Earlier this week, it was raining when Betty and I took our morning walk. It was pelting down pretty hard outside as we circled Schiller Park, and by the time we got home Betty was soaked. She did a few of the familiar dog shakes to try to fling off as much moisture as possible, and I did my best to towel her off, but when I finally let her off the leash and she scampered upstairs, the damage was already done:
Our house was filled, to every remote nook and cranny, with the distinctive aroma of eau de wet dog.
The bouquet of wet dog is one of those highly distinctive smells. It doesn’t seem to vary much from dog to dog, or from long hair breed to short hair breed. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s statement about pornography, you might not be able to accurately describe eau de wet dog, but you sure as heck know it when you smell it. And once you smell it, you will remember the pungent, musty odor of wet fur and canine sweat and be able to immediately identify it for the rest of your life.
It’s not like one of those phony, instantly forgettable fragrances that people spray in their bathrooms. No, the heady tang of canine cologne is clearly one of the most memorable smells in the olfactory catalog. In the indelible odor category, it’s up there with wood smoke, a salty, algae-laden whiff of oceanfront air, or the inside of a brand-new car.
Not that you want eau de wet dog around your house, of course, but when you’ve got a dog in the house there’s not much you can do about it.
Dog owners make a lot of sacrifices for their beloved pooches. One of the sacrifices is grimly olfactory in nature: having to prepare dog food first thing in the morning.
Kish is on the road today, so preparation of Kaseycuisine falls to me by default. That means that, rather than having my senses gradually stimulated to full awareness after a night of blissful slumber by the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the crisp taste of orange juice, I’m assaulted by the sights, sounds, and smells of Kasey’s specially prepared chow. The special digestive care prescription diet canned food that falls into the bowl with a wet, sucking, disgusting, odiferous plop. The Beneful IncrediBites dry food (made with real chicken, according to the bag) that must be spooned out, moistened with water, and stirred into a kind of stew because Old Kase is down to about one tooth in the dental category and needs food that can be safely gummed into submission. And of course the food must be presented in fresh, clean bowls for our little princess, which means a key part of the assault on the senses is cleaning and washing the bowls from last night’s feast, which inevitably have minced food cemented to every inch of exposed surface by the epoxy-like qualities of dog saliva.
The gag-inducing food is thoughtfully prepared and tastefully presented, none of which makes a difference to Kasey when she finally decides to eat and gulps down her food with reckless, lip-smacking abandon. But after my exposure to dog food in the wee hours, I’m ready for a walk and some fresh air.
For those, like me, who are challenged in the olfactory department, scented candles can be baffling.
Consider the candle currently flickering in our kitchen. It’s called “Snuggly Sweater.” Does that mean it’s supposed to smell like a snuggly sweater? Because, to me, it just smells like a burning candle.
What is a “snuggly sweater” supposed to smell like, anyway? Last time I checked, “snuggly” referred to a tactile feeling, not an odor. Is “snuggly sweater” supposed to smell different than “scratchy sweater” or “bulky sweater” or “too hot sweater”?
It seems pretty clear that scented candlemakers are just coming up with aspirational lifestyle names, rather than meaningful smells. Therefore, keep an eye out for “warm hug,” “blazing hearth,” “leather patches,” and “fat wallet” coming soon to a candle shop near you.
How often should you run the towels in the bathroom at your house through the washer and dryer? The experts say to pay attention to your nose.
It’s kind of disgusting to think about, but microbiologists will tell you that once you use a towel, you’re leaving a deposit of all kinds of materials that microscopic organisms crave on that nice, warm, fluffy, cottony cloth. That includes not only the water, dead skin cells, bacteria, grime, and other substances that you’re swabbing away as you dry off — that’s what a towel is for, after all — but also tiny droplets that may get thrust into the air when you flush your toilet, as well as other germ life lingering in your bathroom. By providing such moist, fertile territory, your towel can quickly become a teeming petri dish for mass microbial breeding.
But we also know that washing towels after one use is inconvenient and not particularly environmentally sensitive. If you’ve stayed in a hotel in the last decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen the little signs asking you to consider whether, to help protect the environment, you can hang up that towel and use it a second time.
So what’s the appropriate balance? Experts say that, if you hang up and can completely dry your towel, you should use it no more than three times before washing it again. And be sure to give it a sniff, too. If your towel smells, that means the microbes are at it in force, and it’s time for a trip to the washer.
Who says science isn’t useful? Now we can officially confirm that a smelly towel should be washed. I wonder what science says about smelly socks?
Yesterday I went into the combination mailroom/copier room on my floor at the firm to drop off an interoffice envelope. As I turned the corner, I was happily hit with that indescribable, yet immediately identifiable, new car smell.
There was no new automobile wedged into the little cubbyhole with the mail slots for the people on our floor, of course. Instead, it was a pristine copier. Nevertheless, it had that delectable new car smell. I took a deep whiff and savored the sensation.
What, exactly, makes up the new car smell? It’s freshly molded plastic, of course, with maybe a little hint of vinyl thrown in. Whatever it is, precisely, this machine was radiating the delicious perfume that every new car owner relishes and wants to preserve for as long as possible. It smelled great. Who doesn’t want to be reminded of the last time they bought a new car, straight from the factory?
Soon the copier will lose that heady aroma, just as new cars do, and will go back to having no smell at all. Until then, I’m guessing that the copier room will be a very popular spot for the people on our floor. In fact, now that I think of it, I’m going to have to drop off a few more of the those interoffice envelopes.
Today, as I walked to and from work, I smelled the scent of summer. That’s because Third Street has just been repaved, and I was taking in the black, tarry aroma of asphalt.
I reflexively associate asphalt with summer because we lived on an asphalt street when I was a kid. After a rugged Akron winter, come spring the cracks and holes in the street would be patched with more asphalt and a layer of tar. When the hot summer months arrived, the asphalt would reach scorching temperatures and sprout tar bubbles, and the smell was as rich and heady as the sulphur fumes belched out by the rubber factories downtown. You got tar on your sneakers, tar on your bare feet, and tar on your bicycle tires.
Ever since, the dark smell of tar says summer to me, just as much as the eye-watering odor of chlorine in the local pool or the mouth-watering bouquet of burgers sizzling on the grill when the Velveeta cheese is just starting to melt and drip onto the hot charcoal. It’s as integral to the summer experience as the tinny sound of Turkey in the Straw played on the cheap loudspeaker on the roof of the ice cream truck or the smack of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt.
I took a deep whiff of that instantly familiar smell and barely succeeded in resisting the temptation to take off my shoes and stroll the asphalt in my bare feet, as in days gone by. By the time I got home, I put on my shorts and sunglasses and let summer know that I was glad it was here, and ready for it, too.
A study recently estimated that human beings can detect 1 trillion different smells. At least half of those smells apparently are found somewhere in the average high school boys’ locker room. (Just kidding!)
In the study, the researchers mixed different “odorant” molecules in combinations, provided participants with three vials of scents, and asked them to identify the outlier in the group. The participants were, on average, adept at distinguishing between the different smells. The researchers then multiplied the different combinations to come up with their estimate of one trillion. Believe it or not, one of the researchers is convinced that the estimate of one trillion — 1,000,000,000,000 — is almost certainly too low.
One trillion is a lot of smells, but the conclusion is plausible from an evolutionary standpoint. The researchers believe the odor-detection capabilities are directly related to the hunter-gatherer history of homo sapiens, because our distant ancestors relied on their sense of smell as a key component in their ability to track prey, sense enemies, determine whether food remained edible and water was potable, and otherwise detect danger. If you couldn’t smell a silently approaching saber-tooth tiger and skedaddle, or make a judgment that the fly-blown piece of woolly mammoth haunch that you were planning on eating for lunch remained edible, you weren’t likely to survive to reproduce.
The recent study joins other studies that indicate that human senses are remarkably discriminating. Along with the ability to use our olfactory capabilities to detect one trillion smells, other studies conclude that the human eye can distinguish between several million shades of color, and the human ear can discern 340,000 different sounds. Talk about sensory overload!