ITCH

On our evening walks, we watch

rabbits. They never stop sniffing.

I google rabbit. Fifty million scent

cells. We have a meager six million.

 

We call to them. They come to our

voice. We toss them bite size

shredded wheat, one by one, but

mostly they don’t see. They smell.

 

A good sniff of each other is

like a chat. When rabbits shift

their noses up and down it is

called “nose blinking.”

 

Watching those tiny nose

muscles twitch makes my nose

itch. Makes my itch noisy.

Makes me want to nose blink.

- KIT CROUCHER

 



Simple Man

Salt of the earth Southerner. Drag racing enthusiast. Bearded since 1972. My father. 

When he held me my head laid on his collar bone. Beneath his beard his neck was always freshly shaved. Creamy wafts of sweet soap and musk: Barbasol shaving cream. I loved the smell so much I would take the small puffs that remained on red, white and blue can and wipe it under my nose leaving a white mustache. As it dried the scent faded to a cool soft wisp. 

He has chewed tobacco since the age of 15. My parents promised one another to quit their tobacco habits when they got married. It’s the only promise my father hasn’t kept. Kodiak Wintergreen, the green and black can with a grimacing bear. Mint with wet tobacco overlaid with notes of spit, tar, and black licorice. His spit cups were not to be knocked over. Resting on his collarbone the creaminess of the Barbasol mixed with the harsh tobacco spearmint together creating a scent that is greater than itself. It's the essence of a way of life, a place that is home.

- Jeanette Price


DIRTY

Grandmother’s house

Circa 1812

cellar

dirt floor

scary

open door

odor was a strong wall

reek

coal bin

stinky

root cellar

mice

funk

monster furnace.

 

Do we dare

go down there?

 

- KIT CROUCHER


The Rare Woods Room

Summer in El Cajon blisters the bougainvillea and scares lizards into hiding. Birds go silent. In the forties, before air conditioning, women sat in front of electric fans, their dresses drawn up to their thighs, and maybe a secret glass of Jack Daniels in their hand. Men swore in the heat and mopped their necks with a kerchief. 


Back then, acres of raisin grape vineyards lined East Main Street. In summer, the vines twisted on their wooden crosses, stunned by the heat. Down Main Street to the west sat W.D. Hall Lumberyard. On the way to our cabin in La Cresta, my parents and I sometimes stopped there for nails or some board lengths for doing repairs. 


Out in the open lumberyard, in summer, the heat liquefied the sap in stacks of pine two by fours, two by eights, two by tens. It oozed down the sides, creating a sweet mountain smell that mixed with the dry dirt scent of the decomposed granite underfoot. 


But that was only a preview. We weren’t always invited to go into the rare woods room since we weren’t in the market for those spendy boards, but sometimes an employee would invite us there, out of the heat, for a quick look. 


The long, narrow room stretched upward almost into darkness. It felt cool. Against the walls leaned boards that must have been ten or twelve feet tall. The clean, heady smell that saturated the air was a mix of teak’s spicy, paved-road scent with a tang of sweet and peppery, walnut’s odor so much like the nut, only moist like a forest floor, and cherrywood, actually smelling like cherries crossed with bark. And there was maple, a woodish version of maple syrup. Mahogany like nothing so much as a country dirt road. Alder faintly smelling like rubber; and oak smelling like a faraway swamp. There would also have been some woods that can’t be imported today like flowery Brazilian rosewood and Hawaiian koa, which smells like a warm bakery. 


When the thermometer hit triple digits in El Cajon, we were often tempted to go by W.D. Hall less for wood and nails than for the rare woods room. You could close your eyes there and let the scents of those hardwoods take you somewhere else. Somewhere cool. Sweet. Unforgettable.

- Anitra Carol Smith
 


Window Shades and Linoleum

From 1934 until the 1960’s, my parents owned Harry Smith Shade and Linoleum Company in North Park at 2912 University, where Off the Record is now. At the front half of our shop, six-foot-high rolls of linoleum lined up in rows. I had favorites like the Armstrong abstracts with pieces of shine in them that caught the light. Or a pattern called Tessera made of tiny mosaic squares. (You can sometimes still see Tessera on the bathroom floors of old restaurants.) All of the linoleum smelled like its white asbestos fiber backing: A businesslike, chemical scent something like asphalt, sharp and unmistakable.


But down in the basement, the big nine-foot rolls of linoleum lay lengthwise on the floor like felled trees. After my father died in 1956, the work of unrolling and slicing lengths off those giants fell to my mom and her new helper, a young single mother named Carol Arnold. That linoleum got its scent from its dark gray tarpaper backing. You could pick up its tar smell as soon as you came down the wooden stairs.


During World War II, because the government was afraid of bombing raids, San Diegans were ordered to buy regulation window shades to black out the city at night. Lines formed around the block leading into our window shade store. After the war, people were glad to switch out their dark green shades for eggshell, white, and cream, and later on, pale blue, sunshiny yellow, and a soft green. In the fifties, when customers were starting to feel expansive from having a little extra cash, they wanted the ends of their window shades cut into fancy designs like scallops. They wanted them trimmed in rickrack or fringe. 


The ten-by-ten-foot shade-making table stood on six-by-six-inch square wooden legs. A soft dusty scent came from underneath where shelves stored cutting tools and scraps of window shade material.


We sewed a casement across the bottom of each window shade for a wooden slat. So, from time to time, a light odor of sawdust and fresh pinewood would puff out in the back of the store when somebody pushed a long slat into the cutter and smashed down the heavy handle to cut it to length. 


Twenty-foot ceilings in the store kept the place cool, and the scent that drifted through that coolness was the signature smell of our shop: the soft, oily, painty odor of window shade fabric. 


Today, I go into Off the Record in North Park once in a while so that I can press the metal thumb tab on the old door handle and hear it click. The same heavy front door closes behind me with its familiar chonk. But the new owners have installed an acoustic tile ceiling nine feet up, so you can no longer see the mark my dad put on the wall at 12’ 11 7/8”, which was his world pole-vaulting record. The old scents of our shop are gone too, replaced now by the 1950’s vintage smell of vinyl records.

- Anitra Carol Smith