My people, my beautiful Korean people, my deep ancestral roots, the incalculable sprawl underneath the tall tree of myself, I stand here, shading all around me with my Korea-ness, my Korea history, my Korea life, and I ask, what is up with the car fresheners? My people love to freshen their cars, with weird fake fruity type scents, like green apple, which makes my mouth water uncomfortably, because I am essentially preparing my mouth, beginning the digestive process, literally kickstarting my digestive system to eat the interior of my car. But the oddity of the Korean green apple artificial smell is like a cross between the jolly rancher sour apple and an actual apple because the Korean style is to put some real (sort of) green smell in there. The bite of it, a bite of green. It smells vaguely like biting into a real green apple filled with Jolly Ranchers.
Quince is another Korean favorite, which is akin to honeydew, cassava, Korean melons – all those heavy skinned greenish fruits often bought by the case because their ripening is hard to detect and unpredictable enough that its better to buy a big box and let the gases from the ripe melons influence the unripe ones, like a melon peer pressure situation. Like all these hard, unsweet melons are boxed together for their own good and are coerced into their softening and their sugars binding to themselves in a mutual decay by mere proximity, like a kind of “scared ripe” melon rehabilitation program.
If you go to a Korean market, you will see fruits like this on display, never in a pile, like American fruits and vegetables, but neatly wrapped in tissue paper and laid swaddling in bubbled plastic trays that mold to the body of the thing. These set ups often make my mouth water, but not in the urgent disturbing way that the car freshener does.
What makes our cars not fresh? It never occurred to me to use this. Cars smell like cars, a little like plastic, a little like leather, a little like the factory, some oil and notes of gasoline in there. It’s a good neutral scent, if the car is kept clean. Of course mine is not, and once I left a trader joe’s blue cheese in there for over a year. It fell out of the bag, and since the bag carried many varietals of cheese for my lavish lifestyle, I didn’t miss it.
The cheese didn’t start to smell instantly. It took a few months, but then wow, did it smell. It stunk in a sick, sulphurous and sleazy way, like someone had taken a straight up shit in the car. There was no other odor. Just shit. I tried to deny it. I did resort to air fresheners then, but there is no apple comely enough, no quince that didn’t quit on me. I finally discovered the cheese, now nearly completely evaporated out of the package, so it was merely a filmy, hollow piece of plastic with a brown chunk inside the size of a marble. For a second, I thought I might eat it. I am just telling you because it is true.