What happens when you fail to clean interior

There’s a certain phenomenon that occurs when a home suddenly welcomes unexpected visitors.

Suddenly, each dusty surface stands out like bas-relief, a few crumbs on the kitchen floor grow to the size of moon rocks and a small stack of half-read books and magazines looks like the other side of the library book return slot.

A few months ago, I attended an evening function that was regrouping at a nearby restaurant. I offered a ride to a couple of people I knew well but who might not otherwise ever need a lift in my car.

As I’ve mentioned before, the family dog sits in the front seat, a tradition that began when my son was born 10 years ago but continues from car to car. Where Rupert sits nobody else dares to park his carcass, so all passengers are instructed to get into the back seat.

While I’m aware that there’s a small avalanche of white hair that forms small drifts approaching the back seat, that area is kept relatively clean. It’s just that on this night, in the presence of unfamiliar passengers, I suddenly became aware of the car’s smell.

Dog owners will attest to the fact that the aroma of their particular breed of canine eventually becomes both familiar and intoxicating to them. They describe their dog’s feet as having the aroma of “corn chips” or their fur the sweet smell of cedar chips lining a hamster cage.

My excuse for not washing my own dog often enough – he collects scents like memories in the warp and woof of his fur. Bathing him is like striking him unconscious, as he awakens with a sudden case of amnesia. That night, his memories lashed out at me all at once.

With unfamiliar passengers, the comforting aroma of eau de pooch was replaced by what can only be described as a stench. A rich, oily bouquet, with sour overtones of old saliva and a high note of rancid liver. A short ride of a few city blocks felt like a long tour around a city garbage dump.

I’ve run into similar situations as a passenger in other people’s cars and I’ve judged them harshly – probably far more harshly than my passengers judged me that night. I remember riding with someone whose pickup truck was a sour milk sea of colourful paper wrappers from fast food outlets, punctuated by paper soft drink and not-quite-clean milkshake cups – a veritable culinary history of the past few months. It gets a little worse.

There was a hole somewhere in the floor boards, so whenever a window was opened, the trash would do a funny little dance on the wind circling the cab. The driver seemed to take delight in this avant-garde performance and extolled the virtues of the arrangement.

Equally careless with his money as he was with trash, he frequently dropped coins and small bills into the morass so that the whole arrangement acted as a sort of financial institution for him, holding, at no interest, a small savings account that would surprise and delight him whenever he was short. “All I have to do is reach in there, and pretty soon I have $6 or $10 for whatever I need,” he crowed.

Fast food, I guessed.

I also recall getting a lift from a French instructor who taught night school at a nearby community college. She handed me a bunch of oversized French-language cards featuring la famille Leduc and told me to mind the mushrooms in the back seat.

I initially assumed she’d stopped at a local food market to select some fine cremini for a late supper. In the half-darkness I could see the source of the rank odour emanating from the cushions.

The seat had sprouted a family of toadstools fed, apparently, by a steady stream of rainwater that entered the vehicle through a faulty seal. Whatever stuffing filled out the seat had been transformed into a rich humus that certainly vied with manure on many levels as an effective growing medium for rare fungus.

I have no idea what these others did about the sorry aromas of their vehicles, but I took immediate action following that embarrassing incident.

Taking a page out of Stephen King’s The Shining, I dealt with the back seat in the same effective manner as Jack Torrance, the unstable caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Henceforth, the back seat – like the dangerous, ghost-filled Room 237 – would remain off-limits to all outside visitors.

My car has a certain “shine” that may not appeal to all passengers.

Photograph by: Justin Sullivan