Perfume obviously contributes. Very big in the gyms these days are Lily of the Valley and Windsong. But the most popular of all, a sweating cheerleader told me, is Charlie. She explained helpfully that Charlie smells like gerbils. Another pulled me aside to explain that the scent of musk has traditionally been considered an aphrodisiac. I told her carnations remind me of funerals.
This is a complete list of the ingredients that make up the smell. I have forgotten nothing. So don't anybody write and suggest I did, because I am the expert.
My basic motivation in undertaking this monumental work is that a good sense of smell isn't widely praised. Good hearing is. good sight is. good smell isn't. As the college professor said. "We may say of an acquaintance that she is a lady of taste, but not that she is a lady of smell." Many people consider smell one of our lower senses, ignoring the fact that smell, perhaps more than any other, brings back memories. My expertise in this area—my talent for using my hippocampal gyrus with its hooklike end, the uncus—should be applauded. It's not. People really are unaware of it, with the possible exception of my mother—as noted above.
Recently the smell-alikeness of high school gyms has begun to face a number of threats. One conies from the trend toward a playing surface other than splendidly odoriferous wood. Tartan, for instance. I don't think this will seriously affect the traditional aroma, however, I also detect a recent tendency to let more sunlight, that enemy of odors, into gyms. We will survive that, too, because architects have nearly always designed high school gyms that are poorly ventilated and badly lighted, and they will never abandon this tradition of their trade. A school janitor further reassured me. "If the gym was ever cleaned good, it wouldn't smell like it does. But where are you going to find a janitor who will clean much of anything good, especially a gym?"
It's possible that one of the ingredients that make up the smell could be missing from a high school of your acquaintance. If, for example, the girls in Montana are not wearing Charlie, this shortcoming might be made up for by the boys who come to the gyms with stuff on their boots. Minor regional substitutions like this would not really flaw the end result.
I submit that things better not change when it comes to this universal fragrance of the American high school gym. It's important to the fabric of this country that in these tumultuous times at least one thing remains constant: when you have inhaled the fragrance of one high school gym, you have smelled them all.