamental flaw with ScentStories, as I see it, is its failure to awaken any scent memory other than that of, simply, air freshener. Track No. 1 no more smells like any time I've spent "Following the Winding Creek" than it smells like "Exploring the Mountains," which is track No. 3. Though, let me take a moment here to ask: what would those things smell like, and who would describe anything so arbitrarily? (I can only imagine the HR department at Procter & Gamble recruiting a clutch of out-of-work wine tasters to name their synthetic scents: "Yes, Nigel, this paste reminds me of a particularly succinct Bordeaux that smelled of rubbing on Ben-Gay, with the slightest hint of licking a urinal cake.") No, ScentStories is not the successful synesthesia I might have hoped for. It is a highly packaged marketing prank to sell bathroom spray.
Then, ah, ha! As we fast-forwarded to track No. 4, our least engaged sniffer announced that "High in the Mountain Pass" reminded him of his teenage summer in Germany, where, instead of showering, the Helmuts und Dieters would slather themselves with a nauseating lemon-scented balm.
Now that's a good machine! An appliance that can actually conjure the powerful memories of times well spent. It's not my idea. Harold und Maude already thought of it. In the 1971 cult classic film, the withered, sagging Maude introduces her moribund amour to her Odorifics machine, a bizarre contraption that spews gritty olfactory banquets such as "Snowfall on 42nd Street" and "Mexican Farmyard." Forget about Shania's powder-fresh wishes for a deodorized spring. Bring on "Wishes for a Smelly German Foreign Exchange Program."
This breakthrough got us thinking about the memorable smells of our livesmore specifically, of our summers. Our days now tend to be spent indoors, along a continuum of EPA-approved citrus non-stink. In the 10th floor women's bathroom that, all year, smells like no wildflowers I have ever walked beside. In the lobby that smells as much of KleenPine as it does of track No. 5, "Gazing at the Tall Firs." But when we were younger, summer really smelled. It smelled first of honeysuckle and iris. Then, as the days got longer, of Bomb Pops and Double Bubble. It smelled like lake water up your nose, inner tubes by the dock and mildewed bathing suits in forgotten duffles. Summer smelled like the singeing-hot vinyl backseat of an un-air-conditioned station wagon. It smelled like Off! and Band-Aids, Bactine and new tennis balls. As we got older, summer wafted like a cocktail of Hawaiian Tropic, QT and Sun-In, with a soundtrack by Air Supply and The Police. It smelled like cherry Icees and new summer reading books. As we edged toward responsibility, it smelled like first jobs: pouring gasoline in a lawnmower, life guarding in an over-chlorinated pool, smoothing asphalt on a construction site. It smelled like the soggy carpet in the floorboard of my first convertible. Later, it smelled like beer. And dip spit. And road trips. And maybe even condom wrappers, if you were lucky.
These days, summer smells for the most part like spring. Which smells like winter. Which smells like autumn. Which smells like a nonallergenic industrial cleaner so omnipresent you don't even notice it. Which ultimately drives you to think, "Man, I better get me one of those ScentStories machines to help shake loose this non-smell." Then, God forbid, some day Febreze will have to launch a meta-smell machine that reawakens the now-nostalgic feeling of the smell of track No. 2, because summer's over and we were too busy to walk outside and smell the wildflowers, follow the winding creek or sniff the Germans.
Has he tried an experiment with the red ants?
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