2017-09-13 / Opinions & Letters

Down wind

Midwest Memo
by Alan Shultz

The sky was blue, the air still, the clouds billowy as I stepped out on the back porch to take in the beginning of a promising new day last week.

As I opened the screen door I took in a deep inhale.

“Yikes,” I exclaimed…… “P.U.”

I had engulfed the aroma of what seemed to be an overripe pile of mulch on its worst smelling day.

Our house is situated down wind of the sawmill on the farm. The day before either some cherry or some red oak had been milled. Make that slightly damp cherry or red oak. Yuk.

Oh my, the scent in the air did not match the picture perfect visual I had spied out the window. And it put me in kind of a stinky mood for a bit there. I am admittedly a tad over sensitive to smell.

This smell thing proves handy when there’s a gas leak that needs detecting. It save lives! But it also proves inconvenient when the guy in the elevator slapped on a little too much Old Spice. I gag.

And here’s the thing - there’s no universal agreement on what constitutes a good smell or a bad smell.

On tony Michigan Avenue in Chicago there is a huge Under Armour athletic clothing store. The place occupies a lot of expensive ground floor real estate. Its huge wood and glass entry doors are propped open to encourage shoppers walking by to come on in. From the confines of the store they intentionally expel some kind of scented air to further tempt those passing by. Some folks absolutely love the smell. But this pedestrian finds same beyond putrid, beyond rancid, beyond yuck.

When I have to walk past Under Armour, I always mumble to myself that I’m going to call the EPA - but then I never follow up.

The other day I went to the home of new clients in order to price their house for sale. We sat down at the kitchen table to talk. Immediately, the room started spinning for me - the smell was so putrid. Before I opened my briefcase, the Mrs. popped up out of her seat, grabbed paper towels and a spray bottle and went to work on the surface of the table.

“I just washed that,” the Mr. grumbled defiantly at his spouse.

He had indeed. He had obviously used a stinky, moldy rag or sponge which contained 189 varieties of degrading microbes that left their olfactory markers all over the surface of the table.

“Oh, I didn’t realize that,” she said, at the same time giving me the “look.”

Confined spaces, like automobiles, prove to be a quick whiff for me. My wife’s Toyota regularly carts produce from the farm to the city. I always know when there is something from the garden in the storage area behind the back seat. It’s an earthy, loamy, warm, fertile kind of smell. I can tolerate it. But one time, when a package of hamburger slipped out of its Kroger bag and behind the yoga mats, I lasted about three seconds in the car cabin before running for air. WOW!

Once I had the gas company on hold thinking I had a gas leak in a house where my sellers were off in Europe and could not be reached. When the gas company clued me that the house was all electric, I went on super source of smell detection duty. That’s when I traced a tiny bit of leftover cheese in the garbage disposal dispensing 50 shades of fermentation.

When we first moved to the country, the aroma from the hog farms got my attention pretty darn quick. The first time I complained out loud about the smell, my mother-in-law gave me the time honored, well practiced, reply of farmers to this unfortunate fact of farming life.

“Why Alan,” Beverly said, “that’s the smell of money.”

And to which today I might reply: “yes, except it’s other people’s money.”

And as I consider it further, the stale smell of a nice undergound bank vault would indeed be preferable to me.

Meanwhile, do you smell something…. just a little off?

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