The Heady Scent of Fresh Paperbacks (or, "Ugh. Stop Buying Me Things Besides Video Games")

For Christmas, Halen got five fat books. He liked them. I could tell by how he looked like he wanted to spit on them, but didn't. He further signaled his appreciation by not hurling them at me, but rather tossing them aside very respectfully, while honoring me by mumbling, instead of shouting, "Any video games under this tree?"

"Ugh. Why do you keep getting me things besides video games." (Costa del Sol, El Salvador; Jan 2016)

I gathered Halen's paperback books and I leafed through them. Just to, you know, see if all the words were there. They smelled amazing, that earthy scent of crisp pages and pristine ink. I hadn't leafed through a brand new paperback in a long time; I buy all my books used online, so when I leaf through them I smell the stale cigarette smoke from Darren Smigsden's house in Lancaster, Ohio where he puffs on Camels while watching The Amazing Race in sagging Cleveland Browns sweats, smoke lazily rising from between his yellowing teeth into a drunken halo around his matted, unkempt hair, his cigarette ashing into a tray that for months shared a scuffed coffee table with the book I now own, which Darren bought for a night-school course seven years ago and read only once while slurping down a stale egg sandwich, the crumbs of which still rest in the crack between pages 12 and 13. That's how my books smell.

But the smell of Halen's new paperbacks reminds me of 1991. I was a real winner in those days. My peers were going to the movies to see Boyz N the Hood, calling girls on the phone, and wishing they could grow Dennis Eckersley mustaches. Equally unable to grow facial hair and less popular with the ladies, I would walk down to Clint's Book Store after school and stand in the cramped aisles of the tiny, windowless shop browsing the Dragonlance books, inhaling that beautiful smell of fresh paperbacks and thinking how I wished you could play 1-person D&D, since having friends was pretty hard when you were prepubescent Abu Halen. Every Saturday I'd fork over my allowance to Clint for a couple of 400-page fantasy paperbacks, then park it on the living couch all week to knock them out by Saturday -- payday. What can I say -- I've been living paycheck to paycheck since I was 12. That's just how I roll. Me and alcoholics, that's how we roll.