Smells Like Home

As a child, I had this toy slime called “Gak” (80s and 90s, baby). It came in different colors, but my favorite was the white one. It had a certain scent to it… earthy and artificial. Whenever I think of the slime, I remember my room with the stereo system next to the window, equipped with empty cassette tapes ready to record my favorite songs off the radio, boy band posters on the wall and a sense of shame in the back of my head when I ran to the ice cream van at age 12 once the bell chimed in our small town gossipy German street. I watched My Girl several times that summer. Eating ice cream.

The scent of fog also does something with me… Artificial fog. It’s weird and I will try to understand it myself and then explain. In 2012, I visited Universal Studios Hollywood for the first time, and Halloween Horror Nights became my ultimate go-to. It takes place on select nights September through November and employs artificial fog (for dramatic effects in certain areas, obviously). I could stand in the fog for hours and be a happy camper. I believe it’s the sensation of being in a different world, with a (great) hint of danger, but knowing nobody can hurt you. The smell of dampness combined with the sweetness of cotton candy and the distant cloud of grilled burgers is right where you walk from Super Silly Fun Land and Minion Mayhem through little France or the streets of London toward Universal Plaza (yeah, I know the layout in my sleep). The fog is the strongest in those streets… and on the Studio Tour when you’re chased (on foot) through the backlot. Jurassic Park has the same special fog effects, which makes it one of my favorite attractions. Again, being emerged in a world where you get a sense of danger, but with a security that nothing will happen to you, is the ultimate olfactory thrill.

Yankee Candles, Bath and Body Works and all things fall: Once my favorite season rolls around, I’m unstoppable. Home Sweet Home, Autumn wreath, Spiced pumpkin, Cinnamon stick, Marshmallow Pumpkin latte, Salted Caramel Pumpkin, my hairs stand on end, my pupils enlarge, my hands grab a tote and I push old ladies aside with my coupons. I have no control over myself come fall. Basically anything cinnamon, perhaps a hint of vanilla (and sometimes coconut), but cinnamon is always my go-to. If I must analyze this notion, I would say it’s my teenage years and American culture personified. The best Halloween I had was at a sleepover with some of my girl friends in High School, watching scary movies and eating the candy we had just harvested trick-or-treating (although you’re technically not supposed to past the age of what? 10?11?).

For me, everything stands and falls with a smell… attraction in a partner, comfort at a work place, restaurants, cars, my home most of all… and yeah, me. I have no idea what I smell like. That’s for others to judge, but with all the pumpkin and marshmallow and cinnamon and vanilla, I’d say I smell like fall. And adventure… Kidding… Just fall. American fall. At a country home. In October. At night. In the fog. Yeah.

#30DayWritingChallenge

Day 25: Your favorite smell

All aboard…

I remember lying on my belly on the beige carpet on the 2nd floor of our house. Legs up in the air, eyes concentrating on the scenery and my right hand on the control: Forward—stop—first level go – speed up – slow down – watch out for the cows.

We were living in a house nestled in a very, VERY suburban neighborhood. The late evening sun shone through the roof window and slowly fainted to black. The light from the kitchen downstairs partly lit the upstairs open area that offered four doors to different rooms: My parent’s bedroom, the master bathroom, my room, and a guest room. I preferred the middle area where all those rooms met – it’s an open space and you can overhear everything in the house. And save a life, perhaps.

I spent hours with my dad setting up those train tracks. They had to fit together. At first, they formed a perfect circle. But we quickly discovered that this was no fun. So we expanded our route to an oval. I like to believe that the train was a Christmas present. Christmas is everything to me (next to Halloween).

I like it because I remember vividly how I was led upstairs by my mom when Santa Claus was about to show up. Or as we believe, and said at the time in Germany, the “Christkind”. I remember trying to look through the wooden bars upstairs that face the stairs going down. You couldn’t see anything but the stairs, but you heard everything that was going on on the first floor. My grandfather knew. To this day, I believe he had a bell that he rang. He spoke to the Christ child… pretended… for me! For me to believe. He wanted me to believe. He rang the bell. I remember his voice being low, speaking in secret, pretending to hope I wouldn’t notice. Prompting our visitor to leave its presents under the tree. And he did.

I don’t know much about my (paternal) grandfather. He was born in Poland, but to Germans. It was complicated. He was a joker. And he survived the wars. I saw him on his deathbed. And I believe he watches over me.

Over several holidays, we expanded the train: With trees, animals, farms, stations, anything. The first thing I would do when I got home from school was to play with that train. The smell was so distinct – very irony. Dry, sweet, electrical, slightly burned on the carpet. The control would heat up when I would play with it for too long. I then stopped for half an hour, got something to eat, and went back up. I loved that train. It was the only thing I was able to control.

The echoes from my parents disagreeing could be heard upstairs. Perhaps one of the reasons I liked the train station’s location so much. I wanted to be involved. Able to react. Interfere. Save. Perhaps.

I remember that the train assembly gave me a sense of peace. Control. Whenever there was a pig on the tracks, the train was stronger and just pushed it to the side. Everyone was always on time. If not, nobody complained; they understood that the tracks were still in the process of being built. And that intense scent of electricity. I’m grateful for the times I had with that train. And I’m almost even more grateful that those times are over. Although they feel like it was just yesterday. Life.

Day 9 #30DayWritingChallenge ; Prompt: “What was your favorite childhood toy?”

Life is like a Hurricane

Here in duck burg.

Remember that one? I was just reminded of the theme song to Ducktales when TV Land rudely reminded me that I can no longer get up at 6 am on a Sunday, cuddle up on the couch with my cereal and watch cartoons for hours straight. Because the cartoons today are flat-out garbage (imho).

I remember one morning, I even made it before 6 am. It was a Saturday. I heard the wooden steps of our house creak right after I had turned on the TV. It was my dad. I knew I overdid it. He just came in and snatched the remote away from me, ordering me back to bed. So I waited an hour (in my imaginary cape). And returned back downstairs. I cannot miss Captain Planet! How is he going to save the world without me – TV girl (the power of square eyes and complete support in front of that screen when the sun wasn’t even up).

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And the Jetsons. Oh, the Jetsons. I always wanted one of those flying cars. And a husband like George… not really, he’s kind of scrawny and a push-over… Not even for the flying car.

The Rescue Rangers were my absolute heroes. We knew them from Donald’s adventures – the little chipmunks who constantly made the famous duck’s life a bit more difficult. Genius Disney! In Germany, their names were not Chip and Dale, but A-chipmunk and B-chipmunk (the latter being the one with the red nose and the scruffy fohawk). In the Rescue Rangers, we renamed them Chip and Chap. I guess Dale was not good enough.

Goof Troop!!! Remember that? I completely fell in love with Goofy when the Goofy movie first aired in 1995. I think I watched it in 96 though. And I was well past my childhood years. I had entered the critical teenage phase, but Goofy was always there. This may explain everything…

The theme songs to all these shows, as you may have noticed, are very repetitive. Of course they summarize the gist of each show, but are mainly made to sing or hum along and remember. (Pinky and the brain brain brain brain).

These cartoons, along with many many TV shows, were the root of all the love I have for the US. I know, a complete illusion. But as many movies premiers, show recordings and behind-the-scenes events I’ve been to, I refuse to give up on finding the magic I still believe in.

I think the one that has stuck with me the most and will always evoke memories and emotions is the theme song to the Rescue Rangers. And Ducktales. They were all part of a great time – when all your cares in the world seemed to be what you will do with your day once the clock strikes 11. News time. No more cartoons. I guess we’ll fight for what’s right, whatever we do… gummy bears 🙂 (don’t even pretend you’re not singing along in your head).

I know what I’ll be doing this Sunday… in this crazy town full of loony toons… Might solve a mystery or rewrite history. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, enjoy the memories.