Friday, May 05, 2006

What's That Smell?

I've come here today to talk about air pollution. I'm not talking about the certifiably toxic air-polluting chemicals that would have been covered by the Clean Air Act and the Kyoto Accords if our government and the World Trade Organization hadn't worked so hard to reverse important parts of it because, after all, how crucial is breathable air when compared with net profits? I mean if the net profits are high enough, the wealthy will no doubt be able to buy clean air for themselves and their families--the rest of us be damned, but I digress. Worse, I digress in a way that might result in an FBI agent showing up at my door, which reminds me--sometime I'll have to blog about the time an FBI agent actually did show up at our door.

But for now let's talk about smells.

I live in an itty-bitty town tucked into the hills in south western New York State. We don't have smog to contend with or chemical factories belching noxious fumes or anything as drastic as that, so I suppose I should be grateful, but...

There's a restaurant in town whose hot dogs and special sauce are regionally famous. And I would never say a bad word about those hot dogs--especially not the kind of word that might constitute libel. But when they make up a batch of sauce, which I can only assume they make in 50-gallon drums, the smell hangs over town. Despite the deliciousness of the finished product, the pungent smell is not at all pleasant. I've heard it compared to sweaty gym socks, but to me it smells like school lunch leftovers. Every time they whip up a batch of sauce, I'm transported to the days of Mystery Meat with gray gravy served over a glob of instant mashed potatoes the color and consistency of half-hardened flour paste.

Back in the days when ketchup was not yet a vegetable, chicken nuggets hadn't yet been invented, and pizza was a once-a-month treat rather than a menu constant, everything the cafeteria served had that smell. And the smell lingered in the halls nearest the cafeteria in almost visible clouds and was embedded in the laminate table tops, which were almost like those scratch-n-sniff stickers except you didn't have to scratch, the smell just emanated from them in waves. (And, this is totally off subject--if there is, in fact, a discernible subject today, but those table tops were always, always, always sticky--no matter how frequently they were wiped. And they were never sticky in that, oh someone just spilled something on them way--they were sticky in that two decades of built up school lunch fumes way.)

So that smell hangs over that end of town on the days--a few times a week--when they make the sauce. I work right around the corner from the restaurant and on sauce days we shut all the windows and when we have to venture outside, we duck quickly into our vehicles to avoid inhaling any more than absolutely necessary.

At the other end of town, there is a smell from the other end of the scent spectrum--there's a candle factory which makes lovely candles in a variety of scents that individually I'm sure are heavenly. But when you combine random scents willy-nilly and vent those smells to the outside world, aromatherapy becomes aromatorture. I live downwind of the candle factory and on windy days or on humid days when the air doesn't seem to be circulating much at all, the scent reminds me almost but not quite of Avon's Skin-So-Soft original scent by the tanker truckful. Again, a cloying scent that hangs so heavy you can almost see it.

What's great is the days when the candle factory is really pumping it out and the restaurant is making their sauce and somewhere between home and work those two scents merge with the added fried doughy smell from Dunkin' Donuts and a wave of nausea hits that reminds you of the morning-sickness-all-day-long days of pregnancy and then you finally stumble in to work and there are two customers standing in the front room--one is a guy with his cow-doo covered barn boots on and the other is a woman who has apparently been bathing in cologne from the dollar store.

Who says small town life isn't entertaining?


  1. That reminds me of my Dad questioning us eating at Taco Bell growing up. He worked right behind one for over 20 years and thus, has NEVER (and will NEVER eat at one!)

  2. I was born in a town that has a paper mill in it. All I can say is that I was born in a town that smelled like crap. When we go back now I ask "how can you stand the smell?" And everyone else says "What smell?" Damn, to not be able to smell crap? Gift or curse?

  3. Yep. I agree with TL. There was a small town near ours that was made up of dairy farmers. The entire town smelled like cattle dung. It was disgusting. The people who lived there didn't smell it.

    I wonder if over time, you will become desensitized to it, like a smoker does with cigarette smoke? Let's hope so--that would drive me crazy!

  4. Hey everybody! It's probably too little, too late but thanks for the comments! And TL: Hubby and I lived downwind from a paper mill in Roaring Springs, PA. It was horrible--and like you said no one who'd lived there for years even noticed it anymore. That "To not be able to smell crap? Gift or curse?" strikes me as one of the most important philosophical questions ever--right up there with "To be or not to be?" :)

  5. haha this makes me think of a time when we first starting coming to Js... me and several other kids were in the back of the truck... and as you may have noticed when you have come to visit there is a farm as soon as you hit town... sitting in the back of the truck there is nothing to sheild you from the horrific smell of cow poo... so as i began to cover my nose one of the kids from town says... ah, smells like home... unfortunately it has become my home... and everytime we drive by i smell it.. i dont think i will ever become desensitized to the smell of crap...
    ~and i feel the need to add this the lettters i have been given to verify this comment are: uPOOPnf