The graffiti read, “I HATE THE WORLD.” It was in all capital letters, spray painted in florescent orange paint, under an overpass.
I was a passenger in the car and on my way to celebrate a milestone in my life. Friends and family would be cheering me on, clapping, crying and capitalizing on every photo opportunity of me they could while an African drummer played a traditional drum beat on the side of the stage. They would watch me and the other Geoducks take the stage, smile, receive our validation that yes indeed, we were now bona fide. My mother would tear up, my father would hold her hand and smile proudly and my sons would wonder when the speeches would be over. Graduate school acceptances would be announced, mine included, and there would be more praise – more tears of joy, and yet…..
Every once in a while during the ceremony, I caught myself being transported back to the freeway – a passenger in a car, driving under the overpass, seeing the florescent orange words, “I HATE THE WORLD,” while I listened to Johnny Cash sing The Man Comes Around. It wasn’t as if it depressed me terribly or ruined my special day. The words simply had me wondering a bit as most things do. Ceremony or no ceremony my curious mind never really stops. It was there, in the fifth row while the Senator sang her own tune, that I decided I knew what the “taggers” problem was – He didn’t have a sense of smell, which in turn fed his unhappiness.
I’ve always said that if I could have a journal of only smells from my life I would never need the written word. Smells tell me everything and are my strongest sense. They take me back to places, people and feelings, and with them bring along an entire story. I understand why Napoleon kept violets in a locket after Josephine’s death. It was the smell that reminded him of her; not photos or words, but the simple smell of a flower could transport him to her instantly. The scent of her precious violets remained with him until his death – a reminder of the tumultuous love they once had.
There was a period in my own life, in the not too distant past, that for a number of years I didn’t smell much either. Although I harbored no hatred of the world my own personal tumultuous life had taken over my being, my essence, and in turn my sense of smell. There were glimpses of scents every so often, but they remained somewhat elusive – just beyond my grasp…like the man who hates the world I suppose. I would occasionally smell the earthiness of my son’s head when I hugged him tight, my dog’s fur after being out in the rain, or the sweet breath of a lover, but for a few years they were left to mere chance.
As I sat in the fifth row contemplating my sense of smell, or lack there of, the hatred of the world and the origin of geoducks; something absolutely serendipitous happened – Someone began mowing their lawn close by. I knew this because I smelled the cut grass, the occasional dirt being blown from the blades and the gasoline in the tank vaporizing in the air. As I smiled to myself, inhaled deeply, and took it all in, my name was being called to make my way to the stage to receive my paper from the higher minds and enjoy the world, it’s pleasures and most importantly… it’s smells…