The sense of smell has a very powerful recall effect on my mind. When I smell certain specific aromas (and it has to be the exact smell), I am instantly transported to a particular place or moment in my past. It is more effective than any other sense memory. Better than music, better than a photo or a shaky home video.
For example, every time I smell axel grease my mind immediately conjures up a very specific moment of me standing in line at Lagoon circa 1987 or so, waiting to get on Colossus. They must lube the hell out of that chain, because you can smell the grease from The Wild Mouse. If I smell the musty smell of furniture and carpet baked in cigarette smoke (not second hand smoke directly, but the way a smoker’s clothes smell), I think of playing with Star Wars toys at Luke Geddess’ house when I was six. I loved Star Wars toy as a boy, Luke had every single one and his parent’s smoked. It makes complete sense that I would have such an association. But I’m always surprised at how vivid the memories are in such moments. By the way, if you loved your Star Wars toys as a kid, check out that last link. You might spend the rest of your day browsing around and reminiscing.
I bring all of this up because I had such an experience yesterday. I was walking through Costco after purchasing a pair of khakis off a pallet. Is there any other way to buy khakis? The familiar smell of hot dogs boiled in water fused a combo pizza sitting under a hot lamp punched me right in the face. And it brought up this particular anecdote from six or seven years ago.
I was home from college for the summer and I needed a job. Always a sucky spot to be in. It’s hard enough to get a job, much less one that will only last for three months. I have sat through my share of scams being advertised in the want ads as “12 dollars an hour! No commission! No door to door sales!” You know what, Vector Marketing? You can take your CutCo Knifes and blow it out your lying ass.
Anyway, I ended up getting the glamorous job of working the late night / early morning shift stocking shelves at Costco. The coveted 3:00 am to noon shift. Weird hours to work. My first day there was early on a Saturday morning. I hadn’t adjusted my sleep schedule yet (I never did through the rest of that summer) so I just rounded the horn and didn’t sleep at all before I punched in at 3:00 that morning.
It was a pretty menial job of dodging forklifts, folding the previously mentioned khakis and listening to the Black Crows’ Shake Your Money Maker on repeat over the PA system. It forever ruined that album for me.
It was my first day and I didn’t know anyone so I was trying reasonably hard to look somewhat interested. I kept my head down and just stocked shelves. I never took a lunch or a break of any kind the whole shift. No one told me to and I never noticed anyone else take one.
At about 9:00 in the morning, the snack bar started boiling up those damn hot dogs. The store opened and, it being a Saturday in the summer, the place was packed.
At about 12:30 that afternoon, I was exhausted and thought I was finally done for the day. Again, I hadn’t slept the night before and I wasn’t comfortable enough with this job to be the lazy, corner cutting bastard I typically am. I went and asked my boss if he needed anything else from me, which is code for “Please, for the love of all that is decent, let me go home!” He told me to take back a cart of weeds and punch out. For those of you not in the know, “weeds” is a Costco speak for misplaced items. So I am walking through Costco on a Saturday with a cart full of random stuff, trying find where they go.
As I am doing this, I ran into a friend of mine from school. Her name was Nicole and we had a marketing class together the previous semester. Nicole is your typical uptight, hot as hell, BYU chick that is constantly on the look out for things to disapprove of. We were in a project group together and worked quite a bit on this semester long presentation. She wore lots of sweater vests that made her boobs look both fantastic and forbidden. And since I wasn’t a douchebag accounting major and I didn’t play lacrosse like all the other cake eaters, she had no interest in my dumb ass.
Anyway, I see Nicole on my first day of work at Costco while I’m returning said cart of weeds. We exchanged pleasantries. She was living in
Feeling more confused than rejected, I looked down at shopping cart. Again, this is my first day on the job. I don’t have a vest or a tag or any visual sign that I was an employee. I looked like every other Costco customer with a cart full of stuff that I was about to buy.
Sitting there on the top of my cart was a 12 pack of KY Jelly. Seriously, this thing weighed like twenty pounds. It was a whole lotta lube at a very reasonable price.
Just what in the hell would a single, Mormon (read celibate) guy be doing purchasing KY Jelly in bulk? It does taste good on a cracker. But I don’t think that was the conclusion she drew. Suddenly I understood why she ran like hell. Now every time I smell Costco hotdogs, I think of KY Jelly.
I started this long winded entry talking about the smell of axel grease and ended it with KY Jelly. It all has a certain symmetry, don’t you think?