Friday, August 02, 2013

Notes from the Ol' Factory

Madeleine schmadeleine; I've got garbage trucks.

Passing a garbage truck on the way to the subway this morning, I was reminded of my childhood aversion to that familiar garbage truck smell. Actually, as a kid I was hypersensitive to odors in general, and the garbage truck was one of the worst that I encountered on a regular basis. I was transported back to my less than idyllic childhood by that same, sickening smell this morning. The smell of a New York City garbage truck hasn't really changed in the last fifty years. I guess, ultimately, despite the changes in our consumption patterns, the basic components of our trash are pretty much stable when it comes to smell.

I don't know how to describe the garbage truck smell. Acrid perhaps, but more complex than that. Not "funky," though funky things are certainly a component of the final bouquet. Not really pustulent either. There's even a touch of the cloying, but for the most part it's an undertone. Ultimately it's just that garbage truck smell.

There were plenty of other smells that bothered me, but I could avoid many of them. Alas, some of that avoidance went counter to the normal pursuits of childhood.

I'm no Augustine and I'm no Rousseau. The juiciest confession you're going to get out of me is that as a kid I hated the circus. In fact, I only went once, to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden (though I always thought the announcer on the radio ads was saying "Barnumum Bailey"). I must have been about five or six, and my mother took me. But I didn't stay for the whole thing. I demanded to be taken home, despite my mother's protestations that I should give it a chance. I was so sickened by the smell, the combination of animal odors and those of animal excreta, that I couldn't enjoy any of the acts, not even the clowns. So my mother relented and took me home. I didn't have such luck with "The Sound of Music" at the Rivoli theater, unfortunately, perhaps because it had nothing to do with odors, so that time I just went to sleep.

I also hated the zoo--the zoo odors, that is. I only went to zoos a few times as a kid. Once, on a class trip to the Bronx zoo, I kept my distance from the cages as the rest of the kids went up to gawk at the animals (just imagine it!).

But could it be that the same hypersensitivity to things olfactory also played a part in making me a foodie? I hadn't given it any thought before, but smell is indeed an essential component of flavor, and surely a heightened sense of smell would also give one a more nuanced sense of flavor. Food for thought, and much more pleasant that remembrances of garbage trucks past.