Friday, September 09, 2005



Busward to Adventure

I consider myself a nostalgic person. Not in a blubbery, "I need a hug" way, but nostalgic in a practical "Greetings, memory. I'd like to discuss a few things with you" way. Memory recall — as most people probably know — is strongly linked to our senses. Sensory triggers are sights, smells, and sounds that install a "Free Admission" sign on our consciousness. Intrigued by these low-cost sightseeing opportunities, buried memories file onto buses and take field trips to our conscious mind. Then, after a visit to the souvenir store — or some discreet vandalism — these memories return to our subconscious, where they resume fueling our nightmares and encourage bedwetting.

Help! Groove is in my heart and I can't get it out!

Very few of my memories have an audible trigger, but the few that I have are most often sparked by songs from my hip, teenage years. The most effective of these song triggers are ones that I haven't watered down with numerous listenings — which usually means it's a song I don't like. Consequently, the truly powerful triggers are the songs that were forcibly injected into my consciousness by the radio, by intense "Top 10" torture sessions. For instance, Deee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart" easily conjures up memories of me sitting on my bed, organizing my baseball cards, thinking "God, this song AGAIN?!" Any song by C&C Music Factory makes me think of playing Gameboy on my way to Gettysburg. By the time we got to the battlefield, my Gameboy batteries and my desire for Factory-quality music were as dead as all those mustachioed soldiers.

The Nostril: More than just a hole

I am a smeller by nature. I love smelling things! Just gimme a good hunk of stuff to smell and I'm happy. What's more, I feel I have a stronger-than-normal nose. As is the case with most people, my olfactory sense is particularly efficient at triggering memories. My own memories, I mean (to my knowledge, people feel no nostalia when I smell things. They may, however, be made nostalgic by my smell).

When I smell a particular lotion Kim purchased in St. Lucia, I can distinctly recall my honeymoon. Skin Bracer aftershave reminds me of school dances. Drakkar Noir also reminds me of school dances, and as a "bonus", it delivers intangible feelings of awkwardness and failed sexual conquest. There's a particular strain of fart which allows me to immediately recall a trip to a rest home in 4th grade; and to this day I would categorize that odor as being solely generated by a matured colon.

When it all comes together

In many cases, these triggers can combine to amplify the memory, or engineer something a bit more disruptive. For instance, in 1990, Madonna's Like A Prayer was battering the public consciousness. Concurrently, sometime in 1990, I was eating Macaroni and Cheese. By all accounts, I was eating too much Macaroni and Cheese, because I eventually vomited it up in the middle of the night. Now here's where the magic happens. While I was expunging like a mother bird to porcelain-beaked chicks, my brain was expunging Like A Prayer. The song was playing repeatedly in my head, and it would not go away. But not just the song, the video also; I could easily watch my own personal mental projection of Madonna grooving with Jesus, then the choir group, and then all of them grooving together. And this continued on for hours.

Years later, the smell/taste of Macaroni and Cheese or the sound/imagery of Like A Prayer induced nausea. I would say well into 1995 I was still feeling the repercussions of this night. Luckily today, the effects have worn off. Sometimes, I watch the Like a Prayer video all night, pounding handfuls of Macaroni and Cheese down my throat, just to impress Kim. It works like a charm.

Memory Engineering

Armed with this knowledge of triggers, I've attempted a couple times to make "time capsules" of memories. I still have that empty lotion bottle from the honeymoon, just so I can occasionally sniff it and picture those sandy beaches without a Jersey-ite in sight. There's a set of candles I've tried burning while I draw, so that when I smell the candles they might instantly put me in a sketching state-of-mind. And on the flip-side, I try and avoid associating bad smells with good things and vice-versa. No eating pie while using the toilet — I don't want delicious pies to remind me of feces. And no board games while pumping gas. With today's climbing gas prices, I'd never be able to afford it anyways. But most important of all, no more drinking at weddings; the Electric Slide and Macarena are endangering my love of bourbon.

Comments on this Article

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Biggest Apple

Wow - just today I was hit with a double whammy of nostalgia. Both were brought about by an innocent browse through Ebay. The first item to ring the old bell was one of those tabletop version of Donkey Kong from Coleco. This reminded me of all those quarters I wasted during my lunch hour at school. The second item was a book by the illustrator RO Blechman. I went to school with his youngest son. Until reading the book blurb I had no idea that his elder son Nicholas had become quite acomplished in the field as well. My only memory of him is being pushed out of his room so he could smoke another joint.

Ah,,,,eBay. The World's Memory Market.


How much was that tabletop version of Donkey Kong? I'm looking for some new methods of associating eating with video games...

Rob Weychert

Dammit, call me next time you do an all-night Madonna 'n' cheese binge.


My childhood memories included MASK and Dino Riders. Everything else has been pretty much supressed.


Rob - I TRIED calling you. But the receiver was clogged with macaroni.

Jared - Well, at least you still have the MASK vs. Dino Riders battles preserved to memory.


no alcohol at weddings? that's utter madness! next thing you'll say is no sea shanties on pirate ships! i don't think you'll make it without blow, boys, blow


I almost spit milk all over my screen. Too funny. C&C Music Factory... the greatest line was "gonna make you sweat until you bleed" but what they really meant was "gonna make music until your ears bleed"


"Ah, push it - push it good Ah, push it - push it real good..."
roller skating in 8th grade


Another great nastolgia trigger if you've moved away from your childhood neighborhood (if you had one) -- Google Mapping around your old stomping grounds.


Whoa — Craig, that's a great idea! I never thought of that... I'm gonna do it now!


nice post, kevin. i have a related story. one day, the madeleine i was eating triggered a series of memories from my childhood in 19th-century france, and, wait. i abhor madeleines. that must have been marcel proust. the point is that to this day, whenever i smell a french novelist, i think of styrofoam.


Funny, now that you have made me think of it, i don't recall any good memory associations. I can only remember the horrible ones. I do however, like the smell of motor oil, and looking at dirty fingernails, because it reminds me of my dad. =) that's kinda weird.


I used a lot of commas in that sentance and i didn't even notice. that too is weird.

btw: this is a great post kev.


Wayne - You might still be from 19th Century France, right? Who will accompany me to the salon!?

Niffernaut - Thanks! And I'm sorry you only have horrible memory triggers... but what about the smell of Sutter?

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