Manufactured smells that permeate in public used to be limited to occasional wafts of smoke, industrial fumes and/or fragrances. That’s changed. Nowadays, if it isn't burning incense, it's aromatic baths, scented candles, air-fresheners and God only knows what else. Even the “new and improved” household cleaners are like a cheap perfume that while failing to mask the stink, they can bring tears to your eyes.
While it’s good to be considerate of others, sometimes the attempt to mask a pungent odor can exacerbate the situation. Personally, I’d rather smell tobacco than put up with the stink of a cab driver's extinguished cigarette added to the strong scent of that fake pine tree cutout dangling from his rearview mirror. Taxis seem to be the only cars with windows that won’t open, which enables them to hang on to their leathery smell, not to mention the last passenger's cheap aftershave, or the residue of stinky gym shoes.
My closet is a bouquet of cedar chips, mothballs and potpourris of all kinds-courtesy of friends on my last birthday. The bathroom reeks of human exhaust mixed with that lilac-from-hell, which my husband found on sale. We clean our kitchen floor with a lemon-pine solution that threatens blindness and the oven cleaner not only removes last year's burned turkey, it is sure to give my complexion a deep peel and as I use it, I can just feel the pain of skin rejuvenation.
A gardener, I can never get enough of the scent of my roses, but I do remember complaining about the smell of marigolds. That was long before my husband decided to specialize in domestic pest control. With ant sprays, mosquito repellants and bug killers saturating the air to a mile radius, I sometimes feel I am that bug, taking what could be my last breath.
Even when the girls and I plan a day of shopping fun, our respiratory systems aren’t immune, or at least not at the department stores where a SWAT team waits, holding their spray bottles like a Mace, ready to attack. Even my magazines come with a page that smells of the latest perfume, my shampoo has the scent of an over-ripe fruit salad, restaurants use aromatic spices I can't name, and little kids play with scratch-and-smell stickers. The other day, I stepped into a Zen store and, closing my eyes, I could swear I was in New Delhi.
Coming from the heat of Iran, where body odor continues to be a problem, I never thought I'd say this, but I sometimes think it would be nice to go back to when the air could only be polluted with natural and “organic” smells.
I just heard of a new one: Burger King’s Flame, a cute prank for some, and a reminder of our carnivorous history to others. It’s spray cologne with the smell of flame-broiled burgers, “The Whopper,” if you will. No comment on that one. I’ll just have to make sure my vegetarian daughter doesn’t receive it in her Christmas stocking. Yes, it seems as though we’re done with the natural fragrance of flowers and fruits, the time has come to reach out for more exotic scents. I can hardly wait for perfumes that will smell of barf or worse.
Last week, I consulted a specialist about my most recent allergy flare-up, and he assured me that many people suffer the same. That’s encouraging. Someday I may die of an asthma attack, but at least now I know I’ll be among friends.
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