The Law of Smells, and other tales

Melbourne Wrapup

I’m leaving in eight hours for six days of adventure (Great Ocean Road, Grampians National Park, Kangaroo Island). After that I have a few free days in Adelaide, and then it’s a ten day adventure from Adelaide to Perth.

Catch you later, Melbourne. I’ll be back soon.

Lately I’ve been taking little notes on the go, whenever something even slightly interesting happens or comes to mind. At any given moment I may have a few paragraphs of material in my head, which I distill into a few choice keywords which I jot down in my phone’s notes application.

I will now go through my phone and use these keywords as jumping off points in a failed attempt to recapture the former glory of my fully-formed theses.

It’s like a game of telephone between three people, but the guy in the middle just learned English as a second language, and we’re pretty sure he’s just ingested a large dose of veterinary grade ketamine.

“time machine”

I recently read Chuck Klosterman’s latest collection of essays, Eating the Dinosaur. The title is a reference to one of the essays in which he discusses time travel, along with the merits of going back in time in order to eat some delicious dinosaurs (note to self: you’ve been in Australia for over month and still haven’t eaten crocodile). Klosterman also poses some open-ended “If you could do anything in category X, with restrictions Y and Z, what would you do?”-style time travel questions that are a lot of fun to think about and to ask other people.

I’ve tweaked some of these questions a bit so I can ask them of complete strangers and not have them look at me like a total freak. They’re constantly evolving, but one is along the lines of:

“I’m going to let you borrow my time machine. You can use it to go back to any time in the past, but once you’re there you have to live out the rest of your days there. You can’t use any of your knowledge of the future to make yourself rich or famous, or change major historical events, but you can certainly use your knowledge to have fun. Also, nobody will ever believe you if claim you’re from the future. What do you do?” (yes, Klosterman’s questions are probably better. Also, I’m surprised that everyone so far — about 20 people — has been excited by the question. People like thinking about this kind of crap more than I ever knew.)

Even when the responses are boring, it’s still an interesting way to break the ice. However, sometimes the responses aren’t boring, and actually help to illustrate whether someone is fun or not. Some of the most memorable responses have been:

“I’d go back to 1978, because it sounds like a fun time to be 20 and they had modern stuff like blow dryers back then.” – Girl, 20ish

“No, I’d maybe wait a few years. 1982. Then I could be there for the rise of The Smiths, and when Morrissey breaks out I’d KNOW him, and I could follow him around to be there for him. He’s my favorite.” – The same girl, after I made fun of her for the complete inanity of the blow dryers line. This is around the time that I noticed her all-black outfit, asymmetric haircut and the tattoos that didn’t say “Morrissey” but may as well have. This is also around the time that I excused myself from the conversation.

“I’d go back in time and be in the Back to the Future movies. Think about it.” – Different girl, 20ish. I accepted this because there are probably many people who were in those movies and are neither rich nor famous. I also figure this wouldn’t change any major historical events: Michael J. Fox still grows up to be the most famous person anyone can think of with Parkinson’s, and Lea Thompson still moves on to cause legions of guys like me to change the channel whenever Caroline in the City comes on. Bonus points for a clever answer (“ironic” isn’t the right word here… “meta”, perhaps?).

Of course, everyone always wants to know what my answer to the question would be. I think I’ve recovered emotionally from missing out on the chance to see Snakes on a Plane on opening night, so I’d probably go back to 1978, because it sounds like a fun time to be 26 and they had modern stuff like blow dryers back then.

“that guy”

Kids, skip the $160k college education and repeat after me: “Don’t Be That Guy”. Over half of what I learned in college can be boiled down to this trusty phrase, so save the money and start traveling and spreading the good word.

That Guy can take on many forms, none of which is not to be trusted: That Guy took the last slice of pizza. That Guy stole your girlfriend. That Guy ran a Ponzi scheme. That Guy murdered and ate little boys.

In that magical summer between high school and college I had what was essentially the exact same one-sided conversation with a multitude of adults. Anyone who has ever “moved on” to the next chapter of their life knows this one by heart: it’s the one where you quietly listen while someone older than you tries to convince you that they were cool at your age, and sets themselves up for a few years of living vicariously through you, while sprinkling a few pithy aphorisms throughout.

The take-home messages were: (a) “this is an exciting time in your life”, (b) “you’ll learn more outside of the classroom than inside of it”, and (c) “I’m a friend of your parents and have no idea what to say to you, so please accept this Garfield graduation card with $25 cash tucked inside”.

All completely true, but let’s focus on (b). No mention of That Guy yet, but we’re getting there.

Yes, I did four years of hard labor at a top engineering school, and while I’ve already forgotten how to read a bode plot or solve a differential equation, I’ll never forget the life lessons presented on the first day of school and then reinforced every day since then. They stick with me since I helped run orientation three times.

For one small segment of Harvey Mudd College’s freshman orientation, the two genders were split up into different lecture halls and given the straight dope on what it’s like to be a smart boy/girl with a painful lack of social skills. Traditional issues involving the opposite sex: “How are you supposed to be successful with a girl at a party when you’ve never even talked to one”? Traditional issues involving the same sex: “How do you share a dorm room with a guy who sports wood whenever he watches anime, and has no inclination to hide it”?

The part I do know about, “Men’s Issues”, can be boiled down to three simple rules for the incoming freshmen guys to follow:

  • “Don’t be a jackass”
  • “Don’t stalk the women” (you REALLY need to drive this point home with lovesick nerds)
  • “Not on your roommate’s stuff” (some people get off on the weirdest things… literally and figuratively)

If we trust that these three statements are true, we can then derive “Don’t Be That Guy”.

As a quick aside, I don’t know too much about the “Women’s Issues” meeting except that the older girls actually prepared a list of “Guys to beware of” for the incoming freshwomen. Of course, this list always had the opposite effect of whatever it was intended to do — being put on this list was one of the best things that could ever happen for your social life. This may hold true of all “bad boy” lists in the world, except those which legally require you to go door-to-door upon moving to a new neighborhood. Sometimes it pays to be thought of as That Guy, whether it’s true or not.

So, why are we talking about That Guy in the first place? Simply put, I hate him.

I spotted That Guy early last night, shortly after arriving at the Ding Dong Lounge. A band was playing and everyone was standing around enjoying the music, dancing in a reasonable manner, when That Guy crept out of the shadows. Surely you’ll agree with the tell-tale signs that help to identify him:

  • That Guy is the most enthusiastic dancer in the entire venue
  • That Guy has a personal soundtrack playing at twice the tempo than the music the rest of us hear
  • That Guy is a pinball, and our drinks are bumpers worth 50 points per collision
  • That Guy did not get the memo that we’re all wearing long pants tonight
  • That Guy learned his dance moves from Pee-wee Herman, but eventually the student became the teacher
  • That Guy does not clap between songs. Instead, he rapidly squeezes a squeaky dog toy
  • That Guy is going to drink that entire pitcher of beer by himself, so help him God
  • That Guy smirks instead of apologizing
  • That Guy does not own a full-length mirror, and it shows
  • That Guy seems to know Those People in the audience. Those People do not look happy to see That Guy
  • That Guy is being escorted out by security

Unfortunately, That Guy is like Agent Smith in The Matrix — possessing new bodies at will. Less than an hour after being escorted out, That Guy had taken on a new corporeal form, cut in with the girl I was dancing with, took her hand in his to spin her, and managed to run their connected mid-twirl hands into my mouth.

As I started to bleed from my lip, That Guy skulked back into the shadows alone, sans apology.


  • Yes, I got digits.
  • Does That Guy play by Vampire rules? I mean, my blood is on his hands, so am I bound to turn into him?
  • In some cultures/mythologies That Guy goes by the alternate name “The Douchebag”.
  • Vampires, shape-shifters, telepaths and maenads not enough for you? In the next season of True Blood they’re going to reveal Jason Stackhouse to be That Guy.


I have never played a Gretsch hollow body electric guitar. We should change this.

“law of smells”

I wish I could unsmell some of the things I’ve been forced to endure during my travels. A Nasonex spray created by the Men in Black would be ideal — two squirts up each nostril and I’d blissfully forget about today’s trip on the city tram.

Shared hostel bathroom facilities are the worst — there’s something about a room with no windows, four toilets and four showers that has the potential for evil. When all showers and stalls are occupied simultaneously, good men have been broken — men far greater than myself. I will suggest the term “shit sauna” and leave the rest to your imagination.

Luckily, not everything is bad news. I have developed my Law of Smells, which goes as follows: “If you find yourself around other travelers and something smells foul, worry not, for you are not the offending party”. So stop checking yourself. You took a shower today, and your new deodorant is working wonders for you.

It’s like a luxury item so expensive that simply asking what the price is means that you can’t afford it — but replace “luxury item so expensive” with “smell so horrible”, “asking the price” with “acknowledging its presence”, and “ability to afford it” with “responsibility for it”.

Things are extra true if any of the following are involved: dreadlocks, hackysacks, tank tops, tribal band tattoos.

“full length mirror”

Constantly in search of inexpensive Halloween costume ideas, I’m filing away the notion of “guy who doesn’t own a full-length mirror”. Easy.


Loud bars + shouting to be heard + different accents = plenty of opportunity for misunderstandings.

Conversing with two Aussie girls, complaining about the heat:

Me: “If you’re too hot, just take off some of those layers!”
Girl: “Excuse me? We’re too hot and you want to take off and lay us?”

I mean, kinda… but let’s get first names first.

“on the road”

I paid a visit to an actual book store to buy some PAPER BOOKS (gasp!) since my Kindle disappeared and I’m going on a very long road trip. I couldn’t bring myself to buy exorbitant prices for the paper copies of the eBooks I’ve already purchased (e.g. Infinite Jest, which cost $10 in Kindle version and $35 MSRP in this bookstore). I’ll be ordering a new Kindle soon, and have it sent to wherever I’m staying in Adelaide or Perth so I can re-download all of my purchases and pick up where I left off.

The only paperbacks that aren’t priced higher than a black market kidney around here are Penguin Classics, so I picked up On The Road and Cat’s Cradle. I passed on Love in the Time of Cholera, thank you very much.

There’s something charming about devouring On The Road while being, you know, on the road… but it also feels incredibly cliche. OH WELL. Maybe it’s more unique since I’m reading it on the Great Australian Road Trip instead of the Great American one. Anything to add a little tangy zing to this sandwich that you’ve all already eaten!


Melbourne is a jaywalker’s paradise, since most of the streets have dedicated tram/streetcar lanes running in between the car traffic lanes.

Look right stepping off the curb, run to the tram tracks, hang out for a bit, look left stepping off the tram tracks, run to the opposite curb. EASY MODE.


Filed under Travel Journal

4 responses to “The Law of Smells, and other tales

  1. K Per

    Should not have passed on Love in the Time of Cholera. Not that I’ve read it.. I just KNOW.

  2. Pingback: Crossing the Nullarbor – Part Three « Kangas Down Under

  3. Pingback: Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite. Seriously, Don’t. « Kangas Down Under

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