Yesterday I was walking down the office hall at about 11:30 when I encountered a sphere of odor so pungent it had an almost physical impact. It had the kind of potency that made me think “Whoa!” and quicken my step to get away as quickly as possible.
Yes, I was passing the office microwave. There’s a reason why, on virtually every floor in our firm, the office closest to the microwave is vacant. Unless you’ve experienced a tragic childhood accident that cost you your sense of smell, you’re going to get away from the zone of noxiousness at the earliest possible opportunity.
In our office, around the lunch hour, the microwave area is a kind of no-go zone. During the morning, the machine might be used for more innocent activities, like coffee warming or preparing a bowl of instant oatmeal. But at lunchtime, the appalling aromas emerge. Maybe it’s that kind of preservative-laden putrescence that inevitably accompanies bad takeout Chinese food or a one of those ready-made diet meals. Perhaps it’s that overcooked to the edge of burnt aroma that you get from some home-cooked leftovers. Or you might be treated to the thin, almost tinny taint of reheated tuna fish casserole that paints a firm mental image of a congealed mass of overdone noodles so hard you could break a tooth if you took a bite.
And then there’s reheated fish, which is easily the worst of all. It’s quite possible that minor Balkan wars have been started over people who are on some new diet and insist on heating up fish in the microwave so they can stick to a strict regimen. Microwaved fish is almost certainly the biggest cause of hysterical, pathetically pleading, exclamation pointed, passive-aggressive signage in the office. (“Will whoever is using the microwave to reheat fish please have mercy on us and stop!!!”) And, when someone transgresses and uses the microwave for fishy purposes, the smell seemingly never fully vanishes. It lingers, like the guest who wouldn’t leave, and ultimately sinks down into the carpeting so that it can always stay with us.
In fact, conducting interrogations in the same room where people are microwaving fish could be a very effective method to break the will of terrorism suspects, but that tactic probably would violate multiple provisions of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.