If You Can Stand the Smell ..... It's  Spring

April, 2005

Greetings,  Post winter parolees!

This last weekend I went into the garage and pulled out my Merkur--- It's a SPORTS CAR-- OK? Actually I call it a " good sport's car", because that's what you have to be to own one-- a good sport. Keep your cell phone charged, carry a few tools, and some spare parts (and have a spare car handy) and away you go. As cars go- it's an exotic for neurotics. Each new rattle and leak has adventure built right in. And NOBODY has any parts for it.

 I put the car away last October and hoped for an early spring. Winterizing a Merkur is kind of like putting a relative into suspended animation -- you hope that your loved one comes out of the deep freeze in operating condition. There is always the possibility that one of the fuel pumps will seize up, or some other inaccessible/unavailable part will crack/split/mutate/tarnish/varnish/gum up or disintegrate-- leaving the car as dead as Dan Rather's hopes for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.   My fears were baseless. The engine started on the first try- without a cough or misfire. Everything that was supposed to did, and everything that wasn't supposed to--- didn't. No stains on the garage floor either.

  The only problem with the whole winterizing thing came up before I got the engine started. Actually it became evident as soon as I opened the car door. The smell came out and got me. No, I didn't leave an old cheeseburger under the seat. I am smarter than that.  I am a middle-aged engineer with a college education. I cleaned and vacuumed the interior before I stored the car, making sure that it was free of any possible errant organic manner that might make its presence known in an unpleasant way. Yet there I was stumbling around the garage, eyes watering, choking for breath. It was like chemical warfare.  When I was finally able to enter the vehicle, handkerchief stuck over my mouth and nose, I took a look around for the culprit. Did the fire extinguisher go off? No. Napalm? Of course not.  Then my puffy eyes focused on the air freshener that was hanging right there on the dashboard.   It wasn't *supposed* to be unpleasant- Car air fresheners are not meant to sting your eyes and cause chemical burns to your face and throat when you crack open the door. It seemed so innocuous hanging there off of the heater knob- on the end of its little loop of string.  It was shaped like a little pine tree and had the words "new car scent" printed on it-- instead of the words "Tear Gas Anti-theft Device"-- which would have been more accurate. A particularly nasty little piece of cardboard that nearly killed me.  I left the car windows and sunroof open inside the garage to air the cabin out. Two days later the entire garage smelled like the inside of a carton of detergent. Finally I worked up the nerve to drive the car
There is nothing quite like the feeling you get from tooling around the neighborhood inside a king-sized box of Spic and Span.  When I drove to work
this morning (windows down of course) everybody else at the stoplights would wind their windows up-- even the smokers.

 I had to think back to figure out just when I planted this olfactory booby-trap in the car. I remembered it eventually. It was the day I went to the 'full
service' car wash--- $13.50 for a wash and vacuum- and no extra charge for the attendant breaking off the inside rear view mirror as he cleans the windshield. While this avulsion was occurring, I was standing inside the establishment, looking at a  50 foot long display of 'car cabin candy' -- you know -- dashboard decorations, seatbelt straighteners, onboard organizers and of course, air fresheners. They had all manner of the junk plastered all over the pegboard, any cutesy fragrance you could name -- flowers like roses and daisies,---pine trees and lemons--- car colognes and perfumes-- cherry, berry and sanitary.  I decided that since I was going to put the car away for the winter, I might as well stick something in it to sweeten the interior while it was sealed up in dry dock. So while the car wash manager was gluing the inside mirror back on in the wax bay,
I picked what I thought would be the most neutral (non threatening) scent available.

 Looking back on this, I have since concluded that this was one of the more low-wattage decisions I have made in the recent past. In junior high school physics we were taught that any gas (or an odor) expands to fill any enclosed space. This reminds me of the old story about the guy who was so ticked off at his bank that he left a few frozen fish in his safety deposit box just before leaving the country for an extended time. The fish thawed-- yes they did-- and for a while business in the vault dropped off somewhat.

After being attacked by the 'new car' smell-- I may be tempted to look for an air freshener with a more 'used car' ambiance. I might choose an  automotive motif such as: Gas Fumes, Leaky Heater Core (smells like antifreeze) or Burnt Electrical Wiring.  Home-type odors might be a big hit: Secondhand Smoke, Old Lost Banana Laden Diaper, Quart of Milk Spilled Into the Carpet, Bachelor Party or Catfish Bait. But why stop there? They could do with some more 'natural' fragrances: Farm Fresh (your choice of horse, pig or chicken farms),  or Algae, Mold and Fungus.  Wet Suede Leather has a distinctive odor, too.   'Industrial Strength' scents for those homesick souls (the odor of your favorite city, Gary,
Indiana- Akron, Ohio or Pittsburgh). Possibly a sports motif: Locker Room Towel Hamper (comes with your favorite team logo), Athlete's Foot (autographed, of course) or  DUI After Tailgate Party (I don't believe that there would be much of a market for beer scented air fresheners, although it's possible. I've seen people hang cannabis leaf-shaped ornaments from their rear-view mirrors- it makes quite an impression on the local police officers during traffic stops.)  For those risk-takers who live 'out on the edge' I suggest that Old Girlfriend's Perfume would bring forth a definite reaction from one's spouse; or Goldenrod, New Mown Hay or Cat Hair could free up some valuable space in the car pool.

So, if sometime this summer you are driving down the highway, and a small white sports car happens to pass you-- leaving behind a definite aroma reminiscent of a box of fabric softener-- remember to wave politely--- it is likely to be me.

Neil

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