Scents are time machines. The smell of musty cabinets, Magie Noire perfume, Finesse hairspray, books, Bonnie Bell lipsmackers, leaky air conditioners mixed with ocean breezes…they can all take me back to childhood. The other day I was rushing across St. Mark’s Place and ran into a cloud of clove cigarette smoke. I was transported to my teenage years. Does anyone else out there remember the first time a guy ever lit a clove cigarette, handed it to you and said in a practiced, sexy way, “Here, try this–then lick your lips”?
You did what you were told…and he’d lean in for a kiss.
If you were raised on a rainy island in the Pacific Northwest like me, you’d be in some rusty, smelly old car by the lake, the sound of his leather jacket rubbing up against naugahyde (or perhaps “fine Corinthian leather”) seats mingling with the chirping of crickets and whooping of a strange bird that only seemed to come out at night.
You’d talk about what you were going to do in the future; that you’d never sell out, that you hated Top 40 music, cheerleaders and Hemingway, because he was stupid didn’t know shit about women.
The guy would agree with you, even though he didn’t, because he secretly liked looking at the cheerleaders and Hemingway was better than that boring Fitzgerald guy. At least there were bullfights in his stories.
You’d kiss for a while, then push his head away, take a drag off the clove cigarette, lick your lips again, then pull him back for more. You’d feel like a silver screen vamp.
It would be chilly and the trees would glisten from the rain. The guy might “discover” a bag of wine under his seat, carefully removed from the Franzia box that once housed it, so that the ruse would be more believable. You’d giggle and say it looked like a colostomy bag, even though you’d never seen one.
You’d drink the cheap wine. You’d talk more shit. You’d go skinny dipping. You might do other things.
All of which you might remember years later while running past two college kids who are sitting on a St. Mark’s Place stoop, smoking clove cigarettes.
Just one whiff of that scent and you are no longer in New York, rushing to make an appointment. No, you’re by the moonless lake at age 17, wondering just what the fuck you’re going to do with yourself.