fragrance of old lady
Wednesday, May 17 2006
At my favorite dumpster in Bearsville today there wasn't just an enormous new pile of freshly-cut firewood, there was also a pair of massive industrial coffee urns capable of holding 20 gallons each. They were made of stainless steel and came complete with all sorts of gleaming valves and knobs from a time when things were built to last. There was some damage to the urn I brought home with me; the main tap had been bent sideways, twisting the thin stainless steel urn wall with it. Using a wrench I was able to remove all the various valves and taps. There were more than ten penetrations through the urn's wall, as well as a wide but-sealable cleanout hole in its top. The urn had clearly designed to be completely sealable and pressurizeable, because it even had a gleaming stainless steel pressure relief valve. If I could find a way to plug all those holes, I could use it as a cistern, a hot water heater, or a heat exchanger. And if I couldn't, I could always cut it in two and make a planter out of the bottom half, which sits on four squat stainless steel legs. They're simple, but they're far more elegant than anything being industrially manufactured from stainless steel today.
Later I took a hammer and did what I could to beat the bent penetration flat from the inside (through the cleanout hole). Stainless steel is tough material; after wailing on that metal with a hammer for many strokes it had deformed only grudgingly and with none of the lumpiness hammer blows normally impart. The metal never once threatened to tear, something ordinary steel, aluminum, or copper would have begun to do very early in the process.
A lack of rain made it possible for me to mow the grass for the second time this year. I've mowed this lawn about 20 times in the past three and a half years, but it's only been in the last several times that I've arrived at a mowing pattern that matches the yard layout, aims clippings away from driveways and walkways, avoids rocks, and prevents clippings from accumulating excessively in unmowed areas (eventually stalling the mower when it reaches those places). The centerpiece of my pattern is always the peak of a grassy knoll in the center of the lawn, a large stump I buried back in 2004. From there I spiral outward in a clockwise direction. I also usually spiral outward from the wellhead on the other side of a stone pathway, and then I do the narrow north end of the lawn in a narrow blocky spiral. From high above on the solar deck these spirals are well-defined by the abundant clippings that inevitably result from tardy mowings. The patterns look like something Gretchen might doodle on the edge of her notebook during a boring lecture.
Gretchen has two different poetry groups she meets with on a monthly basis. At one of them, held by a group of aspiring writers, Gretchen is always the oldest attendee. At the other, held by a group of poetry fans, Gretchen is always the youngest. Tonight she was at the monthly meeting of her poetry fan group, and it featured a pot luck dinner anchored by fashionably low-carb staples. A bag of corn chips brought by one of the attendees was only lightly sampled during the course of the evening and when the meeting adjourned, Gretchen took the bag home with her, knowing that corn chips are one of my major staples. Later tonight when I was craving carbohydrates I grabbed that bag and a jar of salsa, and headed back to my laboratory.
But then, as I was reading web pages and eating chip after salsa-scooping chip, I kept experiencing the nagging fragrance of old lady. You probably know what I mean. It's a deliberate fragrance, either a perfume or a deodorant, a chemical product that older women apply to themselves in an effort to make themselves smell nice. They've probably been using the same fragrance all their lives, starting when they were nubile teenagers. As with their hair styles, why mess with success (particularly the success that led to the loss of virginity)? But fragrance choices draw sharp generational distinctions; what to you might smell like nubile youth might smell like grandmother to me. I don't know what fragrances teenage girls are accessorizing with these days, but chances are they aren't the same ones that girls in my high school used to wear. I usually smell vaguely like my armpits, spilled beer and a hint of piss, but chances are good that if I wore the same deodorant I used to borrow from my buddies in high school gym class, a sixteen year old girl would think I smelled like her Dad or one of her Dad's friends, and she'd experience a visceral anti-incest revulsion. That was the sort of revulsion I experienced as I sat there in front of my computer trying to eat those corn chips. I actually had to stop; I'd lost my appetite.
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