Lately my sense of smell has been bugging me. I’ve always thought that it was weak, but now I wonder if I am downright myopic, nostrilly speaking. On New Year’s Eve my girlfriend and I made dinner at her apartment and I bought/brought many of the ingredients. When I produced some Gruyere, she said, “Whoa, that is one stinky cheese.” Though mine was the hand holding it and she stood four feet away, I could smell nothing. Not until I unwrapped it, sliced it, and held it right above my lip could I detect a scent. Faintly.
Sure, I may have been a bit stuffed up. In fact, I have been since mid-October. But this moment troubled me. At last, perhaps understandably, I began to wonder if something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and if so, whether I’d be able to smell it.
“Allergies,” he said.
Everything he recommended, I’m doing. I’ve been on (generic) Claritin since Tuesday. (Passages are definitely clearer). Last night I cleaned my bedroom from floor to ceiling. I dusted each non-wearable object and mopped every surface I could reasonably stand on top of. I bought two new pillows and some dust mite covers for each. I put my mattress in a big sack (also a dust mite cover, but “big sack” is more poetic). I spent four hours, including the trip to Target, making this one room allergen free, and foresee many more tedious hours before the rest of my place is up to… sniff. However, it’s all for my nose. And I like it. I like breathing through it.
On my way here I stopped in Qdoba and was pleased to find it very Mexicany, odorwise. I could smell Wao Bao all through the lobby of the Insurance Exchange Building. (Asian, highly recommended.) (Wao Bao, that is, not the Insurance Exchange.) I opened the door to Starbucks, took a whiff, and… yep! 1:30 in the afternoon they were still making coffee. Potbelly’s had that Potbelly smell I dislike (not into sandwich shops) and Soprafina smelled vaguely yet strongly Italian. Strongly enough, at least. The cigar shop in the Board of Trade smelled hardcore Republican.
Finally, I decided to take the real test: if I still dislike the aroma at Cellar’s (more like “Smeller’s,” burn) then I am on the road to wellness...
Eh, it’s not that bad.
Yeah, I’m disappointed. And perhaps a bit paranoid. Not only have I taken to poking my head into restaurants to—in the words of Trent Reznor—see if I still feel, I am now taking deep whiffs of everything all day. My coffee beans in the morning. My beer each evening. My toothpaste each week. I take deep breaths as I ride my bike past the scrap metal factories on Clybourn Avenue and when topping off at gas stations after filling up a tank. (Not “the” tank. Pure hipster, I car-share.) I even breathe sorta deeply in the bathroom at work, wondering, Have my coworkers really not stank up the joint in a long, long time, or do I no longer notice?
And then there’s this little fact: I used to hate cheese. Absolutely despise it. Unless it was directly on top of a pizza, I did not go near the stuff until my late 20s. As a teenager, my dad would occasionally eat Gorgonzola for a snack, and whenever he did I would smell it—and bitch about it—from two rooms away. I’d hold my breath when passing the cheese display at Jewel, and avoided delis entirely because of their loathsome stink.
Today, none of that bothers me. I mean, I’ve fuckin’ eaten Gorgonzola, son. I thought I’d just gotten used to it, but after the New Year’s Eve Cheese Event, I realized something disturbing: I haven’t gotten acclimated to anything. Instead, the smell is gone.
My four remaining senses are world class. I may not have Ted Williams’s eye-hand coordination (or athleticism or drive), but I have his vision. My greatest talent is to read road signs minutes before anyone else in the car can even see them. I’ve never had my hearing tested, but it’s excellent—way better than Ted’s, who injured his ears crash-landing an F-9 during the Korean War. My sense of taste— fantastic, both in cuisine and culture. And my sense of touch? Hey man, the ladies aren’t complaining.
[Note to my girlfriend: that was just a joke. There are no “ladies.” Please, don’t leave me.]
But my sense of smell can no longer read the blackboard and is falling behind in class. My sense of smell went to too many Who concerts and now suffers from tinnitus.
When I was a kid my mom would sometimes drag me to DiCola’s Seafood at 108th and Western. I don’t even have to close my eyes to conjure that building: a mix of gross scents (to a kid), like the obvious all-pervading fishiness, along with great scents that made you want to bite into the nearest breaded object. The smell of batter frying in oil. The smell of a grill firing up filets. You could smell saltwater, maybe even lake and river water. DiCola’s was nothing like the supermarket next door, a place completely cleansed of the odors of barn and field. DiCola’s smelled like the actual ocean, the actual wilderness where all these fish and crustaceans came from. It smelled like a greasy restaurant on a seaside wharf, like the very boats that caught the fish now laying within the glass cases. I can summon that scent to mind easily, immediately.
But if I walked through the doors tonight, would those scents in my memory appear in my nose? At all?
Some dude just sat in the booth behind me. We’re back to back, and though I can’t see what he’s eating, I dislike both the smell and him for getting so close. The jag-off. I can’t parse out what it is exactly… There’s a sauce that displeases me, something vinegary… Who does that to another human being? Who buys shitty food then sits near a complete stranger?
Yeah, that smells awful.
This displeasure makes me feel better. At least, a little.