À la recherche des odeurs perdues

A la recherche des odeurs perdues

Young people of the 21st century: I salute you. My feeble Boomer claws poke the Big-Letter keyboard of my laptop, evoking evanescent specters of the obsolescent past. Geezer ramblings may pain and embarrass you but they are your heritage, perhaps your only legacy now that real estate prices suck. Maybe you can find some small thing of value, or funky stuff to sell on some existential eBay.

One winter evening, nodding off in our invalid chairs before the cathode ray tube as befits persons of our decrepitude, my Lovely Companion remarked that something was missing from the PBS Pioneers of Television documentary series. She didn’t mean the lack of authentic “ghosting,” “snow” or “vertical rolling,” or the mummified, waxy look of the black-and-white kinescopes and tapes after digital Botox treatments. It wasn’t the muting of sit-com laugh-tracks; if anything, the documentary’s pretentious narration deserved a laugh-track all its own. Yet the experience was missing a certain . . . something.

We closed our rheumy eyes, meditating to the evocative Cuban expostulations of Desi Arnaz, until it struck us: hot cotton. We smacked our wrinkled brows. But of course!

please adjust rabbit ears

In the dim days before Eli Whitney invented the Permanent Press Cycle, clothing and bedding were constructed of vegetable matter, cotton and linen fibers. Water and soap were applied to soiled garments and bed sheets, which were then agitated in tubs, tumbled in machines, or beaten on rocks before being hung on ropes to dry. In later years rope must been scarce, for wet wash was cooked until it resembled giant dried hairballs from colossal prehistoric cats.

The stiff, wrinkled textiles were dampened and smoothed with heat so they would drape on bodies and beds. “The Girl” or poor relations did this in the basement, or the task was outsourced to ethnic minorities.

please adjust rabbit ears

After World War II, the U.S. Government needed to lure working women out of their Defense Industry jobs to make room for returning combat veterans. To accomplish this, secret government laboratories invented The Suburbs, Interior Decorating, The Betty Crocker Cookbook, and The Homemaker. Experiments were unsuccessful until Fermi’s team discovered that electricity could be used to power both clothes-smoothing devices and televideo receivers, and General Sarnoff developed a video-content delivery system, “Network Television.”

To Sarnoff’s dismay, the Anti-Monopoly Illusion Act required the government to permit competing “networks” run by Margaret Dumont and the American and National Baseball Leagues. Dumont folded but the others (known as CBS, ABC, and NBC) flourished through the end of the Space Age, and vestigial remnants survive to this day.

Though hard to believe now, women were lured from lucrative and interesting industrial employment to enlist as Homemakers, managing the “Ranch-Houses” and “Split-Levels” of The Suburbs. To keep them from reconsidering this move, the government distracted women by implementing the Baby Boom and its ancillaries: 2nd Car, PTA, Orthodontist, Bake Sale, Little League, and Ballet Class. When these became routine and women regained time to reflect, Brookhaven Labs introduced The Supermarket, The Shopping Center, The Bridge Club, The Tranquillizer and The Cocktail Party.

please adjust rabbit ears

The key to household stability, ensuring equilibrium of the economy, society, and civilization as we knew it, was the Network Television/ Ironing Board Complex. The Homemaker would erect the textile smoothing platform (“Ironing Board”), deploy outboard devices (Spray Starch, Spray Bottle, etc.), and activate the electrical iron and televideo receiver. She occupied her hands with smoothing garments and bedclothes and her mind (often assisted by The Tranquillizer or The Cocktail) with one of the three simultaneous video streams. Other family members would sit or recline near the ironing Homemaker, watching the broadcast; hard to believe, but there was a single televideo receiver for the entire domicile.

And so it was that today’s geezers, your grandparents (or fathers, if you are Dad’s Second Family) grew up watching TV while inhaling aromas of hot cotton and linen, steam, hot steel, and starch, with undertones of hot dusty glass tubes and warm insulation from primitive electronics and, perhaps, the greasy chicken bouquet of Swanson TV DinnerTM.

please adjust rabbit ears

At the millennium just passed, to gratify the unconscious yearnings of the vast Boomer demographic for simpler times when video flew through the air and telephones had wires, U.S. industry developed the evocative “Linen Scented” air freshener. This does not smell like cloth made from flax fiber; it is the smell of “ironing.”

So when you watch Nick at Night, or DVDs of early TV, or the I Spy and Mod Squad shows inexplicably broadcast by PBS stations, puff a touch of “Linen Scented” air freshener into the room for an authentic multi-sensory viewing experience.

Next Week: Aroma of the ‘80s: Curly Perms (ammonia + dog hair).

please adjust rabbit ears

Writer, musician and performer Mike Licht watches TV with the Lovely Ms. Anita in Washington DC. His recent performance credits include Victim Number Two in the touring company of Sweeney Todd On Ice.

Où sont les planches a repassage d’antan?

Creative Commons, attribition required Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

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One Response to “À la recherche des odeurs perdues”

  1. Alexandra Says:

    Well Mike,
    I must say that your perspective is quite entertaining though a bit tart. On the other hand, I love Granny Smith Apples and Apple Cider Vinegar myself.

    I am glad you posted on baby boomer life because I need other areas of my brain stimulated periodically to keep it from fossilizing.

    You have a new fan. Thank you for appreciating my blog and my writing. I am going to check yours out thoroughly.

    Don’t inhale too much of that “linen scented” air freshener-okay?


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