Galvanic Action My grandmother kept buckets of her own pee fermenting in a room near her pantry. There's a strong argument for stopping this post right here - that each and every one of you reading is now struggling to keep your gorge from rising, your biscuits or bagels from standing rudely on your guts' eject buttons -- but stopping here is simply not my way.
Grandparents are rich sources of early scent memory for most children. We're cuddled and swaddled by them, for better or worse, and often spend great periods of time in their presence at a time when our precious olfactory bulbs are stretching their legs, linking the occasional smell back to the days when knowing what was good and bad, in terms of odor, often determined one's longevity. That portion of our brain responsible for smell is the one most similar nowadays to the corresponding sections of gray matter in our pre-history ancestors, all the way back to the very first reptiles and amphibians swimming thick stews more green than amber.
"Do you smell the sabertooth tiger around yonder stand of gingko trees? No, well then by golly I guess your furry ass is gonna' be grass, John. And Johnny, if that's your real name, your descendants won't be around to learn about Nate's granny's piss stinking up his nose at an early age."
That's really just one possible conversation from our past, not how it actually went down.
In Granny's house, a mere plaster clad and pine framed wall away from hundreds of mason jars filled with brackish peaches and dark gray root vegetables, two WWII era metal pails grew skins of varying thickness on top of amber urine collected daily by my grandmother. Lapped up the sides of each vessel, grey to black scum refracted light from the single bare incandescent bulb of her private closet potty, showing off to dramatic effect large galvanized crystals of metal and oxidized uric acid. I stared at the colors and thought how they appeared like the eyes of so many bottle flies swarming and diving, touching the dark fluid's surface so taut with gunk that it didn't ripple even when the largest insect dashed it head on.
The one time I suffered a solid whiff of her aging piss left me forever scarred. Outside, staggering around her champion, piss fed rose bushes, I remember thinking how it might be a good idea to take the back of a butter knife and scrape the insides of my nostrils the way attendants to ancient greek wrestlers used to scrape the combatants' bodies with dull, flat steels in lieu of bathing. I was sure the only way to escape the scent memory was to remove a few layers of inner nostril epidermis, yank out the nose hairs even, cursing them, too, as witnesses to her awful habit.
"Ignore it," was my dad's advice. "You'll forget it someday."
He spoke with sadness, betraying the lie he halfheartedly tried to pedal.