Smells

smells

The smell of avocados leads me to nightlife, the wet trenches of a bar, the mold, the rot, the smell of tequila, in a puddle on the floor, mixed with stale beer, blood, sweat, who knows what else. You ask Avocados, light – before I can write about that, I go to the dark. I don’t find avocados particularly pungent, I see and experience them more as a conduit for other flavors and smells, a foundation, a rock, the transporter, the complement to, say, jalapeños or tomatoes or citrus or chiles, or other members of the nightshade family. At certain times of day I’m transported back to California, but it comes more from an internal feeling, or from drinking black coffee on an empty stomach and feeling the rush of caffeine win out over hunger, that reminds me of waking up every day after working the night before and driving straight to a park to practice yoga in a field. Now, going to Citibank on a weekday to withdraw funds takes me back to LA because I used to do that there every week, every Monday, or Tuesday, or the first chance I had after the weekend, in the late afternoon, with a stack of tips from the weekend, and I’d have actual interaction with the teller, a few of whom I’d see at the bar where I worked on Friday and Saturday nights. Swiping my card in the small machine brings me back, that physical action, to doing that in LA. The smell of Fernet Branca, syrupy, bitter, sweet, minty, medicinal, dripping from a tap at the end of the bar, I never mistake it, or of Bulleit Rye, or of Jameson Irish whiskey, the smooth, mellow, buttery taste. And the smell of Axe Body spray and hair product that the bathroom attendant, an old man, LA native, forgot his name, my bar back called him an “OG,” the bathroom smelled like the styling section of a discount drug store because he kept it stocked with the products you’d find there. Limes, of course, crankiness at the beginning of a shift, the acid seeping into tiny cuts on my finger tips and in between cuticles, rotting the ends of my fingers, cuts from moving fast, scraping my hands on jagged chunks of ice, cuts too tiny to see but only felt, the sting. More than avocado, to remember the daylight, I think in terms of antidote, of the Hawaiian brand sunscreen I slathered on before I left the house in the early afternoon to hike or stretch on that field in the park, how it made my flesh greasy and smelled, I thought, like a chemical version of some coconut oil-banana combination. A lot of people who go to bars wear very aromatic cologne and I could smell it from across the bar. The smells bring up images of guys in brand new snapback baseball hats, basketball jerseys, cargo shorts, bling, a lot of tattoos, images of naked women and the Virgin Mary and other symbols or designs I couldn’t decipher. One of them had gold teeth and drank many, many shots of Irish whiskey. The smell of Jameson brings me to his face, but also to the face of another bar back who worked double my hours, or anyone’s hours, and probably harder than anyone in that club, and would circle the large, rectangular bar and take a shot with every bartender until he got so wasted he’d pass out in the liquor closet…I’ll never reject an avocado unless it’s downright rotten and inedible but even then I try to salvage it, to excise the rotten parts, to scoop out whatever flesh isn’t completely gone, and dress it liberally in lime juice and salt, and mash it with a fork. In my memory these avocados that have passed their prime have a more distinctive smell than the perfect ones we see images of all over the Internet and that I consider the reason for celebrating a day as good, if I split one open and the inside is perfect green yellow and firm but with a buttery texture, that’s cause for happiness, but I’m so overwhelmed by the beauty of those A-List avocados that I don’t give much thought to their smell, they’re more a symbol of good and natural and seem to transcend their earthy significance and how they touch the senses. The imperfect avocados are the ones I smell most distinctly and connect with because not all avocados are perfect and a few blemishes don’t justify rejection.

The smell of raw, wet garbage, and urine, takes me back to the parking lot in the early morning, and above it the smell of cigarettes, as we smoked and chatted and I wanted to go home but also wanted to listen to that man because he seemed a little nuts but also kind of brilliant. He imagined a breed of dinosaurs spawned from the Italian digestif Fernet Branca called the Fernet-o-saurus and the Branca-saurus. Behind the bar itself I remember a kind of cloying scent, of syrup, spilled pineapple juice and Red Bull, liquor bottles shattered, a sticky floor, and it all spilled on my boots so I wouldn’t dare sniff them because they were rancid so I left them on the wooden steps after work, kept them out of my room, out of the house.

Walking out of many bars and clubs in LA the air is thick with the greasy scent of bacon-wrapped hot dogs, like just inhaling it could clog an artery, and one bartender I worked with went down to the street and bought them. Hungry, hard to resist at 3 a.m. after four hours of nonstop hustle, I ate one, then regretted it. At the end of the night, the smell of bleach, as the bar back or a cleaning crew saturates the disgusting floor, sweeps up broken bottles, squashed, filthy lime wedges, all kinds of dirt and grime, and the smell of money, of bills, some soaked, soggy, others still crisp, depending on when they were left and snatched up from the bar, whether during the rush and it was soaked or a calmer, cleaner period and it was dry. My hands touched all of this and sometimes the smell remains even after scrubbing with soap.