About 20 years ago, I left my house and went out to a florist shop. Upon entering the shop, I was confronted by a pungent, unpleasant odor, rather than the sweet fragrance one usually associates with flowers. A very gay man came out from the back room, and I asked him about the smell. “It’s chocolate raspberry coffee!” he declared, “Doesn’t it smell WONDERUL?” No, it did not smell wonderful. It smelled repulsive, a thick and alien perversion of coffee.
When I had concluded my business, I got into my car, and noticed that the cloying odor had followed me there, gagging me all the way back to the house. I couldn’t shake it all day, tormented by hints and whiffs, as though it was hiding in my clothing.
That evening, my wife came home with some groceries and busied herself in the kitchen. Within minutes, I was assaulted by the horrid smell again, and rushed downstairs to find my wife making a pot of chocolate raspberry coffee. “Doesn’t this smell GREAT?” she asked.
For a couple of weeks after I dumped the coffee down the drain, I kept experiencing that weird sensory déjà vu, as little wafts of the disgusting odor seemed to emerge from nowhere. Showers didn’t help. Air freshener didn’t help. It was awful. I developed a theory that some odors are composed of molecules that are so large and complex that they cannot be absorbed or metabolized by the body. Instead, they lodge in the sinuses, continuously triggering the scent receptors for weeks or months.
Recently, I ordered a book from Amazon. Normally, when I place such an order, I order a used book, because they’re so much cheaper. The book arrived yesterday, and it smells.
It smells really, really bad. It has a copyright date of 1989, and it smells like it was kept as reading material in a communal outhouse on a Turkish garlic farm for all that time. Worse, the odor is staying with me. I can smell it in the car, I can smell it at work. I worry that other people can smell it on me.
What’s even worse than that is that I’m enjoying the novel. It’s like watching your favorite comedy on TV in the hospital while you recover from hernia surgery. You want to laugh, but you can’t. I’m wondering how much more I would enjoy the book it if it didn’t smell so badly.