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Smelling Sarasota

by Jim Rink


On my way out of the office last Friday, I smelled Sarasota. It was in the hallway, near the restrooms. Someone must have been wearing something, some kind of perfume or soap that triggered the memory. Funny how certain smells can bring things back.

Some researchers have gone so far as to suggest that corporations should flood office spaces with various odors, like peppermint, to stimulate brain function. This could cause problems, especially with the females in the work force.

"Dolores, do you smell that?"

"What?"

"The office-it's wearing Obsession again."

"So?"

"We CLASH, Dolores, we CLASH..."

It was in Sarasota where my grandparents kept a modest ranch house, with a large pine tree in the front yard with very long needles and some kind of moss thrown up in the branches. At some point in the mid- to late-Seventies, I decided to pay my grandparents an annual visit, usually around Christmas time, or the week after.

Christmas in Sarasota was an odd sort of thing. Of course, there was no snow. And it was hot. Damn hot. And humid. The grass was springy, not soft, and an old lady named Ida used to fly around the block in one of those big-wheeled tricycles with the metal basket in front. Some lawns had no grass at all, but were solid stone-a small sea of white gravel growing palms and pink flamingos.

Of course, when you spend your winters, as I did, in sub-zero, bone-chilling cold...day after endless day...till my legs were numb...oh, the inhumanity of it all...you kinda look forward to a warmer climate.

Sarasota smelled like the inside of a clothes dryer before the clothes were completely dry. With a touch of salt and sea gull droppings. But mostly what I remember about Sarasota was the smell of my grandparents' house. Clean. Like laundry hung out to dry in a gentle summer breeze. The garage, of course, smelled like a garage. You all know the smell. Don't pretend you don't.

They sold Michigan Christmas trees in Sarasota. For about $500 per tree. Spray painted. It's a little-known fact, but half the Michigan population moves to Florida in the winter. And they take I-75. So many AAA Michigan members use the freeway that the Auto Club established its own claims office in Florida to serve the snowbirds (I am not making this up). The I-75 expressway was designated "75" after the median age of the motorists who use it most. Of course, north of the Toledo border, it's designated for the average vehicle speed.

Sarasota is about the only place I've ever been where cars travel under the speed limit. Imagine getting a ticket for THAT.

"Ma'am...do you have any idea how fast you were going?"

"I don't know...25....20?"

"15."

"Oh, dear."

"Yeah, well...I'll write you up for 10 under, but let's be a little more careful next time, shall we?"

Traffic tickets aside, those were the lazy, hazy days of winter...not a worry under the sun. Striking out on my own, but not too far from home to really count. I considered myself an intellectual, reading books like "A Dance to the Music of Time," a ponderous, four-volume set (one for each season) that I imagined I understood. Going to movies alone; sitting on the beach in jeans and a wide-brimmed hat. Worrying a little about alligators but not actually seeing any.

I always pictured myself a sort of "Magnum P. I.," setting myself up in a little second-story office with a tile roof and vintage fans, sipping a gin and tonic and wearing a rather loud Hawaiian shirt. I actually visited a couple local newspapers. I thought, "Yeah, I could work here...I could be a journalist!"

Christmas in Sarasota was surreal; the surroundings didn't fit the season. Sort of how I was back then-only it was me who didn't fit my surroundings. Wherever I went, there I was, and yet...I wasn't. Kind of a perpetual wandering nomad even in my own backyard. And yet, Sarasota offered serenity; a slow pace, time to reflect; time to do nothing, just ebb and flow with the tides.

Seems to me like we could all use a little ebb and flow time. Instead of R&R, we could apply for E&F (ebb & flow)-go to the beach for our "effies." In today's fast-paced world, with dual-income, or single-parent households, nobody really relaxes anymore. They can't-there's no time. And that's a shame. Especially around Christmas. Everyone is rushing through the malls, buying those last-minute gifts. I mean, how much thought really goes into that jar of mixed nuts or the tie with the picture of The Grinch on the front?

I say, instead of rushing through the malls, go outside and sit in front of a pine tree. Observe the snow on the needles. Smell the snow. Smell the needles. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Then, instead of buying some mixed nuts, write your friends a short poem or haiku to share the experience.

"Smelled a pine tree today. The needles are sharp and taste like chicken. The snow falls. The needles fall. I fall, and make an angel in the snow."
Editor's note: Lately, Jim spends a good part of the Christmas holiday in Las Vegas, and he can't begin to describe that smell. Suffice it to say, it's no Sarasota.
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