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"Harold Ashby Sells Smells"

sim's picture


HAROLD. A seller of smells.
CHRIS. A prospective customer.

SCENE. LIGHTS DOWN as things get arranged. HAROLD is sitting at a card table with inflated ziploc baggies. LIGHTS UP. CHRIS approaches.

CHRIS: (sniffs) I smell a smelly smell that smells smelly.

HAROLD: Bah! You smell the smelly smell of your upper lip, perhaps. Or perhaps you smell the smelly smell of the last arse you puckered up to. But my smells --

(HAROLD indicates the inflated ziploc baggies.)

HAROLD: My smells, they are sublime.

CHRIS: (doubtfully) Since when are your scents “sublime?” How do I know the smells you sell don't stink?

HAROLD: (proudly) My suppliers are superb! Special smells for selective souls. A sample! You must have a sample! Then you will know!

CHRIS: Free samples? What do you offer?

HAROLD: Simple samples? Roast Beef? Old books? Mown grass?

CHRIS: (not impressed) Certainly, you supply smells that are more sophisticated than that, don't you?

HAROLD: Splendidly said. I have scenes that will seem as if you remember being there yourself.

(HAROLD holds up different bags as he speaks.)

HAROLD: “An Afternoon at Maude's”, “Movie Theater, 1971”. Here's one you'd like, “Snowfall on 42nd Street”. Try it.

(HAROLD gives CHRIS ziploc bag. CHRIS unzips bag carefully and smells.)

CHRIS: (thinking) Subways... perfume... cigarettes --

(CHRIS grows more enthusiastic).

CHRIS: Cologne... overcoats... chestnuts! (CHRIS looks amazed)... snow. It's like I was there. I can see it in my memories.


CHRIS: Yes. Rather, I smell it.

HAROLD: Yes, of course. But smells and memories are strongly linked.

CHRIS: (impatiently) Yes, yes. So, what smell will you sell me?

HAROLD: Whichever you like.

CHRIS: What is the cost?

HAROLD: Whatever you wish to pay. It will be no more than you can afford.

CHRIS: The payment. A priori?

HAROLD: The payment? A posteri. You present yourself as an honorable person.

CHRIS: (bows slightly) Thank you.

HAROLD: Have you selected the scent you want?

CHRIS: Ah, so many.

HAROLD: How about this? “Knoxville, Summer of 1915.” Or --

CHRIS: Something more recent. Something --

HAROLD: Evocative? Transcendent?

CHRIS: Different. Fun.

HAROLD: Hmm. How about this. “Willie Nelson in Concert, Salem, Virginia, 1991.” The supplier was most eloquent as to its piquancy.

CHRIS. Okay.

(HAROLD hands CHRIS a ziploc bag. Again, CHRIS slowly breathes in the contents.)

CHRIS: Popcorn... beer... fresh blue jeans... not so fresh blue jeans... more beer... pot. Mmm, really, really good pot. Wow. I'm getting a contact buzz. And it's like I can almost hear Willie Nelson's voice warble out “Red-Headed Stranger.” Thank you.

HAROLD: No, the pleasure is mine.

CHRIS: How much do I owe you?

HAROLD: Nothing you cannot pay. Please, let us have a moment. This is a cherished memory, now, this “Willie Nelson,” yes?


HAROLD: What is one of your cherished memories? What do you remember most vividly?

CHRIS: Oh, details aren't my specialty.

HAROLD: Perhaps it helps if you turn around, so that you are not facing me.

(CHRIS turns his back to HAROLD.)

CHRIS: My seventh birthday in second grade.

HAROLD: Splendid seventh! Special seventh! Second grade! What smells do you remember?

CHRIS: The smell of broken crayons... chocolate cake with chocolate icing... the smell of blown out candles... Miss Cross, my teacher, her perfume smelled like lilacs--

HAROLD: Yes! Yes! Please! Now, put the bag up to your mouth.

CHRIS: What?

HAROLD: To pay! Now is the payment! I will show you! Put the bag to your mouth.

CHRIS: (confused) Okay, sure.

(CHRIS puts the ziploc back to CHRIS'S mouth. HAROLD taps CHRIS on the back, like he's trying to dislodge air trapped deep in CHRIS'S lungs.)

HAROLD: The candles, the lilacs, they are DEEP! Usually they come out quicker!

(CHRIS blows up the bag.)

CHRIS: (hands HAROLD the ziploc bag) Here. I mean, there.

HAROLD: Ah, thank you. What do you remember of your seventh birthday?

CHRIS: (suspicious, but innocent) Why? What happened on my seventh birthday?

HAROLD: No matter, no matter.

CHRIS: Well, hey, thank you for the “Willie Nelson.”

HAROLD: No, thank you.


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I really liked the nod to

I really liked the nod to the Barber-Agee Knoxville, 1915. I can't imagine a better way to evoke the smell and feel of a place. Though mentioning Willie Nelson next got me laughing out loud.

I have the Upshaw performance too, and that reference immediately made me think of it.

sim's picture

Added CC License

Sorry for the oversight!


sim's picture

Owning Up to Debts

There's an obvious debt to the wonderful movie "Harold and Maude". However, can you find the line from Spongebob Squarepants? How about the James Agee reference? Okay, now find the line cribbed from Greg Bear (hint: it's from Heads, which I should really put in my biblio page).


kelson.philo's picture

Spongebob: I smell a smelly

Spongebob: I smell a smelly smell that smells smelly?

sim's picture


The Knoxville comment is from James Agee's "A Death In The Family." There's a tone poem from the book with music composed by Samuel Barber. Dawn Upshaw has a particulary luminous recording of it that's a gem. The Greg Bear allusion is the suspicious line about birthdays. If I recall correctly, there's a bit where the protagonist talks with his sister (I believe) about lost memories when heads get scanned.


kelson.philo's picture

Most interesting. I like

Most interesting. I like the play format as well, this is a piece that certainly could be performed in front of an audience. I wonder if you have ideas for a larger arc tying in other people who sacrifice their memories, only to have other people pick up those ziplocked memories on down the line and then you could tie the whole thing up somehow with these "strangers" meeting up by happen-chance and feeling eerily familiar with each other's story? Does that even make sense?

sim's picture

DIY Theatre

Thanks. I haven't really thought about inflating pieces into a larger work. However, these actually have been performed on stage at my local No Shame Theatre. I've been getting acclimated to stage-space since most of my (most of everybody's) visualization and pacing is cinematic. If you haven't seen many plays, the best analogy I can use is juggling. Juggling on TV sucks ass; it's boring and near unwatchable. But juggling in REAL LIFE is astounding and mesmerizing and with a good juggler, you can't take your eyes off the act.

BTW, what's the policy on critical comments?


kelson.philo's picture

THat's a nice analogy, I

THat's a nice analogy, I think. NST looks pretty interesting as well. I'm not sure on the exact policy, but on the FAQ there's this:

So Oort-Cloud is just a big flame war. Is that it?

No, not at all. Creative criticism is better for everyone involved. That can be harsh too, but we would like to suggest that it would be better if your goal were to try to make everyone better. That way, they, in return, can help you get better at whatever it is you do--stories, reviews, essays, or critiques. Everyone wins.

I think it's prolly kept loose on purpose, because the Kreators might want to see what this thingee evolves into. That's personal opinion, of course.
Does that help at all?

Yup, you got it.

It's true, we're trying to keep that as flexible as possible.

And the tone here at the Cloud has been pretty positive from the start. No need to try fixing something that doesn't seem broken.

Though, of course, we're always open to feedback about that.