Monday, August 24, 2009


I bike to work, weather permitting. It's about a twenty minute ride, and the last seven or eight minutes I tend to ride somewhat on autopilot. There's a bike lane, the road is straight and relatively flat, with few cross streets.
So this morning at 7:2o or so I was merrily pedalling away, pulling into the Price Chopper lot, waving hello to Jim and my ice cream, just pulling in ahead of me. I rounded the corner...
...and damn near fell off my bike.
The smell hit me, pummelled me, enveloped me, clenching my throat in warm, gelatinous tendrils of stench. I hurriedly covered my nose, riding one-handed, but that was no help: I could taste it. Whereupon I covered my mouth, riding no-handed, and the fetid reek obligingly seeped into my eyes.
Before I was forced to cover my eyes and ride negative-one-handed and blind besides, I arrived at my makeshift hitching post, hurriedly dismounted and locked up my bike, and high-tailed it back around the building into the store. The smell dissipated as I went: by the time I entered the lobby, it had disappeared entirely.
I resolved, right then and there, not to go into receiving that day. Then I realized I couldn't very well do my job without practically living in the back room. Just another manic Monday: Nestle ice cream, Chapman's ice cream, Natrel milk, Neilson milk, Liberte yogurt, Astro yogurt...and those were just my orders. Doubtless I'd have to receive a host of things for other departments besides. All while trying like hell not to upchuck.
Because I knew what this miasma was. Or rather, I knew whence it came: from the compactor out back. Not in it...under it. Some unutterably foul liquid from the armpit of Hell had...oozed...its way out from under the compactor, smelling for all the world like a baby diaper full of vomit, seasoned with overheated crankcase oil, all cooked medium well inside the asshole of a dead gopher.

It was, in short, a perfectly horrid aroma.

Oh, we called right away to get the compactor dumped and the lot spray-washed. But they told us they were behind, and it would be some time before they could get to us. Perhaps tomorrow.

Blech. I debated what to do. I couldn't very well pour bleach out on the bare pavement, where it would wash into the drains. Besides, the smell of bleach has its own special resonance for me: one whiff of that, combined with the gangrenous demon-smell out there, and I WOULD throw up, and possibly pass out.

(Now that the day's over, of course, I wonder why I didn't just grab some kitty litter. Okay, well, actually I know the answer to that: because I would have been the one who had to apply it...and no way on earth was I venturing outside.)

I did nothing, except contemplate coming home.

I read somewhere that it takes twelve minutes of sustained exposure to a smell to acclimatize. Yeah, right. Twelve days wouldn't suffice in this case. I was sure of it.
Nevertheless, I gotta keep this family in air fresheners, so off to work I went.
The day rapidly assumed farcical dimensions as vendor after vendor came to the back door, rang the bell and was admitted heaving and retching. The guys we don't like overmuch, we allowed to marinate for awhile before we offered sanctuary (such as it was: the back room stunk...just not nearly as nauseatingly as it did outside, right next to the accursed compactor). Our favourite drivers were of course admitted without hesitation. To a man, they all made ribald remarks I won't record here. (The language in our back room can make a sailor threaten to wash our mouths out with soap.)

Well...not quite to a man. Three of the twelve drivers I saw today made no mention of the reek. I watched them carefully for telltale signs they'd noticed it. Nothing. I stared at them, quite frankly dumbfounded. They appeared to have noses. Yet they were going about their business as if they couldn't smell. My damned eyes were watering.

It gradually dawned on me as the day went on. How do I put this gently? Oh, hell, out with it. Every white guy who came to our door looked like he'd gone five rounds with Death in a colostomy bag. Every...person of South Asian descent...seemed not to notice or care that their noses were under assault.
I mentioned this to a few of the friendlier reps I saw, later in the day. Very racist (and very funny) remarks were exchanged. But underneath all the banter, I was sincerely curious after the third turbaned man left the store without a word. I wanted to ask him: did he smell that? But I didn't. I think I was actually afraid he'd say "smell what?"

I almost hope that reek is still around on Wednesday (I'm off tomorrow). Purely as a social experiment, you understand. Almost.

On second thought, no. I'd live longer and die happier if I never smell...that...again.

1 comment:

Rocketstar said...

We here in the West do have a different olfactory standard than a lot of the world. I first learned this on my first trip of many to Euprope when I was still in high school and spent sometime in France with my uncle. Walking into my firts French grocery store and being hit with the smell of fishy smell slapped me int eh face, I could not beleive it.

Just as their tolerance level of acceptable 'human odor' is higher than ours, our perfume odor is just as offensive to them.

I hope the smell is still there and you can ask 'folks' who don't react.