If there is a scent to a place then the scent of where I live is that of newly cut grass and fresh laundry just hung out to dry. It is an airy, sweet, distinctly American scent to me, one that I associate with a certain kind of puritanism, collective ethos of pulchritude garnered at some imaginary gate--the gate of a Christian church or school, where everyone knows one another, likes one another, and is being raised, it would appear, by the same set of parents--Ozzie and Harriet. Deeper into the Midwest, in the Chicago, where Grandma Jenkins used to live, that scent would turn metallic, the scent of steel, tall buildings and hope interrupted by bitterness, the refrain of hard times, this broken sometimes by the aroma of fresh baked pies cooling on a shelf near a window--the memory of how things used to be.
If they ever were that way.
The town where I live is white middle-class middle America--maybe 20 years ago in terms of the styles it embraces and even older, in terms of how its people live. Kids of any age riding by on their bicycles will inevitably nod their heads politely, greeting you respectfully, the way they were taught to do.
Conformity is waved like a pendant here and treated as the main symptom that things are all right. Passing a group of young girls running together, their listing chatter slicing through a morning mist, or seeing a line of boys running over the bridge after school, will leave you with the distinct impression of witnessing something that is uniquely right and pure and good. To win a game here is a holy achievement, not only a signifier of great things to come, but proof you are on the right team--in sports and in life.
In the town where I live, healthy, blond children behave and do well in school; their parents have jobs and see one other frequently at games and cookouts, and probably have affairs, although they tend to stay married. Further west along route 422, closer to poverty, time slides even further back--in Niles, for example, where the air smells like cheap candy and a rusty handful of change.
The most depressing mall in the world, where nearly every shop window displays a close out or 60-percent off sale, is in Niles. Its rugs and corridors are dark and dank; and its people, sad and poor. Many of the people that visit that mall are either skinny or overweight and missing teeth, from poor diets and habits. Way too many are disabled and disfigured, so many that you have to wonder whether there is poison in their water, or whether some factory toxin was passed along from generations through the genes. Boys and men sport haircuts so unattractive and out-of-date, they can't be placed in time--bangs in front, long stringy hair in back; and rat tails, that hideous hairstyle of the 80s, adopted mainly by lower class males to distinguish them from their peers. Young females dress in tight jeans and off the shoulder tops, Flashdance style, and bob their big hair, teased 80s style, to 80s music piping through the sound system. This is a nether world of things gone bad in days gone by, only no one has caught up to the realization.
I suspect the styles the folks in the mall reflect and emulate are those of characters from long-running television shows that are still the favorite past-time of families, who still watch them while sitting together before the big TV set in their living rooms. When Happy Days, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, Fantasy Island, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman come on, those watching who are in reality struggling to manage mortgages and juggling debts of every sort, get caught up in a bliss of remembrance and illusion that makes them and everyone around them happy for a time. In the spell of such shows in which a wholesome America is portrayed, Americans without much are likely to believe that everything is all right and will always be all right--for America is blessed, is it not? There is a subconscious belief system here, engrained for generations, that whatever trouble comes along, whatever ails us as a town or country will always and forever be met by the rainbow that always comes at the end of everything for Americans.