Olfactory Blues

An Uneasy Superpower

By Steve Carr

I smell autumn. It’s not just shorter days and cooler nights. As the leaves take their last breaths and become piles of fallen summer soldiers, gases are released and decomposition begins. The season change is declared and for some of us winter is in the wind. As wonderful as an Idaho October can be, for me the air portends that which I no longer cheerfully embrace. Instead of enjoying wholeheartedly the beautiful fall day, I sometimes find myself slipping from one season to the next. I blame my nose, my only superpower, an olfactory organ meant for Canis lupus familiaris.

For instance, the odor of a hair salon permanent gives me the willies. My reaction stems, I’m sure, from latent memories of sitting as an entranced Twilight Zone-fed six-year-old, staring at my mother and a long row of ladies plugged into sinister-looking, soul-extracting, brain- sucking hairdryers. But it gets worse. Wallpaper paste surely tops hair salon chemicals for the most malevolent of odors. That smell always stops me short.

As newlyweds, we couldn’t have been more proud of our first home in the desert. The green shag carpet and avocado fridge reminded us of the grass we left behind in Idaho. Outside, the latticework hid the axles and allowed our home to breathe.

“Smell that ocean-like breeze blasting over our waterbed,” I’d murmur to my wife over the din of our algae-filled swamp cooler as we tried to beat the Arizona heat. Not even the fragrant hemp that wafted in from the neighbor’s trailer dampened our wedded bliss. That is, until my sweetheart decided to bring additional cheer to our love nest by wallpapering a perfectly fine bedroom wall. Despite a stack of law books begging to be studied, I agreed to help my new bride with her weekend project. We measured and cut and dipped and squeegeed. I was the little Dutch boy, finger in the dike, averting disaster with my thumb and knees and cheeks and other body parts, all pressed against the wall, praying the gooey paper would stick to the faux wood paneling before class on Monday.

“It’s falling down over your head,” cried my beloved. “Can’t you see?”

“Sorry, dear,” I gargled back, throat coated with goo, nose and lips doing their part to stem the fall of the stubborn, pasty, foul-smelling paper.

“Move your left knee and press out that air bubble, quick.”

“Yes, sweetie,” I chirped and considered our plans for children as I extended my leg splits.

We finished as the Monday morning sun lit the single pane window that separated us from the cannabis next door. I brushed my teeth, wondered if the goo would serve as hair gel, and hurried to my Family Law class. Even when I was prepared for the class, I lived in fear that the Socratically-inclined professor would call on me to recite. He did.

“Mr. Carr, state sufficient grounds for divorce as established in Smith vs. Smith.”

I rose in my sleep-deprived stupor, hair stiff in a wild spike, exuding the aromatic bouquet of four parts sweat and six parts wallpaper goo, and proffered an eloquent soliloquy, to wit: being asked by one’s spouse to help hang wallpaper should certainly qualify. My fellow law students groaned. A hush followed. The professor closed his book, stepped out from behind the lectern, gave me a silent bow, and excused the class early.

Some forty years later, I’m still married. I never wallpapered again. I learned to accept my superpower. I follow the nose. As for living in the moment? Embracing today, the crisp October air, instead of dwelling on what it foretells? A work in progress.

 

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