As I walked to work a few days ago I passed a shop that was being painted. The strong smell of fresh paint transported me immediately to my Catholic high school classroom in winter. There was no particular memory but suddenly I wasn’t walking to work frowning; instead I was sitting on the crappy green carpet in my thick maroon kilt/dress, which Catholic schools enjoy because it guarantees you look so much like a sack of potatoes noone will ever love you or touch your ungodly bits.
But I just love that feeling when something – a smell, a song, a taste or a sound – makes you instantly relive a part of your life in real time. So I decided to take a little more notice of it to see where else I could time travel.
PEANUT BUTTER: I love peanut butter. Love it on toast, straight from the jar, mixed with chocolate, blended in milkshakes or licked off strangers’ faces. I probably eat it everyday – it goes so well with coffee. During uni I discovered another great way to eat it was smeared on those corn thin crackers. Around about this time I did work experience at a place I shall call The Lame-o Crud Face Company For Jerks (TLCFCFJ). Unlike a lot of other places I did work experience, the powers that be at TLCFCFJ gave me sweet fuck all to do. Even when I kindly asked, said I was free or introduced myself to new people – you know, all the soul destroying things people recommend you do as a work experience dweeb – I was abruptly rejected. I was staying in a town hundreds of kilometres away from my home and feeling very vulnerable, so I took it all a bit personally.
TLCFCFJ also had their internet heavily filtered so I could only really look at their intranet and ponder the mysteries of their HR protocols. Every day I would watch the clock, holding off having lunch until about 2, so that when I finished I only had 2 hours until I could leave. So I would sit in their sunny lunch room eating peanut butter on corn thins. As I discovered, swallowing peanut butter and choking back tears simultaneously is hard work. I ended up feeling okay about the experience in the end when, at the end of the two weeks, just as the boss was giving me a fairly average assessment, his mobile phone signalled he had a text message with a farting sound. Dude, I don’t need your approval. Anyhoot, I can’t eat peanut butter on corn thins now without being immediately transported to the most crushing two weeks of my life. Up yours, TLCFCFJ.
WATTLE: The smell of wattle actually brings back a lot of memories. But the strongest memory by far is the time I pooped my pants during sport in primary school. Actually, pooped my netball skirt would be more accurate. I was a little dramatic in Year 2 – a totally unreserved show-off, bordering on bully. But that all changed one fateful, hot Friday. I guess maybe I’d told my teacher I was nearing death one too many times because when I told her I had an enormous pain in my guts, so sharp it took my breath away, she ignored me and told me to come with the rest of my grade to a sports oval near the school for cross-country practice. She let me sit under a wattle tree with my best friend and another disturbed girl who was known for coming to school sans underpants and using … that … as her news item.
At one point I remember the pain moved further down in my guts until, I can’t put this delicately, I parped and then pooped. And let’s just say I must have had bad vindaloo the night before. Other than the telling pain, there had been no sign it was going to get to this point. I remember just looking at my friend as she looked back at me in stunned silence, we were both thinking ‘this is it, this is the end’. Worst of all really, I was wearing a netball skirt so there was no hiding my shame. My teacher made me walk at the back of the group on the way back to school and I remember looking down at my newly , umm … tanned, legs, burning with utter shame. Weirdly though, no one made fun of me. I probably pooped myself at exactly the right time in life when kids looked at me and felt sympathy, knowing it hadn’t been so long since they were in nappies. The school called my dad to come and pick me up. The poor fella took me home, put me in the shower and once I was clean, took me to his office. I remember one of the receptionists saying “you do look flushed you poor thing”, and when I looked at my dad he just had this unforgettable expression on his face, which told me I should never, ever talk about this day again.
RADIOHEAD, KID A: I love this album. But it was the soundtrack to a very painful few months of my life. At least at the time it was very painful. Now it’s just a great story to tell over and over again to my friends in group therapy. I had met the J-man at uni, fell for him hard, kissed him a few times, shared my bed with him once and pretty much did everything I could to tell him I loved the hell out of him. I more or less walked around wearing a sandwich board saying, “You will be mine”. The beginning of uni alone was a very confusing time for me. I had begun living in a dorm with about 20 others and, since that day under the wattle tree, I can be very reserved around new people. Aside from one girl, the people I lived with did not react well to this. I wasn’t freaky peer-at-you-through-the-key-hole kind of quiet, but just didn’t participate in conversations about the weirdest colour my puke had ever been (ask me about my poop and there’s an epic greater than Homer’s Illiad) and I couldn’t join them at the uni bar for a long time because I was underage. So I just did my own thing, which I think they found difficult to understand. I mean if you can play drinking games every night with your dormies, why wouldn’t you? Right? Right? Holler!
I was also really, really reserved around Joel at first as well. While I understand it was difficult for him, I still stand by my behaviour in those first few months of sporadic makeouts. He was a theatre student. A loud, confident, popular theatre student. I was always nervous that whatever I had to say would not compare to whatever one of his theatre mates had just said about Bertolt Brecht. And you know, I wasn’t sure if I should be talking to him in character, singing or using symbolism to communicate. One night we sat together in dining hall with a lot of my dormies looking at me and giggling. So of course, I had nothing to say except *blush* *giggle*. And that was the beginning of the end (well, until he proposed three months ago, sucker!), he didn’t see much point continuing to hang out if I wasn’t going to talk to him. Fair enough, really. But it made me hate myself. I thought I had been so desperate and pathetic. I wished I could talk to him, show him how cool I was, listen to music with him and just be together. So every night for what felt like months, I would put on Radiohead’s Kid A and listen, discovering new things about it on each listen. I would cry, think things through, resist temptation to call him, and fall asleep to its spacey sounds.
It sounds like I’m a rock and roll preacher but with enough listens I got the strength to move on, delete his number and attempt to forget about him. Until one night, he sent me a text message about Bjork and the rest is history. I can’t listen to this album now without thinking about those nights I spent under dull light, not knowing how things would end up.
MY TAXI DRIVER’S B.O: This story might make you gag. I was certainly surprised, confused and disturbed when I got in a taxi after work a couple of nights ago, took a deep breath and rode the wave of my taxi driver’s B.O right back to a high school disco. The old cabbie’s pitts were emitting a strong scent, barely masked with what must have been the Lynx deodorant so popular among boys at my high school. Suddenly I wasn’t in a taxi anymore, there I was nervously quivering in the arms of someone I shall refer to as Barry Otter Young. I had the biggest, longest-running crush on BOY in high school. He was my first kiss, he played guitar and he was older. As appears to be a theme in my love life, I was convinced we had to be together but he was very resistant to my persistent charms. The only time BOY would ever come near me was at school discos, where he would hold me in his arms and attempt to bump and grind. I’m actually pretty sure, looking back, he liked to do it to torture me. “Here’s another taste, little lady,” I imagine him saying. Once you graduate from teenage-ship I don’t think you ever feel that same adrenaline-rushing-heart-pumping-mouth-drying-hyperventilating-headache-loin-tingle thing every single time you think about or see your crush. You get a version of it when you’re older but it’s not quite the same. But breathing in that scent the other night, I got a small replay of that feeling. I’m pretty sure if the taxi driver knew what was going on, he would buy that deodorant in bulk and set up a whole different kind of business.