Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

a diesel ghost

I saw a ghost today. To me, a ghost isn’t a dead person dressed like a Klansman, making weird noises and scaring people. It’s when one or more of my senses receive input that matches some other point in my history enough to make me think I’m there again. It can be a perfume, a song, a place, a car, a picture, or anything else that strikes a chord and really tears into me. Smell is my strongest sense, but a combination can really freak me out. An example – I used to drive a silver 1980 VW Rabbit diesel, back in 90-91. The smell of diesel fumes, like when a bus goes by, reminds me of my old Rabbit. Now I drive a silver 1978 Rabbit with a gas engine, which sometimes reminds me of my old Rabbit, but there are enough differences and I’m used to it, that it’s a different car to me. But, one time I was driving and I stopped at a light behind a big construction truck, and the diesel exhaust huffed away that familiar smell. And I saw a ghost. For a few seconds, it totally made me think it was the summer of 1991 again, like I was working at NIBCO and dating Johanna down in Bloomington.

Maybe I shouldn’t call it a ghost – maybe it’s more like a wormhole, a way for me to peer back into the past that’s triggered by external events. Like deja vu, but that’s more of an unexpected thing, like you’ve been at the current event before, not like the current event is a weird shadow or afterimage of a past event you know you lived. I guess this happens to a lot of people, and it’s simply called nostalgia. But I think it’s more for me, because I have such a strong memory for the past. Sometimes, when I’m hanging out with friends and talking about old times, I’ll rattle off a story from 5, 10 years ago with such precision, and everyone else says “I totally didn’t remember that until now.” Other people forget the past, and think it’s a curse. I think remembering the past is the real curse. I can’t put ex-girlfriends out of my mind, or forget my stupid mistakes. I wish it all faded away, but I think some people and places will chase me to my grave.

Today’s ghost was nothing tremendous. I walked to work and back, to time the distance (~40 min each way) and the clouds, the smell of the wind, the temperature, and the Rollins Band MD all made it feel like the fall of 1993 again. It wasn’t a total sensation – I was walking in downtown Seattle, not from Wrubel to Colonial Crest, the Rollins album in question came out in 94, and I didn’t have either the black leather jacket or the Aiwa walkman that were Konrath trademarks at the time. But it felt like time skipped for a second, and it lurched back five years.

That’s all I did today. I slept in, went for the walk, and by the time I got home, it was like 5:30. Then after I drank 2 gallons of ice water, passed out, and dealt with an incredible headache focused in the center of my left eye, I got my dinner, and here I am. I wish I had more stories for you about street festivals and shopping and contra dances and mountain climbing and running in the park with puppy dogs, but I don’t.

I should be working on the book…