Our minds make peculiar mental associations when triggered by certain scents. For instance, whenever I smell seasoned chop meat frying in a pan I’m sent back to my grandmother’s kitchen circa 1967; whenever I smell the Hudson River at low-tide I remember all those late ‘60’s/early 70’s summers swimming and crabbing off the deck of Bunty’s Dock near the base of the George Washington Bridge; whenever I’m in a car and I smell burning fuel I hear my father ordering us to run before the Falcon exploded. (My dad was Wile E. Coyote with cars—every trip, near or far, was tinged with the threat of explosion! I truly believe my old man was the inspiration behind the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters;” albeit without the benefit of safety gear or disability insurance.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, smell and memory. Recently, my daughter received a bottle of “Love’s Baby Soft;” when she unscrewed that pink cylindrical cap the scent rushed my brain back to 1976. “Love’s Baby Soft” was the “Evening in Paris” of my generation. Every school’s hallway was drenched in Love’s Baby Soft’s narcotic powdery undertones. I distinctly remember a boy leaning over and saying, “Wow, your perfume smells great,” to which I replied, “That’s not me, that’s Rosemary,” who sat on the other side of the classroom; proving that even if you failed to put your “Love” on, all you had to do was stand next to a girl who did to be infused by its contagious scent.
Which brings me to the eighth grade. I accompanied my mom to her friend’s, whose son I was madly in love with. He was a year ahead of me at Holy Trinity, but was now a freshman at Bergen Catholic. He was an altar-boy; he played basketball; he was a drummer. I had loved him since the fifth grade; he had loved my best friend since the fourth. Anyway, as I sat alone and bored on his couch watching T.V. I decided to go in search of his bedroom. He wasn’t home, but I thought if I could catch a glimpse of his room, I’d somehow know him better.
I walked down the dimly-lit beige-carpeted hallway of his split-level house. The door to the first room I passed was slightly opened, and I caught a glimpse of his drum set. (Cue heavenly music.) I pushed the door open and crossed into the inner-sanctum of his manly boudoir. I immediately noticed that over his desk hung a cabinet whose door was slightly ajar. I had every intention of closing it, but in a last minute reversal, I opened it instead. Things, lots and lots of things, came nose-diving out in rapid succession; something large and white came hurtling into my open palm and affixed itself to my hand like a glove. It was his jock strap. I freaked.
I tried to shake it off, because there was NO WAY I was touching it, but the more I shook it, the tighter it twisted around my wrist. Of course at that moment I heard the wheels of his ten-speed Schwinn steer into the garage. “Oh. My. God!” I had to get out of his bedroom fast, so I thrust my arm inside my zippered sweatshirt and retreated like Napoleon at Waterloo to the living room where I jumped onto the couch. I tried to act nonchalant as Mike Douglas interviewed Zsa Zsa Gabor while my right hand was indelicately shoved down my sweatshirt.
Walking up the stairs from the basement, he seemed surprised to see me sitting on his couch. Just as he was about to sit down beside me his mom called him into the kitchen. Noticing my hand shoved down my shirt he asked me what was wrong. I panicked! What could I say, “Nothing, I’m just wearing your jock strap like a Speidel I.D. bracelet?” Instead my quivering thin lips released a nervous idiotic giggle that made my orthodontic retainer vibrate. Before retreating to the kitchen, he leaned over me and said, “Mmmm…Love’s Baby Soft?” I think I lost consciousness at that point.
Decades later, the scent of Love’s Baby Soft evokes memories of unrequited love, vibrating retainers, and the twisted jock straps of altar boys.