The bottle’s neck smelled like sarsaparilla.A most annoying smell that transposed itself to taste when one lifted the bottle’s open end to the mouth to swallow it’s contents. As the neutral sensation of carbonated mineral water was tainted by that fragrance it despoiled the experience of the drink. At two dollars a bottle, its presence as a staple to his daily diet had become an expensive commodity. Certainly not detrimental to his general health. In fact quite the opposite. But fatal to his lack of income which at present was next to insufficient. How unthinking of the anonymous party who stocked the local store to bathe their skin in some eccentric offbeat fragrance that for them was some sort of signature of individual personality. An unwanted commercially available pheromone that may have provided them with a greater level of social accessibility but to his sense of smell and taste only signified annoyance. The efficiency of his senses had come down to the bare minimum over too many years of constant assault by city living with its proclivity of volatile industrial ether. Acetone’s, keytone’s and kerosene’s. Ethyl methyl’s, pollen’s and dusts. The smell of tainted canals wafting up daily from ten miles to the south. It all intermixed into a noxious stew the presence of which was ever on display on the horizon each night at sunset. The personal signature of the massive enclave within which the bulk of his mortal existence had transpired. A scratchy dryness suddenly appeared as he cleared his throat of the sensation of thickened mucous with low grating vocal scrape.
His custom at the small supermarket chain was regular but small in revenue. The fact that the state was picking up the tab not adding weight to any potential commentary he might offer as to a positive suggestion by him of how to avoid such unfortunate inadvertent situations that would steal away customer satisfaction with the goods offered by the establishment. After all if he had wanted some flavored water there wee certainly more sophisticated and tastier alternatives available. He could imagine the scenario in this current era of faceless commercial consumerism. A prompt refund might be initially offered with a customary apology at his complaint when the touchstone of a recent sales receipt was produced, Maybe the thin unsubstantial promise of promptly seeing to it that an internal inquiry would be conducted within the next day so as to bring the offending shelf ‘stocker’ into line with store policies on personal hygiene. Part of him was rankled by the thought of this. One one hand there would be a certain Patrician satisfaction if on the next purchase the product’s containers had resumed their former neutral lack of taste or aroma. Yet this would cast him in a group that he himself personally despised. Those pinch nosed egomaniacs that thought nothing of disturbing the usual fast-paced rhythms of efficiently stocking shelves by hard working low paid staff who would now be eyed with an even greater level of suspicion in an economy that already had too many working far below their potential earning less dollars than they were supposedly deserved of. This might lead to unintended consequences? By some odd stretch of his imagination he could conceive of a scenario where through the consternation of an underling his rare and hard to find preference of brand would be struck from the store’s inventory? Then where would he be able to seek out the key active element in his own personal daily ritual of mental solace?
It made him even more cross to think how powerless he was to provide one measure of constancy to a diminished level of bare bones existence that by all intents and purposes should not have to suffer such constant and daily privation. When would this persistent economic drought lift and a reasonable level of local prosperity return? It was so unfair! The neighborhood was not by any stretch of the imagination destitute. The ghetto of urban blacks and Hispanics at the municipal border stood some two miles East. A curtain of struggling tax challenged White Middle class homes standing as sentinels to the ebb and flow shift of ethnic distribution. It was true that the endless stream of peoples from outside the nation had not been stemmed but quite the opposite, had been increasing. The first and second generations of same now economically acclimated and relatively prosperous and stable. The spectrum of goods and services locally available bearing ever more foreign sounding names with strange characters painted in garish jarring color palates that seemed to contradict those that once was long used to. He could recall so many memories of years past where one could rely on local standbys that had made their reputations solid through providing old world service and goods that were significant of those golden years of easily obtainable living. Now their empty store fronts were slowly being bulldozed having sat too long in the eclipse of what was formerly the good old days. It made his blood boil to see that other neighborhood across the boulevard just South stand so unaffected by all this! Large houses with many more bedrooms than needed by the average family/ Well-manicured highly decorated parcels of acreage that required ant-like crews of immigrant labor to maintain that immaculate fairy tale untouched appearance. As if everyone who lived there was somehow an Olympian far above the cares and woes of the normal folk that did without so that they did not have to. That was the myth and backbone of the credo of Capitalism! Something that despite all the social cultural dislocation that most felt one was required to give reverent lip service to.
He took another sip from the bottle and wrinkled his nose. Things were not like this before his mind responded to the renewed annoyance of that strange offbeat scent. It reminded him of those odd smells that would be occasionally wafting past into the open driver’s side window of his sedan when he found himself driving through that over-packed noisy decaying urban sprawl that was thick with perpetually dissatisfied ghetto-dwellers who seemed always surly and ready to impose the threat of violent confrontation. The associations one had when traversing those areas was to keep the windows rolled up tight and maintain a swift and as uninterrupted progress down the center lanes of a major boulevard making sure that one would not be unsuspectedly blocked by hostile parties who might have violent intentions on their mind. He absolutely hated those places and could imagine setting foot on the Moon without a space suit easier than strolling down the sidewalk of any of those avenues either day or night. Their incrementally expanding presence ever seeping towards his own tiny kingdom being so very significant of how bad things were getting in the world at large. He hated that smell. It upset everything! It made him want to sell or even just throw out everything, sell his property and go somewhere. Anywhere! Just as long as he didn’t have to deal with those ever-demanding hostile forces. It wasn’t fair! He and his parents had worked for years starting up a small family company that when times were good allowed them to live well. The shift in technologies and the fall of fashion restlessly progressing away from the style and substance that the business offered causing it eventually to close before the passing of his kin. He had to supposed that given his own advance in age that he was to be considered almost a dinosaur? Someone from a bygone era that wouldn’t have the skill base or proper mentality to continue in society in a manner that was productive enough to hire. His generation like that of his own parents being the most reliable and easy target of eventual scorn. It wasn’t true he heard an inner voice protest. Alas a deeper more steadied voice seemed to respond, “Indeed it was!”