To Scent or Not to Scent


I am blessed/cursed! with a very sensitive nose. It is sometimes useful when, for instance, I smelled gas when walking on the sidewalk near my house. It was a still morning and there was the distinct odor of natural gas (I think they add the smell to it) about 50 feet from the house. I knew it wasn’t from our cranky ancient gas furnace that I had to constantly baby to keep running 20 years past its useful life, but coming from underground somewhere. I called the gas company who promptly sent someone to investigate and they assured me there was no leak. A few days later on a very still evening I smelled it again. Once again they sent someone who assured me there was no smell of gas. The third time I noticed it they did not send someone right away but later that day a man appeared in a truck with different markings and with Texas license plates (I’m in North Carolina). He confirmed the smell and suspected a very small leak at an underground pipe junction which the gas company fixed the next day. I was curious as to why he had Texas plates on his truck and he told me basically (I don’t remember his exact words) that he was a professional sniffer. He said the guys who work with gas all the time doing repairs and installations have lost their sensitivity to the smell. He travels around sniffing out leaks no one else can find. I wish I had asked him how he clears his palate after a job. I realized that I could do that job, too, and when the pandemic had me questioning my future as a professional musician that story came to mind again.

But that’s not why I’m here today.

One of the curses! of a sensitive nose is easily being irritated by smells — especially artificial ones. I go to great pains to avoid scented products which is something that as not as easy as you might think. Just walking the aisles of many grocery stores outside of the produce aisles is a painful experience and one has to search carefully for the unscented dish washer detergent. Why would one want scented dishwasher detergent??? I don’t want my plate to smell like lavender when I sit down to eat a meal anymore than I want it to smell like the tuna salad I ate yesterday. Laundry detergent? Oh yes, you can find “free and clear” after wading through rows of various “fresh scents”. Sorry, but I’d rather smell someone’s sweat on a warm day than some industrial chemist’s idea of “fresh orange marmalade”. OK, I made that one up but most of them are just as crazy. I totally avoid the aisle that contains the scented candles and any clueless person that “gifts” us those gets to witness them going straight to the (outdoor) trash bin. Which reminds me — really? scented garbage bags???

But that’s not why I’m here today.

I have allergies. Besides the artificial smells it seems that all of nature conspires against me to make me suffer for loving to enjoy all of its scented secrets. So like most good men of my generation I carry a handkerchief. A bandana, actually, since I need something larger than a gentleman’s hankie. Yes, I know all you germaphobes will object but it sure beats carrying around a box of tissue. Wasteful, environmentally harmful tissues. Not to mention what happens when they go through the washer and dryer which is something I regularly see since my wife uses them. I don’t know if it’s because she’s a nurse and so a handkerchief would be frowned upon (or maybe she’s frowning at me?) or if it’s because of the inexplicable shortage of pockets in women’s garments. But then you have to carry tissues? Where? Oh yes, the purse. But what if that’s a burden? I know women who carry their tissues where they carry their cash when they don’t want to carry a purse and don’t have pockets. Why is there a shortage of pockets? And why is it that it’s mostly the women who get shortchanged? Although it has been hitting the market for men’s clothing as well. I’ve had to return several shirts when they arrived without pockets. These are tough times.

But I’ve gotten off track again.

Due to my wife’s inability to embrace handkerchiefs, we have a number of boxes of tissues scattered around the house. When I see she is running low and I’m at the store I always try to pick up some extras. This morning, just out of the shower, the furnace kicked in. Not that old one but a nice, new, highly efficient one. But it still kicks up a little dust when the circulator comes on and that triggered the (cursed!) nose. Not yet having my pants on and access to pockets, one of which contained a (clean) bandana, I reached for a tissue on the bed stand and blew. But even without inhaling through this tissue it was painfully clear to me that it was scented. Offensively scented. I’d never experienced this before. My immediate thought was to remind my wife to never buy scented tissues but on examining the box I realized it was one that I had purchased recently. “Fresh scent”. Curses! One more careful inspection required on trips to the store. These are difficult times.

The MOTD? Friends don’t let friends buy scented tissues.