the things we thought we’d have to live without
You know how some smells just smack you in the face with memory? For me there’s this mango lotion from the now defunct Garden Botanika, which whenever I smell it instantly reminds me of a night in 6th grade when me and two other friends stayed over at one of our houses when the parents were gone and proceeded to watch Romeo + Juliet more times than it’s really okay to admit to. In the morning, after falling asleep on the floor in front of the screen, Sara and I woke up and fast forwarded the movie to this close-up of Leonardo DiCaprio’s face and paused it there so Faith would have something beautiful to wake up to. It’s likely that we were wearing that lotion as it was given as a gift at just about every celebration between 1998 and 2000. Another one is the smell of my late grandmother’s garage in Florida, sweet and musty, like tropical mothballs, I sometimes catch a whiff of it when passing a closing garage door on warm days, and always have the urge to drift into said garage and never come out again.
I’ve been dog-sitting for the last 4 days, and when I was leaving the keys with the concierge yesterday I asked him if he could pass them along to my friend Kerry the owner of the apartment when she returned, to which he looked at me in alarm and said, “Yes of course, but where is the baby?” At first I thought he was talking about the dog, as people in this particular apartment building tend to treat their pets like children, and I kind of looked at him with a mixture of pity and confusion, and he said again, “Is the baby in the apartment?”
“What baby?” I asked, and he looked at me like I must be a very very bad mother.
“You said you were babysitting,” was his reply, and I realized my mistake, a Freudian slip perhaps. I assured him that there was no baby, only a puppy, which was quite enough work in itself.
But one conclusion that I did come to during my sojourn as a puppy mama was that if dogs built an art museum it wouldn’t be filled with paintings but with scents. I was astounded by the intense interest little Opei had in smelling every single thing he came across, until I realized that that’s really how they see. No one thinks it’s strange for a person to keep their eyes open a lot when they are awake, and so it is with dogs that the sniffing is the seeing.
As is the general rule observation once I had made this one I was almost immediately confronted by some information on the same topic: an article in a magazine about olfactory works of art. In particular it discussed a recent show in a gallery in England entitled, “If There Ever Were: An Exhibition of Extinct and Impossible Smells.” These scents were made synthetically and included the smell of the constant atomic explosions on the sun, the scent of surrender during the time of Ramses II, one is a combination of smells from several now extinct plants and trees and it is described in the article as, “cool cloud mists sweeping from the Pacific.” Then there are the smells of communism, the atomic blast in Hiroshima, and a scent derived from a recipe from the 1500s that was supposed to make a woman beautiful forever.
Can you imagine how the sun might smell? I had an interview today in a cafe in the mission, and when it was over and the interviewer had left the man behind the counter asked, “How’d it go?” “Good I think,” I replied, “How did it look?” “Well it doesn’t really matter what it looked like,” he said. But he was wrong, how it looked matters unequivocally. I wondered what a good interview smelled like. What success smelled like. Women can smell success. In double blind studies they prefer the scent of a rich man’s perspiration to that of a poor man, but if they’re on birth control they can’t tell the difference. What does a contingency plan smell like?
I’d like to go to this art show, an exhibit for dogs that only a human could love.