When I was in junior high there was a song called Love Is All Around by a group called The Troggs. I think it might even have been the song that was playing during my first slow dance. Which at the time—and my tender age—was more like two youngsters putting their hands on each other’s shoulders and swaying back and forth to the music without making eye contact or falling down. For boys, it was like a victory lap taken by a dog that somehow managed to catch a car with shiny hubcaps. For girls, it must have been exciting but also unnerving to be so close to a sweaty, feral human belonging to the opposite camp. And definitely the dogs and shiny hubcaps thing.
The Troggs would go on to have many hits over the years including the notorious song Wild thing.” Google that one if you don’t know it. Otherwise, Love Is All Around was a great junior high slow dance song—like an ode to Caro syrup dripping down the side of an old stuffed Hello Kitty toy.
Thinking about it now, there are more things all around than just love. One of them is TCA, or 2,4,6 trichloranisole. It’s a chemical compound called corkiness that results when certain kinds of mold combine with chlorine-derived substances. The result smells musty like wet concrete, old books and magazines, and practically every bag of so-called baby carrots.
The dark side of TCA is it getting into cork products, specifically wine corks. With human threshold to TCA as sensitive as six parts per trillion, TCA wreaks havoc on cork-finished wines, tainting and ruining millions of bottle a year. More than a decade ago, the cork industry, mostly based in Portugal, was under fire for rampant cork taint. Turns out that TCA taint was coming from using Chlorine to bleach the corks at production plants. Hydrogen peroxide quickly replaced chlorine and TCA incidence decreased. However, turns out that most TCA that forms on cork does so before the raw cork bark even arrives at a processing plant.
New storage and shipping protocols were introduced and TCA numbers were significantly reduced and continue to decline. Using gas chromatography testing on cork batches to detect TCA also helped with quality control. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that technologies were developed by top cork producers to remove TCA from corks once formed. Thank god for that.
Aside from tainted wine corks and mal vino, TCA is everywhere in the environment. A stroll past a rack of belts in a Walgreens is to bounce off a force field of TCA. Strolling in the park where the flower beds littered with bark chips have just been watered is to experience a new high of TCA. Then there’s a restaurant where the floor was mopped with mop water kept from the night before.
I’ve been in corked cabs before and had corked bánh mì sandwiches with shredded carrots as the culprit. Even the tap water here in Rio Rancho often has the double whammy of TCA and H2S (hydrogen sulfide) for good measure. Mind you the water bottle I use at night on bedside table now reeks of corkiness from water taken from the fridge that’s supposedly filtered. Another trip through the dishwasher is imminent.
Last fall I was in LA doing an event. The morning of the show I had breakfast in the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. I left the AC on while I was out and when I returned, I walked into a waft of musty TCA. Oh jeez, I said. Actually, I didn’t say jeez but something much stronger.
So while love may all around us, let the feelings show, and all that, it’s musty-ass TCA that surrounds us and inundates the environment. Sweaters can be corked. Carpeting gets corked. Unwashed dogs can probably get corked in the right circumstances. And if you live in a warm sub-tropical climate, your kids would probably get corked if they stayed outside long enough. There seems to be no getting away from TCA. It’s everywhere. Might as well try to find a car with shiny hub caps. Or at least a girl who’s willing to dance.