The first essay I assign to English Comp students is descriptive, which is supposed to be the most accessible rhetorical mode, though the restraints can be frustrating. Description is usually best when blended with something else, the way a bottle of inexpensive merlot can be used to cook an exotic dish. I tell students to fall back on the five senses when writing description, and last night, I explored the sense of smell.
My first foray into scented TV occurred in 1994 with the aromavision episode of Living Single. Evidently, May 8 marked the “interactive entertainment” event on Fox, featuring a 3D Married With Children and much more subdued, sustainable fan interaction from Martin Lawrence and George Carlin. I vividly recall one Living Single character (either Sinclair or Max) dumping half a bottle of maple syrup on her breakfast (either waffles or pancakes).
I could get lost in a web dive of archived articles and 90s nostalgia collectibles, but what they cannot tell me is if I am actually remembering the smell of the cards, or if I even had them in the first place. There is a very real chance I simply watched show, saw the scratch-and-sniff prompt on the screen, and conjured the scent of maple syrup. I felt a similar sensation last week, when I realized I had waited too long to order my Office smell-a-vision card, and yesterday morning, when I got a reminder email (strange, because I had never gotten an email from Cozi TV before, but I just live with the assumption that social media algorithms have infiltrated my entire life). I mentioned to my boyfriend, who has lost patience with my Office viewing habit, how bummed I was to miss it.
A few hours later, he found some of my mail in his truck: “I’m sorry; this has probably been in here for a week.” I was too overjoyed to be annoyed, because he had made it just in time. I opened the envelope from Cozi TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112, and read the warning slipped in with the card: “This thing stinks…pungent…oppressive odor…smell ya later!” The card did indeed emit odors without provocation. As 9 p.m. approached, I made popcorn and hoped the smell would not interfere.
The smell-a-vision episode, entitled “The Dinner Party,” is a cringe-worthy social gathering set in Michael’s condo. The first sniff, Serenity by Jan’s Bonfire candle, was essentially liquid smoke. It filled the air and all nostrils, dominating the rest of the evening, in fiction and real life. Andy’s floral bouquet was barely detectable, and the red wine blended with Bonfire to produce a peaty whiskey finish on the nose. Host Melora Hardin told us the scratch-n-sniff company did not manufacture an Osso Buco flavor, so their work-around mixed beef with onions. The cheeseburger smelled similar, but with pickles, babe. Scents of Bonfire and Osso Buco fought it out until I put the card into a Ziploc bag—it is a collectible, after all.