Phthursday Musings: Tastes Like 1983

or, Smells Like Nonsense

You know what’s truly wonderful? A Creamsicle. Red and green, yes, but really, you know, it’s the orange one. Anywhere, sure, but really, at your grandmother’s house.

An orange Creamsicle at Gran’s house. I’m not sure anything ever tasted better.

It is said - probably by scientists or some such weirdos - that the olfactory sense is the one most closely associated with memory.

I’ve been places where it’s just suddenly smelled like… 1983. Not anything specific to 1983, mind you. Just the totality of 1983.

I’ve been in bathrooms where the cleaning agent brought me back to a specific other bathroom. A chess tournament in 1988, at some high school in the suburbs. I didn’t do well at the chess tournament but I remember on that trip there being an occasion for my dad to stop and get sausages from a Polish deli.

The crash of memories associated with smells and tastes, who knows what exactly to do with it. But unlike vision and hearing, with smell and taste, there’s no weird relativism because of the modern condition. Things look and sound a lot different in a lot of ways than when I was a kid, but an apple is still an apple. Yes, even if it’s a Cosmic Crisp.

My grandmother’s house was the only place I spent significant time as a child, and in turn returned to visit with any frequency as an adult. The dimensions are incredibly fixed in my mind. The composite of how the rooms changed over time - which wasn’t much - are all emblazoned upon my mind.

The food, though. It’s different.

I can picture her thimble collection. But, if I so choose, I can waltz over to Jewel and taste those Cheez Balls again.

I can see that crazy pole with the wicker lamp things hanging off of it. But, if I so choose, I can get really crazy and drink canned orange juice again.

And then there’s any number of things which are likely to evoke being at Kishwaukee Coin Laundry, which my grandparents owned. Corn Puffs. Upper 10 in 10 ounce glass bottles. Unlike my grandmother’s house which was imbued with coziness, the laundromat was a big, bright, open place, glass around two sides of it, mid century colors on the high walls. The flavors of the different snack foods to this day seem to reflect the locations I associate them with. Cheez Balls and Corn Puffs are remarkably similar foods, but the former come in a canister you put on the floor, and the latter in a small bag which you pull out of a machine.

My world at my son’s age was, on the whole, remarkably small. My grandmother’s house, my grandparents’ house, the laundromat, they were a straight line from one another, separated by less than a mile. But I had numerous distinct spaces, which when I think about them, exude different characteristics. And I can make food associations with these places.

I wonder what associations he might make. And what odd smells will linger in his mind. Is food more or less homogeneous for him than it was for me back then?

Ahh, but who am I to answer that? I eat the same thing for lunch every day today that I did 38 years ago. Peanut butter and jelly. Raspberry preserves, most commonly. Just like then, just like at my grandparents’ house.

This morning, our coffee maker was suddenly not working.

This evening, I went out to procure a new coffee maker.

Target was the choice. It’s one of those which is off to the side of what’s essentially a gigantic strip mall. Way on the far other end is a Walmart. Somewhere in the middle of everything is a Kohl’s.

As I pulled in, I saw the signs telling me STORE CLOSING! EVERYTHING GOES! and oh I was excited, what deals might there be, what deals might there be!

What store was closing? Office Max.

I… did not know there was an Office Max there.

I suppose that helps to explain why it was not very successful.

Anyway, I was intrigued enough to walk over to Office Max to see what I could get for 50% off. I walked in and it was a bright, sad, sad, sad place.

Not everything was 50% off. I’m not even sure the things which were 50% off were 50% off. I went by the dry erase markers, and although there was a sign saying markers were 20% off, the dry erase markers all had a sticker on them, for the same price as the price shown on the tag, implying that… they weren’t actually for sale.

Printer ink was for sale though! At 5% off! I mean, ain’t that a damn steal?

The whole thing struck me as a monumental farce. Which, in 2021, I imagine Office Max must be. Once upon a time I think I liked going to office supply stores. But today it just feels aggravating.

Of course, I have such a massive collection of office supplies, I doubt I would ever need to buy anything Office Max sells ever again. School supplies maybe? Toner? But I can’t even get toner for my printer there, because my printer is more than 9 weeks old. Everything else I need, I’m pretty sure I have. I have a jar full of paper clips which were probably all manufactured during the Clinton Administration. I have a different jar full of thumbtacks, and those date to when ol’ Bill was letting coke run in and out of Little Rock.

I have many, many jars full of office supplies. Of course I do - what else am I going to do with all the damn jelly jars from lunch?

Every week we get the local newspaper, the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. This week’s was left on the counter this morning, opened up to a place where I’m sure I was supposed to notice something, but I admit, I missed it. The missus had to show me later what I was too dense to see myself:

Times are so tough that the Park District of Oak Park is willing to hire a Circus Instructor with just two years Circus or Instructor experience. Well, provided you also have aerial skills.

I searched online for “aerial skills” but Google thought I meant “aerial silks” and recommended to me a place called Rising Goddess Fitness.

Hey, you Alphabet punks, I’m not clowning around here! … well, not yet, I might need to take some classes first.

Anyway. Let’s say I was a would-be Circus Instructor, sitting on the bench, looking for an opportunity, any opportunity, to impart my diabolo tricks unto eager students. Would I really be hunting for such possibility in the Landmark? Surely there’s an online job board for people like me. Like, oh, Quick, someone run to Oak Park and tell them.

What even happens at a circus anymore? I don’t think I’ve been to a circus or a circus-like thing in 30 years. If I want to see animals, can’t I just go to the zoo? If I want to see acrobats, can’t I just go to Rising Goddess Fitness? If I want to see clowns, can’t I just go to a Chicago City Council meeting? If I want circus peanuts, can’t I… please don’t let me eat circus peanuts.

Whether I was at my grandmother’s over on 22nd Ave. or at my grandparents’ over on 4th St., there was a newspaper. Actually, my grandfather got two newspapers, the Rockford Register Star and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Well, we get the Landmark. And also the Chicago Reader. But they’re weekly and biweekly respectively, and there are no comics. No funnies.

My kid doesn’t really understand what the comics are and even though we’ve tried he has no interest in reading any of the old comics laying around. There are still a lot of old Archie comics out in the garage. And a whole lot of old Peanuts books.

You know how with Peanuts and some others, it would commonly be that one day would build upon another? Think about that for a second. Today, we can binge watch an entire season of a television series in two days. Back then, it took me six days just to figure out whether the World War One Flying Ace was going to safely land in his Sopwith Camel.

I can say I long for a simpler time, a slower pace, maybe bemoan that he can’t slow down like that. But the reality is, I work from home, I’m home 95% of the time, and every day I simply have to get out at some point. I’m not going crazy because things move too fast. I’m going crazy because I constantly feel like I need to move things faster. And then it’s the reverse. And then it’s the reverse.

The beginning months of the lockdown, that period was the first time in a long while where I felt like we were simply operating at the pace we had to operate at and it just had to be fine. It was inevitable that it wouldn’t last, but for us, those first couple months might actually have been good for us? Maybe they would have been better if I’d gotten a daily paper? If I’d been able to keep up - to the extent you can call it keeping up when it’s all still from 20-50 years ago - with Peanuts?

Now, there was no conceit intended when I started writing this goofiness. I fell into it, then I fell into it again, then I kind of forced the issue. Yes, yes, sometimes, sometimes, you can’t help but be contrived.

But come on, am I supposed to somehow accidentally get a picture like this?

This picture, incidentally, was taken at the site of where earlier on Sunday I managed to clock a gun time of 27:58 in the Beat Yesterday 5K, a full two minutes better than just two weeks before. One more county - this time Kane - knocked off the list. Only 97 more to go! Next race, I think, might be Halloween morning in Wheaton. Hopefully I can run even better. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll even let me do a little dance.

Anyway, the contrivances are liable to only get worse from here. I think I butter make like a jelly and roll.

This was a pretty good week though, right? Like a dream?

Maybe not quite as good as a Dreamsicle.

Definitely not as good as a Creamsicle.

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