I’ve written about offensive odors enough on this blog that it’s pretty clear I have a hyperactive sense of smell. I’ve read about people who are supertasters – they often eat less than the average person because their tastebuds are extremely sensitive – but I’ve never heard about super smellers. If they exist, then I almost certainly am one.
When I was little, my mother would surreptitiously sneak a bite or two of chocolate during my afternoon nap time. By keeping the chocolate out of sight, she hoped to avoid exposing me to unhealthy eating habits. But, when she’d wake me up after my snooze, I’d sniff the air near her mouth and demand chocolate of my own. Even as a three year old, I could detect the slightest hint of cocoa on her breath and knew I wanted some of whatever smelled so delicious.
This acute sense of smell manifested early on, but it has continued throughout adulthood. When I return to my apartment at the end of a workday, I can smell leftover hints of my perfume from the two small spritzes that morning. If I eat Thai food on Tuesday night, I feel compelled to take the trash out first thing Wednesday because the carryout boxes leak a vinegary stench throughout my kitchen. When I ask visitors if they smell the lingering odor, they’re totally oblivious. I know it’s there, though. I can’t escape it.
In some ways, this ability to sniff out scents gives me a feeling of security. If there is a gas leak or something is burning, I’m the first to notice. I never worry about sleeping through a fire or accidentally drinking milk that has spoiled. My nose keeps me safe from the disgusting and the potentially deadly.
But sometimes, this sense of smell haunts me. Namely, at the gym.
The other day, jogging on the treadmill, a rather large man lumbered over to the machine next to mine. He was covered in a thick layer of body hair and shining with perspiration. Before he even stepped foot on the belt however, I was overcome with a wave of nausea. The smell emanating from his body was so pungent that my eyes immediately began to water. My vision blurred and I kept my eyes aimed down at my feet to avoid tripping and flying off the machine.
This sweaty guy’s odor seemed to originate from between his legs and I shuddered at the thought of a lady exploring down there for any non-medical reason. It was truly horrific. I slowed my pace to allow my breathing to become shallower. I felt like I could taste him. And not in a good way.
I choked down a little bit of vomit that crept to the back of my throat and started jabbing frantically at buttons on the dashboard to pause the machine.
With the treadmill belt still rolling to a stop, I made my escape. I raced to the entrance, threw open the gym door, and took great, gulping breaths of fresh air. A bus came tearing up the street and I gratefully inhaled the smell of greasy exhaust.
At that point, compared to the sour, ball-sweat stench, bus fumes smelled like a field of daisies.
I think it’s safe to say, my sense of smell is both a blessing and a curse.