Ramblin’ Man

Big Vince was sitting in a corner by himself, puffing on a fat cigar and looking like his dog had just died. This isn’t like Vince. So, I pulled up a chair next to him and studied his grim face for a moment. Then I said, in the most sensitive way I know how, “Vince, you look blue. What’s going on in that big, ol’ dumb head of yours?” Or something like that. It might not have been that sensitive.

“Aw, nuttin’,” he said. He shifted in his seat to turn toward me. “Hey, lemme ask you somethin’. You ever wish you were still a kid?”

I wasn’t aware that I’m not still a kid. I pressed him for more detail: “You mean, like a little kid? Or a baby? Or a teenager?”

“Like a kid,” he said. “OK, like maybe junior high school. Grade school even. Do you miss it?”

I thought about it for a moment. I kinda do miss it. But before I could respond, he continued. “What do you miss the most?”

I thought about it. Things were a lot different when I was a kid. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t even have a color TV for a long time.

As I sorted through the list of things I might miss, Vince spoke again. “We used to have a record player,” he said. “A big, square box. You open the lid, and there’s a turntable and the speaker’s built in. We’d play those old 45 records on it. I could sit and listen to that for hours.

I nodded in agreement.

“It had a certain smell about it,” Vince said. “It was a distinctive smell. I don’t know what it was. Kinda oily. But kinda sweet, too.”

“I know what you’re talking about,” I said. “Ours had it, too. You open up the lid and it would hit you, but in a good way.

“Old film canisters have their own aroma, too,” I continued. “I guess from the chemicals in the film. Not as good as old record player smell, but definitely distinctive.”

“I miss that old record player smell,” Vince said. “I found one in a pawn shop and I opened it up just to see if it had that smell, and it did. It took me back 50 years. Must be the old tubes in the record player. Or somethin’.”

Paul-the-know-it-all, who had been eavesdropping, sauntered over in his red silk smoking jacket, his pretentious pipe and a smile that makes you want to smack him. Paul knows everything, which makes him about the most boring conversationalist you could ever meet.

“I think what you’re smelling,” Paul said in his better-than-you voice, “is the polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride. Its commercial name was Bakelite. It was made by heating phenol and formaldehyde under controlled pressure. My uncle used to work for the guy who invented it.”

Of course he did.

Vince ignored Paul’s input. “I had a pair of metal roller skates, too,” he said. “They had little hooks that fit over your shoes. You could adjust them to your shoe size. Metal wheels. They weren’t the best skates in the world, but we’d put ‘em on and skate around on the driveway.”

Paul started singing, “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates. You got a brand new key …”

Vince tapped his cigar on the ashtray. He looked up at me with eyes that said, “I hate that guy.”

I smiled knowingly. “Well,” I said, “I think when I get home, I’ll try and see if there’s any polyoxygollymezzoninechlorideahyde I can sniff.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Paul said. “That’s not a thing.” He puffed disapprovingly on his pipe.

Vince picked up a magazine and pretended to read as he flipped through the pages. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes trying to visualize that old record player smell. Paul moved on to the next group to try to one-up with his encyclopedic brain.

I opened my eyes narrowly to see if the coast was clear. I leaned back up and toward Vince. “You know what the best thing about today is?” I asked him.

“You found out what that smell is?”

“No,” I said. “The best thing about today is that I’ve got nothing better to do than this.”

© Copyright 2017 by David Porter who can be reached at porter@ramblinman.us. I think Paul was wrong on his olfactory deduction. But some arguments just aren’t worth winning.