Sunday, September 7, 2008

Smells I will never forget

Every time we go to Seoul, we take the bus to the depot at Yongsan Army Garrison, and I always have to go to the bathroom there. The bathroom smells exactly like the bathroom at Carousel Pet, a pet store I worked at between high school and college. It's a muddy, oozy organic type smell. The pet store bathroom smelled that way because we kept the blood worms there. People bought them by the ounce to feed their carnivorous fish, and they were GROSS. I do not know why the bus depot bathroom smells like blood worms, but if that doesn't convince you to squat over the seat instead of sitting, nothing will. Every time I go in there, it makes me think of the other smells I'll never forget: The smell of baking dirt and the smell of ground zero. Interestingly, all of these smells are unpleasant. I wonder if there is a word for smell-memories. Smemories, maybe. I'll spare you the story of the baking dirt smell for now. Let me just say my childhood was slightly out of the ordinary. Now, as we approach September 11th, on to the smemory of Ground Zero.

The smell of ground zero was horrible. It hung thick in the air and clung to me. It felt like a film on my skin, and for all I know, it was. It was smoke and jet fuel and decay. The smell and the destruction was in jarring, surreal contrast to the cheerful posters and cards from people all over the world, and the celebrities swerving gourmet food to workers. When I think of it, which is not often, what I get is the smemory and the visits by the grieving family members. They were a good match, the faces and the smell.

I had planned to write a lot more on this, then post it on September 11th, but I realized I already wrote the whole story, so I'm going to post it in chunks, ending on 9/11. I originally wrote it right afterward as a magazine article. It was never published; I can't remember now if I was never happy with it and didn't send it anywhere or if it got rejected. I was tempted to revise it but decided to leave it alone and post it as I originally wrote it, even if I don't love all of it. When I looked at the original story again, I was struck by how similar parts of it are to what I just wrote above, off the top of my head. Tomorrow: Part 1.

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