What you don’t smell can be a problem.


I am not going to tell you how I’d spend a billion dollars. Do you know why? It’s a ridiculous amount of money. It’s a thousand million dollars, and no one should have even one billion, let alone multiples.

If you started spending a billion dollars at a rate of one thousand dollars an hour, it would take you one million hours to spend it all.

That’s forty-one thousand, six hundred and sixty-seven days. You’ll be one hundred and fourteen years older than you are now when you’re done.

Most of us won’t make it. The point is, it’s a great deal of money and the answer to the question “what would you buy” is “whatever you want.”

A billion dollars is a stupid amount of money for an individual.

I’m also not going to tell you about a personal memory associated with smell, because I don’t have those, at least not in the specific.

I love the smell of summer as much as the next person, and the smell of snow. The smell of coconut sunscreen – why would you buy any other? The smell of low tide. The smell of fresh bread. All yum. But these are generic smells that engender generic memories. They’re Shutterstock memories that we share. Societal memory. Apparently, I don’t remember things that way, though until I thought about a posed question – do you have a memory that’s linked to smell – I didn’t know that.

I have a good sense of smell and a good memory, but they don’t appear to be connected, at least not in a way my conscious mind is aware of.

That good sense of smell is no idle boast. In addition to being the designated milk sniffer – I determine if it has survived the dreaded “best before” date – I once saved my office by picking up an odour no one else believed in.

The smell in my office was bothering me one morning. I checked in with the front office staff, with my neighbour, and with the offices further down the hall. No one smelled anything. I think they thought I was being a little too much with it, especially after I called the plant’s manager of operations to come and review.

But nobody smelled anything, save me. Even my reputation as a superior sniffer didn’t turn them into believers.

It’s always a good time for some Princess Bride.

I went back to my office, but I couldn’t let it go. After racing through my morning paperwork, I got up to go check with my next-door work neighbour again, but my legs didn’t want to work properly. I couldn’t seem to hold a vertical position well either. I clung to the wall and used it to navigate the hall until I could look in next door. Alicia’s head was down on her desk. I called her name until she looked up and told her to get out, and worked on doing the same, pulling the fire alarm as I staggered out of the building.

It’s the weirdest thing, to have your body refuse to do what your brain is telling it to.

I collapsed outside along with several others as we waited for the emergency response. Not everyone was feeling sick and I’m sure those that already thought I was being too much were convinced I’d created a sense of general hysteria in the rank and file. At least until the firefighters ordered the evacuation of the building. It was filling up with sewer gases, including hydrogen sulfide and methane. [i]

There had been some work done on the HVAC system the previous day. When they put things back together, the air intake was placed uncomfortably close to the sewer gas venting. Live and learn. My and Alicia’s offices were the first hit because of their location, but the gas was spreading.

The manager of operations had detectors installed within the week.

As for side effects, the headache was a nasty one, but I got a few paid days off from it.  The ability to walk came back as I sat outside, away from the poison, and I didn’t vomit. A couple of others weren’t as lucky.

At least I have a good story to tell. Sometimes I think this is the meaning of life – the collecting anecdotes to share with others at a later date. If you can make it funny, all the better. But I don’t consider this story a personal memory associated with smell. It’s a work story, just another fun day in the trenches.

[i] Methane is odourless. We’re lucky other gases were present.

13 thoughts on “What you don’t smell can be a problem.

  1. Wow—go you! It’s a good thing you didn’t let it be!

    I definitely have some memories tied to certain smells. Pine Sol represents a freshly cleaned house for the two-ish years we had a housekeeping service handle cleaning for us in my teenage years. Baby Magic Lotion is connected to my kiddos when they were freshly bathed. Lots of food cooking memories from my childhood from my mom and grandma.

    Then negative smell memories: raw pumpkin and molasses both make me want to immediately throw up—and smelling them even as minor players in a recipe is overwhelming to me. I just can’t. When I was a stay-at-home mom with my littles, I cooked tons of things from scratch. I made gingerbread from scratch, which called for molasses—the smell was extremely pungent and I no longer smelling or eating gingerbread. I used raw pumpkin in a chocolate chip pumpkin bread, which allegedly turned out great, but I can no longer stomach anything pumpkin…it all reminds me of working with raw pumpkin fir that blasted bread. 🤢

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d forgotten about Baby Magic Lotion. I loved that smell. Baby smells are the best.

      I do have some strong negative smell memories. Kahlua for me is a straight no-go. Also, trucks with hogs. If you know, you know.

      Liked by 1 person

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