Proustian moments

A Proustian moment is when you do something like dip a cookie in tea and eat it and BOOM a three volume novel flies out of your ass. I get these a lot. Some recent ones:

  • Listening to even a bit of Hüsker Dü’s “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” sends me directly back to the worst of my depression of the early 1990s, with a physical sensation in the pit of my stomach and everything.
  • Similarly, the diesel roar of a Santa Monica City Bus going by my office window drops me in the time of my life where I was frequently waiting for a bus, or chasing one, or sitting in one staring out the window. A sense of helpless frustration wells up in me.
  • Burnt microwave popcorn is a ticket back to the UCLA dormitories 20 years ago, going through the lobby and hearing the top 40 station, seeing the pizza guys arriving, on my way home from late nights studying or some rock ‘n’ roll show.
  • The smell of nasty old cigarette ashes makes me feel hopeful, excited, as though I’m about to do something new and rewarding. Because the computer room in junior high school, where I fell in love with automata, was also the math teachers’ break room.
  • Clove cigarettes are the 1980s and live music and excitement. Despite the fact that I never smoked them.

What’re yours?

8 thoughts on “Proustian moments

  1. The smell of gin makes puts me on a church step outside a club half conscious with bloody vomit in front of me.
    Diesel exhaust puts me on Sandford Road, waiting for the 44 to take me into Dublin city center.
    Fruity perfume reminds me of awkward moments in my first girlfriend’s stuffy, cluttered room.
    Tina Turner makes me think about being a very young, impressionable boy in a room with adults doing things that shouldn’t be done in front of a very young, impressionable boy.
    The smell of cheap plastic puts me in the Red Robin on Sunflower just after my uncle sponsored a miniature shopping spree at Toys R Us. Bliss.
    I could go on.

  2. The smell of the electronics department makes me happy and hopeful. I got a sterio for getting the “B” in reading, in the second grade, I had worked so hard for.
    I have a plastic pendant I found at a flee market when I was a very little girl. It has a prismatic effect when held and moved around in the light. When I run across it from time to time, I look into it, swirling it around. At that moment all the innosence and shear wonder of the worlds unexplainable, comes flooding in. I often wonder if it’s the past, or the device itself, that does this to me.
    My mother’s old perfume, Tabu. The childhood connection between Brian and I.
    The hollow sound foot steps make on the floor at The Ranch. I can feel our first summer there. Those 2 years will be remembered as it’s own lifetime.
    The occational wiff of just the right sort of vinigar strikes a mild gag reflex. Heroin addiction, and all that came with it.

  3. Little triggers
    Before I add any, I have to acknowledge two of yours. The clove cigarettes, wholeheartedly. I too never actually smoked ’em, but damn. The faintest hint of cloves in the air and I’m fifteen years old, out way too late, with people much too cool for me, listening to some of the greatest music of my life. Probably, um, Talk Talk.
    Okay, maybe it was Plastic Bertrand or the Jam or something, who can remember.
    “Warehouse” has enormous power for me, too. The opening guitar chord on “These Important Years.” For me it wasn’t about pure depression, but like the Huskers I was spinning apart fast when I first heard it, and that sort of turgid whirlygig desperation overwhelms me when I hear it now. Still, it’s a record I love.
    There are countless music ones. Big Star’s Third is the strongest, probably. I love it but I can’t listen to it anymore. I think we’ve all heard the one about the mopey girl who listens to “holocaust” whilst gobbling tranquilizers by the fistful. Those days are behind me, (by at least six months), but “Big Star’s 3rd” brings them right back. I think sometimes when I hear it my heart reflexively tries to stop beating.
    I have a million of ’em. Smells trigger a cascade of flashbacks. Often I don’t even know what it is. Burning fireworks, especially Sparklers, take me back to a house on a hill in Nebraska in 1975. I’m barefoot, dirty, the air is thick and wet. Jocular adults all around, in aluminum lawn furniture, smelling of Falstaff and Pabst Blue Ribbon and Pall Malls. I feel at once innocent and broken. I know things about these people nobody should know.
    Yeah. There’s this smell–it’s hard to describe–it’s the sonoran desert before and during a monster summer storm. I’m 12, 13, on the roof of our trailer, a web of lightning crackling above my head, standing with arms outstreched, daring God to strike me down dead, defiant (later amended to “stupid.”) A literally mile-high cloud of dust on the horizon, coming my way. I was one with something then. I don’t know what.
    I have hundreds of ’em. Manure, reminds me of horse tracks my mom dragged me to. Chemical fog, the inside of every bad bar in San Francisco. Perfumes and colognes, exotic foods, in-dash 8-track decks getting too hot, sex smells, musty pre-1940 books, the inside of a Datsun 710, the water on the Pirates of the Carribean–you name it, I’m off to the Proustian races. Three volume novels, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, drop out of my ass with distressing regularity. Oops, here’s one now.

  4. I posted about this one,
    The Smell of an Exhaust from a 2 cycle engine, reminds me of LOTS of cold winter days and nights as a young teen with a snowmobile. Fingers and toes nearly frozen and by the end of the session you generally smelled of the exhaust too.
    The smell of beer..every car crash I’ve ever been too. Really nightmarish.
    Antiseptic stuff, hospitals and Dr’s offices. I bet a lot of people have that one.

  5. Hmmm. I see what you mean about a three-volume novel; I’m having a hard time thinking of mine at the moment, though. A few smells are easy, like Pears soap (17 Acres, Dallas), mosquito repellant (Lac du Bois, Minnesota), or sandalwood (stimpy). A couple of tastes… latkes (my grandmother), Dr. Pepper (Dallas again). Lots and lots of songs that have become associated with specific places in my life — too many to list, really. The feel of walking around in a bathrobe, slippers, and pajamas on a cold winter day. Eating breakfast in the dark. The sound of kicking through a pile of dry leaves, or cracking the ice on a lightly frozen puddle of water.

  6. Rolling Rock beer reminds me of when I would sneak out at age 17 to go play pool and drink with my girlfriend and a couple of her friends that she was probably cheating on me with till 3am on a Wednesday. My GPA was still a 3.8.
    Weezer, Offspring, the Clash and Smashing Pumpkins reminds me of driving up to go skiing with my friends senior year because these were the only CD’s that we owned and could all tolerate at the same time.
    Sarah McLachlan (I know, shut up.) reminds me of sitting at my dad’s old giaganto desk with a stack of paper, physics notes, book and workbook till 3am learning how to determine the coefficent of friction of a skier down a mountain. This was later replaced with being introduced to cigarettes, Denny’s coffee and Moons over my Hammy till 3 am.

  7. There is a smell that I think if as distinctly Mexican- warm laundry , bolstered by faint hints of lard and bean. It brings back high school boyfriends, my Head Start students, my neighbors in Mexico. Brian can testify that when I am in the local Mexican market and stand there inhaling that smell.
    Clove cigarettes and Doritos both instantly recall a post- White Kaps concert ca. 1993- the first time I got hopelessly, dangerously loaded. I still can’t eat Doritos.
    Sunflower seeds make me think of road trips and bus trip and summer nights in New Orleans, spent playing the dozens and watching heat lightning with my friend Karama.
    When I was a child, my mother’s hands always smelled of garlic. Now that smell reminds me of a time when my trust was absolute, and she was faultless.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.