Wow. The first whiff of the light but heady alcohol burn boomeranged me right back to the dark little shed in France where my French dad, René-Pierre, was beginning the process of making mirabelle eau de vie. The mirabelle plum is a petite yellow fruit, delicate and sweet, almost floral in nature, and very easy to eat a lot of. I remember watching René-Pierre stirring the bright plums that floated in a contrasting dark wooden barrel, and that the dense smell of fermentation nearly overwhelmed the sweetness of the fruit. The air in the shed was hot and close, the sunshine on the grass outside offering a promise of space and fresh air. I was too young to realize how special the moment was.
Sipping the eau de vie tonight was nearly as good as time-travel; eyes closed, leaning in to the glass, I couldn’t speak for several seconds. I’m torn between wanting to drink it again as soon as possible–the one I drank is locally made–and wanting to give the experience time to recede, so that it will regain its power.
The minute I walk in, I’m assaulted by the smell that is not quite burning rubber, but nonetheless thick and toxic and artificial, practically a visual presence in the air. I find it hard to believe that real rubber could smell this industrial. There is an actual dark heaviness to it that is unusual, perhaps it denotes a type of human effort that was initially intellectual (I see people in lab coats), and then factory built by muscle and machines. Is it a dye that makes the tires black, or something else?
Even more disconcerting, the smell which at first seemed so toxic and invasive eventually dissipates to invisibility. The fact that it’s gone makes me wonder what’s being done to my scent receptors the longer I stay. The competing scent of popcorn in the morning doesn’t help matters, though I’ve since learned to wait until the afternoon before doing a first come, first served tire change. I ask the woman behind the counter if she notices the smell or if it just has become something she got used to over time?
Like me, she says that at first it was really obvious, but that now she can’t even smell it until she gets in her car to leave. Then, much like exiting a smoky bar, she notices the scent clinging to her hair and pretty much jumps in the shower as soon as she gets home. I feel fortunate that I only have to spend a short time here.
It was my very first job. I wasn’t, strictly speaking, legally of an age to work. I cleaned puppy & kitten cages, and fed reptiles and birds and fish for a single summer between elementary school and junior high. I once played in the St. Bernard-sized dog house with a friend, so I imagined that the job would be great fun.
Lysol and bleach were the key components of the watery mixture in which the fake pine would assume dominance until the bleach drydown could reassert itself. The pounding sound of steaming water foaming into the cleaning bucket, the clammy feel of Playtex yellow gloves, and the large greying mildewing sponge complete my memory of the behind the scenes prepwork.
Lysol was not a cleaning substance used in our house, so I had no previous association with it, and I do not use it in my home now. Whenever I encounter it out in the world, I see the metallic cages I used it to clean, and I hear the sound of newspapers I had to tear into strips, which were placed in the clean cage as soon as it dried. Fortunately, this memory is immediately followed up by the ink-and-newsprint smell of ripping newspaper, and then by the damp, doughy, almost-not-that-unpleasant smell of puppy-urine-soaked-strips mixed with whatever moist food didn’t make it from puppy bowl to puppy stomach. Because how can you hate anything that smells like puppies?