It's not about the house.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Fe Fi Fo Fum!

I’ve been watching an inordinate amount of television lately, and it’s reminded me of a question that’s been on my mind a while. Namely: who buys all these different kinds of so-called air fresheners?

When I was growing up, I remember, there was just one kind. I believe the brand was Air Wick and, if I understand the concept correctly, it was kind of like a stick of deodorant inside a perforated plastic case. I might have that slightly wrong, however, because we never used it.

There were three kids in our house, all born within three years. There was always some sort of construction going on. We had a cat, for a brief time a dog, varying assortments of rabbits and guinea pigs and hamsters, a flock of chickens and even, for a couple years, a horse (those last two, admittedly, were not kept in the house, but the clothes we wore to take care of them were). We heated with a woodstove, did not have air conditioning. And our house, to put it mildly, was not always meticulously kept (what can I say? I come by my tendencies genetically).

But it didn’t smell. Not enough to have to open a can of deodorant in the living-room, at any rate. And nobody else I knew used Air Wick, either.

Our next-door neighbor’s house – an elderly couple originally from Someplace German – smelled of pipe tobacco and Ben-Gay. Often, when we played outside, they’d call us over for a piece of candy. It always tasted of pipe tobacco and Ben-Gay, but we never had candy in our house either, so we liked it fine.

I have an Auntie C. on Mom’s side of the family who, I believe, inherited all of the housekeeping genes. We used to have to leave our shoes at her front door, the only place I knew that to be true until the seeming whole rest of the world came around to her dark side. There were always vacuum-lines in her carpets, and even her cookie jars looked like they got waxed and buffed on a consistent schedule. But Auntie C. did not use house-deodorant. Her house just smelled clean, because it was.

My Grampy Jim’s house smelled like the gas stove and Listerine, and like onions when Grammy made a spinach pie, which was whenever we came over. I don’t remember a smell at Grammy & Grampy Ferg’s, because they lived on a lake and we never spent any time inside – if anything, it probably smelled like wet sand and wintergreen. Auntie K. and Uncle G. had an old New England farmhouse that was a stop on the Underground Railroad: it smelled like history, and cows.

My point, I guess, is that real life has aromas, and most of them are good. If your house smells so bad that you feel the need to hide it with a stick of room-deodorant, a pool of so-called “scented oil,” a plug-in odor cartridge, a spray-can of vanilla, a self-timed puff of lavender, an alternating disco-globe of apple pie and cream, or some sort of discy-thingy that I’ll never understand – then maybe, just maybe, your house has larger issues than its smell.

Ours did. When we first moved in, it smelled like decades of cat piss and neglect. Like damp, decaying death. Moldy, mildewed mire. Rotten, rank regret. And slugs (and if you think slugs don’t have a smell, then you have obviously never met a slug up close). I mean to say: it would have taken an entire Reckitt Benckiser factory to Wick that Air.

(That’s the company that manufactures Air Wick. I didn’t know that, either. I had to look it up.)

So Johnny tore out the rotten parts and I cleaned (and cleaned) the rest. The kitchen cabinets, oddly, had a bad-breath smell to them, but a case of Arm & Hammer and a coat or twelve of paint took care of that. I sprinkled baking soda, too, over the all floors, tracked it around for days under the mistaken notion that it would suck up the cat-pee smell. It didn’t. The cat pee didn’t really go away until we tore out the linoleum last year – and I’m thankful that in the meantime our cats did not decide to follow suit. Now, finally, I am happy to report, after three and a half years, the AssVac no longer stinks.

Sure, once in a while we fry fish. And sure, its malodorous memory can linger. You know what we do? We squeeze a lemon over it, and when we’re done, we zest the peel. Ta da!

And I hate to have to break it to the industry, but a well-tended cat box doesn’t smell. I mean, this Dodo here has lately had a nasty touch of swamp-ass that gives rise to my gorge. But it only stinks when fresh, and it’s not like I’m going to chase him around lighting candles underneath his bum.

Johnny’s socks get ripe. We (here’s a novel idea) wash them. With baking soda if need be. If his boots get really bad, they live out on the porch for a few days until we have a chance to get him new ones. Trust me, once the shoes are so bad you need to hide their smell, new ones are necessary. If not, then for god’s sake, see a doctor. Or wash your feet more often.

Johnny smokes. If anything, that’s probably what people smell when they walk in here. But only in the winter, because we don’t use a/c either, so from April to October our windows are open to the fresh-cut grass and, if the wind is right, the sea. Then again, from October to April my resident smoker usually has a homemade soup of some kind or another simmering happily on the stove. If you do smell his nicotine, it’s just another layer, along with stew or chowder, chicken bones, and kale. Plus fresh bread, apple pie, and slow-roasted pork butt -- which smells nothing at all like the kitty kind.

So I repeat: who uses all of this stuff? Not anyone I know. But it must be selling strong, or they wouldn’t be coming out with new and improved versions all the time. Is it just because you like it? Is it just because you want your house to smell like cookies but you don’t want to bake? Or are you really hiding something, something that you don’t know how to deal with any other way? And if so, should I be frightened?

Because now, if I ever do walk into a house that smells of any these things, I’m going to be thinking Tell Tale Heart.

Puff-puff… Puff-puff… Puff-puff


Kristin said...

I loved this post! It caught my attention had Houseblogs because I've been seeing a lot of air freshener commercials lately, too.

I will own up to using air fresheners occasionally, though. Particularly Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin by Bath & Body Works. And I spray it not to hide odors but because I just freakin' love the way it smells. Fall is my favorite time of year, and this stuff reminds me of it all year long.

Kristin said...

Make that "at" Houseblogs. :)

EGE said...

Hey, Kristin, welcome! No need to correct the typos here, in this glass house I can't afford to be throwing any stones.

So we have one vote for "just because I like it." I'll buy that. Well, I mean, I won't BUY it, but I like it as a reason better than the things on the commercials.

And PS, something I forgot to say before: cartoon spiders and lizards and jellyfish? These are the spokesthings they come up with? What could possibly be up with THAT?

Shannon said...

Great post!

My dad's new wife LOVES Yankee Candle. Better yet, LUSTS after Yankee Candle - she has closets full of friggin Yankee Candle. Every year she makes a pilgrimage to Yankee Candle and buys hundreds of dollars worth of Yankee Candles -- pillars, votives, little candle caps to shape the smoke into Santas and baby bunnies and pumpkins.

So, sadly, I do know who buys these things all too well.

EGE said...

Hi Shan! Sounds like hell! I have to admit, though, I'm a little fascinated with the concept of "caps to shape the smoke into Santas and baby bunnies and pumpkins."

mp said...

Well let me jump in here.... I do think as folks get older (?) they/we either become extremely sensitive to odors or loose our olfactory sensitivity. So either we over perfume or candle or spray or gag at the mere thought of fragrance.
I find the same annoyance with sprays and powders and scented liners and the like to avoid those embarassing odors of the body.. Jeesh shower and change you clothes.
Realtors advise baking cookies or boiling cinnamon when having an open house. Even stores in the Mall have scent blowers in the back to draw you into their store.
I remember as a kid walking to school and the lady at the corner had one particularly awful dish that she prepared. We would run by holding our noses shouting PU monkey stew. And the first cold snap of the winter I love to smell the wood fires.. By January I am sick of it and want some good clean cold fresh air when I go outside.
Just random thoughts on how life smells.

jen said...

at first I felt silly reading this, as I am an avid Air Wick User. This only because of BH. Never used them before he INSISTED. So whatever...
But then, at the second while reading this, I became increasingly hungry.

EGE said...

Well okay then, ONE person I know uses them. I guess they're not the instrument of Satan I thought they were. Then again, I hear BH is in a rock and roll band, and that is the devil's music, after all...