Smells Like 1982, Innocence, Arrogance and Ignorance, and Fair Food


I have to admit, in 1982 I was 13 and as most teens, didn’t really appreciate the situation and the place in time where I was until much later in life.  It seems those things which are irretrievable  become more precious and vivid in memory as time goes by.  What I wouldn’t give for just one day of the vitality and mental acuity I had at that age- now with all the scripts I have to take and from the ravages of time and disease I am doing well to stay awake and just function.

During that halcyon late summer of 1982 it seemed a particular cruelty was inflicted on the final year’s inhabitants of Marion Harding’s Freshman Building.  The idea- putting all the high school freshman students in one building- was actually a pretty good one except that the building itself was in a notorious state of disrepair.  The city had condemned it a number of times for various wiring, heating and plumbing failures, but the school system always managed to do just enough stop-gap repair work to keep the doors open.  While the building was built with good materials and put together with as fine of craftsmanship as was available in 1915 (far superior than the pre-fabbed nightmares of disposable architecture popular today) the science of indoor plumbing was in its infancy as were the technologies of central heating and electrical wiring.  Most of the wiring, heating and plumbing in that building in 1982 were still the original, and believe me, 70 year old toilets do not function well in any situation, let alone in a high school.   The steam heat system was not much better than the toilets- from room to room one could go from Arctic cold to stygian heat.   Windows were known to fall completely off and crash to the ground if one attempted to open them.  It was prudent not to sit close to the steam registers as it was not uncommon to get scalded should a register shoot up a fountain of boiling water.  To add to the fun the entire building- especially the kitchen and cafeteria- was infested with roaches.  This was not the fault of the builders- the structure of the building was so sound that in the process of demolition the wrecking ball broke- but to the near complete lack of necessary repairs, maintenance and upgrades being made over time.

Despite the disrepair, the quirks and the unauthorized insect life, the building itself had an odd warmth that was endearing.  I loved the high ceilings and the expansive windows.  It was a far more human-friendly building than most modern buildings.  The library was my favorite place, with its huge oak tables and chairs and expansive plate windows.   Even though I enjoyed being in this old building more than most other places on earth, (especially in the dead of winter) few things were more frustrating than being locked up in school on those perfect (and perfect days are very few and far between in Central Ohio) late summer/early fall days when it is neither hot nor cold, and the sun is shining through an almost painfully clear blue sky.  Even worse was being restrained during the Popcorn Festival- when all around us street vendors and rides and various attractions were being set up and started up. 

The library’s huge windows (some of the few that could be opened without falling out of their frames) looked out over Downtown Marion.  One could see and hear- and especially smell- the Festival from there almost as if one were walking down the midway and trolling for such delights as elephant ears, Italian sausage, cream puffs, etc. ad nauseam.  I don’t have much of a sense of smell left after years of sinus infections, exposure to various chemicals in automotive shops and so on- but the whole festival/fair food thing takes me right back to that long-demolished library. I travel back to innocence, back to the ivory tower exemplar, back to the very core of where my mind lingers.  I get that whole sense of wanting to be set free to wander the sights and smells for myself, that sense of the whole world being right outside for me to experience, the world before heartbreak and disappointment and disillusionment.  Hindsight is 20/20, this is true, and I am sure I am not the only one who would have approached life far differently had I known the course of events to come, but apparently screwing up is half the fun.  I know I have done my share of screwing up and I have my fair share of regrets.  Some of that I can change, some of it I wouldn’t change if I could, but over all I would have to assume I come complete with the whole mid-life crisis of “would haves, should haves, and why didn’t Is.”  At least I stayed out of the tanning salons.  I’ll die with a clear complexion if nothing else.

So much for the vicarious life- I am one of those who tend to live more internally than externally so I really don’t mind living vicariously, wandering in the garden of memory, and observing from the ivory tower most of the time.  Even though I am not among the risk-taking or adventurous by any stretch, experience is still a valuable currency in my world, because it recharges the batteries of memory.  I sort of enjoy the surreality of wandering a street fair at night even if I can’t (and most definitely shouldn’t) partake of the bounty of overpriced, overportioned, overly greasy and/or sugary fair food.  I did make a small exception at the state fair and got my Bahama Mama smothered in sauerkraut and brown mustard but at least I did stay away from the cream puffs and other sweet stuff.  The fair-food smell alone is divine- not so much because of any culinary excellence or nutritional value- but because of the memories that smell recharges.  It’s as close to a time machine as I will ever get.

Of course the street-fair experience would not be complete without the freak show.  As time goes by I think people get less and less aware of how much blubber can be packed into a pair of hipster jeans (woof) and that if your weight exceeds say 130# that halter tops or any shirt that shows midriff is not flattering.  It’s amazing how many very large women don’t understand that Daisy Dukes only look good on near-anorexics.  I don’t qualify to wear any clothing less revealing than a t-shirt and Bermuda shorts (as if I would want to) and I am well aware of that fact.  Even though I get very hot very quickly coverage is a beautiful thing.  It’s not so much about modesty as it is not wanting to subject people to things they would rather not see.  It’s simply being polite. 

The guys are not blameless either.  Nothing says “uneducated redneck” louder than sporting a wifebeater t-shirt with crusty, hairy beer gut hanging out of the bottom.  I need not express my disdain at guys (of any size or weight) who feel it necessary to display the plume of hair springing forth from their butt cleavage by wearing their pants at just barely above privates level.   The only thing worse than poorly fitting male garments is poorly fitting Dale Earnhardt memorial clothing.  “The Intimidator” has been gone for almost 10 years,  Bubba.   Get over it already, and while you’re at it, the XL shirt that fit you in 2001 needs to be a 4XL if you hope to conceal that massive beer gut you’ve grown since then.

It’s no crime to be large.  I am proportioned like a mutant troll and am well aware of that fact- which is why I dress accordingly.  I dress for coverage and comfort, as cheaply as I can.  I am no beauty queen by any stretch of the imagination so there is no reason for me to spend a ton of money on clothes.

The recent rise in popularity of tattoos amazes me too.  It used to be the only decent people who had tats were Navy and Marine Corps Veterans, and I have all the respect in the world for any American military Veteran. Otherwise if you had tats it was proof that you had either served time in prison or you were a prostitute.  Now everyone almost has a tat somewhere but I still think it’s tacky.  To each his or her own- I know a lot of nice people and even close friends who have tats and it’s their business, but those things are going to look God-awful when the person sporting them is 80 or 90 years old.  My grandfather (the one who served in the Navy) had hideous tats on his forearms.  I think at one time they were supposed to be women, but by the time I saw them they looked like some sort of deformed sea monsters or poorly drawn, distorted anime dragons.  When I was a little kid I wondered why Grandpa wore long sleeves regardless of the weather.  When he was dying in the nursing home I finally discovered why.   He was deeply embarrassed by those tats.  Maybe back in 1943 when he was 18 and got inked with the other sailors they didn’t look so bad, but from 1943 to 2003 let’s just say they didn’t improve over time.   I’m glad I never saw them when I was a little kid because I’d probably been terrified of Grandpa forever. I was spooked way too easily as a kid anyway.  I was terrified of the PBS station identification commercial, flying insects, and walking past windows at night,  just to name a few of my irrational and overwhelming fears.   I shudder to think of the terror I’d have experienced as a child from the sight of deformed anime sea monsters on my Grandpa’s arms.

It is interesting to see the kinds of stuff people will have permanently inked on their bodies.  I am especially amused by unfortunates who tattoo their lover’s/spouse’s names on their bodies and the ex-lover or ex-spouse’s name is forever ingrained in their epidermis.   No thanks.  I have enough unpleasant memories of past relationships without visible reminders emblazoned into my skin.  I wager that tattoo removal will become a huge industry in the next 20 years. 

Maybe it’s arrogant of me to make such observations, but I would say from where I am right now it would be better for me to avoid making any decisions that may expose me to hepatitis or AIDS, so no tats for me.  I couldn’t even decide what to get if I were to get a tat.  Jerry’s buddy Bob (a Marine Corps Vet) has FTW tattooed on his butt.  I don’t want anyone to see my butt long enough to draw anything on it, let alone inject it with permanent ink, so this isn’t an option for me.  Tats really aren’t an option for me anyway so it’s a moot point.