The scent of Long John Silvers malt vinegar makes me think of being homeless. It was around 1993 when I first started working there, having gotten kicked out of college and living like a renegade for the first time under the radar of the University in the dorm room of my first girlfriend. It was May. May in Terre Haute, Indiana smells like cow shit. But if you’ve ever worked in fast food you know that old grease can smell worse and sometimes the only way to alleviate that smell is to eat fish with malt vinegar.

The day I moved into the homeless shelter with a co-worker, my fingers smelled of that malt vinegar as I chewed on my fingernails, stomach churning with the knowledge that I had nothing. Wondering if I’d ever have something of my own again.

My bunkmate, a schizophrenic former Air Force Staff Sergeant, handed me It by Stephen King to read, since I mumbled to her that all I had to my name was a bag of clothes and some leftovers from Long John Silvers. She gladly traded the book for the food and now I remember the scent of malt vinegar every time I read It, which is scary enough without having the specter of homelessness and malt vinegar wafting around it.

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