Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Wandering Nostril: African Funerals and the Late Jiminy Cricket

Michael M. Liswaniso, a columnist for Namibia’s New Era newspaper, asks a startling question: “Why the Air Fresheners At Funerals?
I have attended numerous funerals in this country but I have never seen anybody who stands next to the coffin and sprays it with some fragrances in the name of ‘Airoma strawberry’ or any other just to wind down the so-called ‘filthy smell’ emanating from the deceased inside the coffin. 
That was until I attended the funeral of one of my close family members. I did not appreciate what I saw. The same thing happened at least at five different funerals in my mother’s town.
Are mortuary practices that abysmal in Namibia? Not according to Liswaniso.
In all the funerals or burial services I attended in Caprivi and other parts of the country, there was no reek of any kind from the coffins. Yet, people continue to spray the coffins even during the funeral service in the church.
During the service?
The practice distracts the mourners from paying attention to the service, disrupting the entire funeral service.
Yikes. This sounds undignified and unnecessary. On the other hand, rituals evolve over time. Maybe we should update the Book of Common Prayer:
Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his pleasantly scented body to the ground . . .
Cindy V. Culp at the Waco Tribune reports on a bizarre story: “Cricket infestations a stinky problem at Waco businesses.”
As branch manager of Synergy Bank in Waco, Jani Rodriquez is used to handling all manner of situations. But for the past few months, Rodriquez has been stumped by a problem that has plagued several local businesses — a foul odor caused by decaying cricket carcasses.
Cricket outbreaks are evidently an annual event in Central Texas, but a wet winter led to an unusually early and vigorous population explosion this year.
Some of the invading crickets apparently have been trapped inside the walls of the building where the bank is located, the Triangle Tower at 510 N. Valley Mills Drive. The result is an unpleasant smell that emanates throughout much of the first floor. It waxes and wanes with the cricket population, which is buoyed by rain. 
“It’s outside, it’s inside,” Rodriquez said. “You kind of get used to it when you’re here. But when you walk out and come back in, it’s really bad.”
A perfect example of olfactory adaptation and disadaptation. Meanwhile, why do dead crickets get so stinky?
Dead crickets don’t always cause a stench. Most of the time, a carcass simply dries up and dissipates, [entomologist Fred] Huffman said. When things get stinky is when the carcass is exposed to moisture. That causes a different type of decay, often with a foul smell, he said.
The infestation in Waco has some unexpected consequences:
[Drug Emporium manager Scott] Halvorson said, he must remove ceiling domes that house the store’s security cameras to empty out dead crickets every few days. So far, that has kept an odor from being present in the store. “But it’s a stench when you pull them down,” he said.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guns, Bows and B.O.

Mention male B.O. and urban sophisticates will talk about Axe body spray or metrosexual grooming products. The rest of the country will talk about hunting.

Hunters use scent-suppression technology, along with camouflage, as a basic tool to avoid being detected by game. The largest supplier of this technology is ALS Enterprises, Inc., the manufacturer of Scent-Lok® odor reduction hunting apparel, which uses activated charcoal to trap B.O.

Scent-Lok apparel has been sold for years through Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and Gander Mountain. Lots of hunters swear by it. About five years ago ALS was sued. According to lawsuit, the activated carbon hunting clothes did not work as advertised and Scent-Lok’s claim to be “odor eliminating” was false. The plaintiffs tried to get their case certified as a class action, which would have meant big money for the attorneys handling it.

ALS and its retailing partners fought back and Federal courts denied class standing two years ago. Then last month a Federal District Court in Florida administered the coup de grace by dismissing the original complaint “with prejudice.” That’s legal jargon for get lost and don’t come back.

By way of putting a formal end to the dispute, a Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice was filed with the court. It includes a Findings of Fact section that affirms the effectiveness of Scent-Lok’s activated carbon technology while spanking plaintiff Dennis Pickering up and down the block.

[Via Petersen’s Bowhunting.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Won’t be Your Grandma’s Fragrance Foundation

It’s been adrift for a while now. By tapping Elizabeth Musmanno as president, the FF board grabs its ass with both hands and leaps into the 21st Century. Will they get more than they bargained for?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Yet Another Whack at the Vibration Theory of Smell

University of Illinois physicist Klaus Schulten and colleagues have added another 11 pages to the pile of theoretical physics papers claiming that the vibration theory of smell is theoretically possible. In an amusing twist, Schulten talks trash about the other vibration theory fan-boys:
Those who suggested that molecular vibration played a role in odorant recognition in previous studies “didn’t know about [Rudolph] Marcus’ theory and they didn’t do quantum chemical calculations,” Schulten said. “They argued very much on principle (that it was possible). So we are saying now, yes, it is really possible even when you do the most complete and reliable calculations.”
Those idiots! They like so totally forgot the quantum chemical calculations.

Here at FirstNerve we don’t know a Huang-Rhys factor from a hybrid Becke-type three parameter exchange functional, but we sure as hell enjoy watching theoretical physicists get into a food fight.

For everyone else observing from the sidelines, here are three important take away points:

First, in advocating a “vibrationally assisted” mechanism of olfaction the authors concede that a molecule’s shape and size do matter. This is a big walkback from pure vibration theory.

Second, the authors conclude only that the new model is “energetically feasible,” not that it is biologically realistic.

Finally, since they acknowledge that “receptor structure presently is still unknown,” their conclusions are largely a matter of conjecture. Until there is some convincing biology, their 19 different equations are not worth the pixels they are printed in.

The study discussed here is “Vibrationally assisted electron transfer mechanism of olfaction: myth or reality?,” by Ilia A. Solov’yov, Po-Yao Chang, & Klaus Schulten, published online July 17, 2012 in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. It is available here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Battle of the Humbugs: Kate McLean vs Sissel Tolaas

It’s on! Sissel Tolaas has a challenger.

The Daily Mail’s Eddie Wrenn provides a succinct account of the smellscape mappings of a British artist named Kate McLean. Ms. McLean has created impressionistic smell maps of cities including Glasgow, Scotland and Newport, Rhode Island. We have no problem with that. In fact, FirstNerve has long been a fan of olfactory art and in particular of inventive ways of visualizing the smellscape. So when we saw the headline of Mr. Wrenn’s piece we were there in a clickbeat:
Who nose the way? Artist creates ‘smell maps’ of cities across the world in tribute to our most under-appreciated sense
Ms. McLean tours selected cities, mingles with the locals, and creates site-specific smell maps. If her methodology sounds familiar, a keen sense of graphic design gives her printed results a unique and elegant look. Her goals sound good, too:
Kate says her aim is to sensitize tourists and visitors to a new place, and use a ‘largely-ignored sense in their perception of that place’.
It’s when Ms. McLean starts explaining the sensory basis of her work that things get shaky.
She said: ‘Smell has a “do not enter brain processing” connection with our emotions, making smell the supreme retainer of memory over our other senses.
Smell is not entirely or even mostly an “emotional sense.” Studies claiming that smell memory is more emotional than visual memory show, at best, a marginal effect. Not a “supreme retainer” by a long shot.
“We have 100 per cent smell recall after one year but only 30 per cent sight memory after three months.”
For Pete’s sake. Ms. McLean is entitled to artistic freedom to create smell maps any way she pleases, but that doesn’t give her a license to make up her own scientific facts. Her bit about smell having 100 percent recall appears to be an exaggeration of a claim—now discredited—made by Trygg Engen in the 1970s. As someone wrote not too long ago, “The purity and infallibility of smell memory—an insight central to Proust’s literary conceit—doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny.”
‘The first time we smell a new scent we automatically associate it with whether we like it or not (positive or negative) and we associate it with the location where we smell it.’
Ask yourself: where did you first smell banana? Coffee? Cigar smoke? Buttered popcorn? Specifics only, no fuzzy inferences of the “It must have been in the kitchen when I was little” variety, please. Go ahead, take your time.
‘Therefore I propose that smell can be used in tourism marketing to foster lasting memories of a place.’
This is the icing on the crazy cake. If, as Ms. McLean argues, we immediately and permanently associate every new smell with a specific place, then the only way a smell can be used in tourism marketing is if it is totally novel. After all, reminding a person of the seashore smells of Newport would be effective only if he had never before smelled the seashore—any seashore.

McLean may have discovered a great way to promote package tours for olfactory virgins. Even then, there’s a danger that their everlasting memory of seashore smell will be reading a scratch-and-sniff brochure in the departure lounge at Heathrow.

But look at the bright side: all this pseudo-scientific claptrap will give Kate McLean an edge against Sissel Tolaas in the olfactory arts humbug championship. Imagine the two of them in a winner-take-all smell-off. Now there’s an indelible image.

Monday, September 17, 2012

American Smellscapes: Sam Shepard

From the story “Concepción” in Great dreams of heaven by Sam Shepard:
She sat in the passenger seat right in front of me and we both watched out the windows as my dad stood on the porch of the stone house under a yellow light ringing the doorbell. He was all decked out in his Air Force uniform with tiny moths and mosquito hawks cutting circles just above his captain’s hat. He was staring out past the lemon trees and the far-away lights of San Dimas as he waited for an answer at the door and never once looked back to us in the car. He seemed to have a lot on his mind, but whatever it was we weren’t included. The heavy sweet smell of lemon blossoms came right through the glass.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Scent of the Hyena Clan

Photo by Jaime Tanner.

My crooked path to the world of perfume began with an undergraduate interest in animal behavior. In the hills above the U.C. Berkeley campus, at the field station off Grizzly Peak Boulevard, I built a semi-natural habitat to study Merriam’s kangaroo rats and their ability to detect rattlesnakes by smell. Years later my faculty advisor, Professor Steve Glickman, received a grant to study the reproductive biology of hyenas. They have a matriarchal social organization in which females are behaviorally dominant to males. The females also have a pseudo-scrotum and an enlarged clitoris that resembles a penis.

Steve was interested in the hormonal and developmental processes underlying this unusual anatomy and behavior. The grant enabled him to set up a hyena colony at the field station. This took some doing: the city of Berkeley demanded extraordinary security as they were not too keen on the idea of escaped hyenas prowling the streets. He also had to smooth some feathers with the neighbors. Nearby was the recently established Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, home to some serious poindexters. (Last week’s seminar was “Quasi Periodic Orbits: The Case of the Non Linear Schrödinger Equation.”) Math types like to work at night and they were freaked out by the nocturnal vocalizations from the colony—Crocuta crocuta isn’t known as the laughing hyena for nothing. Steve once invited me up to meet the study animals. Their vocalizations are truly unsettling. I was happy to have a stout chain link fence between us.

Kay Holekamp is another Berkeley student who progressed from rodents (in her case a Ph.D. on Belding’s ground squirrel) to smellier topics—scent marking in hyenas. Kay is now a professor of zoology at Michigan State but spends a lot of time studying hyenas at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. She and two colleagues have just published a paper on the bacterial basis of clan-specific social odors.

Hyenas live in small clans and use scent to mark their territory.
A particularly common and conspicuous chemical signaling behavior among hyenas is ‘pasting,’ a form of scent marking wherein a hyena typically straddles a grass stalk, extrudes its anal scent pouch, and drags the exposed pouch across the top of the stalk, leaving behind a thin layer of secretion, called ‘paste’. Paste is composed of lipid-rich sebum and presumably desquamated epithelial cells, and it is produced by a pair of lobulated sebaceous glands that secrete their products directly into the anal scent pouch.
Yummy! And effective:
The major volatile constituents of paste are fatty acids, esters, hydrocarbons, alcohols and aldehydes. Collectively, they give paste a pungent, sour mulch odor that persists, detectable by the human nose, for more than a month after paste is deposited on grass stalks.
Scent glands are “warm, moist, organic-rich and largely anaerobic,” and thus “highly conducive to the proliferation of fermentative symbiotic bacteria.” The fermentation hypothesis for chemical recognition holds that:
as bacteria ferment the protein and lipid-rich substrates in scent glands, they produce odorous metabolites that are co-opted by their mammalian hosts as components of chemical signals.
In other words, the deal works like this: the hyena provides a warm, moist, nutrient-rich habitat for the bacteria which in return produce a stinky brew of by-products useful in scent marking.

A corollary of the fermentation hypothesis is that species differences in the hosted bacteria could account for odor differences between individuals or groups. Having identified four separate hyena clans at the Kenyan reserve, Kay and colleagues were perfectly situated to test this idea. So they collected paste samples from the anal scent pouches of 16 lactating hyenas. (You need a reliable tranquilizer dart gun for this step.)

Back home the samples were analyzed. Bacteria could be seen under high magnification as well as tiny, lipid-containing droplets—the hyena’s gift of food to the bacteria. To identify the bacteria by species, the sample were screened for 16S rRNA genes. This is the DNA that codes for a piece of the ribosome and which is useful in constructing bacterial phylogenies. The genetic survey identified a rich assortment of bacteria from 78 different genera. More than half the bacterial DNA sequences couldn’t be classified—they appear to be new to science. Goes to show what cool new stuff you can find when you get far enough up a hyena’s butt.

And what of the fermentation hypothesis of chemical recognition? All four clans from the Masai reserve had the same types of bacteria; what varied between clans was the proportion of various types of bacteria. Three of the four clans had statistically distinctive bacteria profiles; the fourth did not. By showing that the most prominent bacteria in the scent gland are known producers of short-chain fatty acids—key to odor differences between hyena clans—Kay and colleagues have provided a critical piece of evidence supporting the hypothesis.

The study discussed here is “Evidence for a bacterial mechanism for group-specific social odors among hyenas,” by Kevin R. Theis, Thomas M. Schmidt, & Kay E. Holekamp, published in Scientific Reports 2:61, 201. It can be downloaded here for free.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September Puzzlement

Come evening there’s a chill in the air and it’s not produced by the wheezing AC unit that hangs from the window of FirstNerve Manor like a fat man mooning the neighbors. No, the chill is real, the days are shorter, and it’s no longer prime season for the retch-inducing olfactory discoveries that, like those bits of hog jowls in the scrapple, constitute the essence of I Smell Dead People.

You’ve been warned before, but to spell it out for clueless Web wanderers this most popular recurring feature of FirstNerve is, like pimento loaf and head cheese, an acquired taste. If you are squeamish go watch the goddamn sea gull video. Now.

The rest of yous will recall that our last installment featured bodies found in storage lockers in Oregon and Ohio. The trend continued this month with a bizarre twist, down at Uncle Bob’s Storage in Pensacola, Florida.
. . . authorities in Pensacola are investigating after finding human brains, hearts and lungs in a storage unit they say belonged to a former medical examiner. 
Someone bought the storage unit at an auction last week and noticed a foul smell as they were sifting through furniture and boxes. 
Officials at the medical examiner’s office in Pensacola say the remains of more than 100 people were found crudely stored in Tupperware containers, garbage bags and drink cups. . . . The unit had been rented previously by Dr. Michael Berkland. . . . Berkland worked at the medical examiner’s office from 1997 until 2003, when he was fired for not completing autopsy reports.
Paging Hester Mofet . . .

And since we’re in Florida:
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a death investigation in Tice. 
The body was found behind a closed car wash in the area of Palm Beach Boulevard and Flamingo Circle. 
Someone working in the area told investigators he came across the body after smelling a foul odor. 
The sheriff’s says the body was discovered in an area that is known to be frequented by homeless people.
This was the headline in the Chicago Sun-Times: “Police find body of man dressed as woman in abandoned West Side building.”
Police went to the building in the 4800 block of West Jackson Boulevard about 11:15 p.m. after getting calls of a foul odor, police News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said.

Photo: Kevin Lynch

“Hey, where’s Joe been? He still owes me lunch from Monday.” In Texas, a
man’s body was discovered at the bottom of a smokestack at San Antonio’s former Pearl brewery after construction workers redeveloping the iconic complex reported a foul odor.
. . . the man was a white male around 30 years of age. San Antonio police Sgt. Javier Salazar says the man apparently had been dead for several days and is believed to have been a construction worker. He says the man apparently had been working on a construction project in a building adjoining the smokestack and appeared to have been inside a covered walkway connected to the smokestack when he fell about 20 feet.
Quietly Canadian—here is a rare episode from north of the border:
A badly decomposed body that appears to have been deliberately hidden in North Vancouver’s Lower Capilano neighbourhood this week may have met with foul play, according to investigators. 
Police were called to the scene just west of Capilano Road at about 5: 45 p.m. Sunday after a neighbour reported a foul smell to the North Vancouver RCMP. Investigators searched the area and found the remains in a wooded space off a gravel foot path that links Curling Road with Belle Isle Place.
Does Yonkers, New York ring a bell? It should.
Police in Yonkers are investigating the discovery of a plastic bag with remains that may be human. 
Police were called to a wooded area at Rossmore and Illinois avenues around 5 p.m. Tuesday where a suspicious bag with a foul odor was discovered.

“Wooded area” makes it sound almost rural—in fact, it’s at the end of a residential street. Here’s news video of a guy in the neighborhood who’s been smelling a “horrible odor” for the better part of a month—he thought someone might have dumped an animal . . .

“Say, folks, has anybody seen Bob since his trailer burned down?” From The News-Gazette in Rantoul, Illinois:
Authorities are seeking to determine the identity and cause of death of a man whose body was found nearly two weeks after a fire destroyed a Rantoul mobile home. 
Rantoul Police Lt. Jeff Wooten said a police detective investigating the fire — which destroyed a mobile home in the 1200 block of Cypress Lane in the Heritage Estates mobile home park on Aug. 22 — discovered the body inside the home Tuesday. 
The detective, who also serves as an arson investigator for the Rantoul Fire Department, was conducting a follow-up investigation of the fire when he noticed a foul odor at the scene and found the body inside the trailer. 
“The detective was out there doing some interviews (of neighbors) and started looking around the scene,” Wooten said. “That’s when he smelled this odor (and) he saw what he thought were some human remains.”
This incident from Conway, Arkansas, has a couple of odd features.
A foul odor lead Conway police to a badly decomposed dead body within city limits. The body was found near a lot next to McKinney Tire on Harkrider Street. A car with California plates was parked nearby for several days and may belong to the person whose body they found.
First O.F.: Conway is a long way from the Golden State. Was the deceased coming or going? Second O.F.: We’re not talking about some sparse rural area here—McKinney Tire is smack in the middle of a heavily trafficked area. Was nobody paying attention?

This episode from Eastlake, Ohio is quite weird. Lindsay Buckingham of Cleveland’s Fox TV station has the story:
The badly decomposed body of a man found Friday morning in Eastlake was confirmed to be that of shooting suspect Joshua Baughman, Eastlake Police Chief Larry Reik confirmed. 
The remains were discovered around 7 a.m. near the railroad tracks on East 365th Street. 
Police responded there after a resident reported a foul odor. 
The body appeared to have been there for a number of days, Reik said. 
Baughman, 20, is accused of shooting a 27-year-old Cleveland man in the parking lot of an Eastlake WalMart last month. Police said Baughman jumped in the man’s car and demanded that he hand over “everything he had.” 
He then allegedly shot the man in the side of the chest and fled the scene.
This story by Sadie Gurman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette features the stench of decay but is more alarming for the picture it paints of social decay in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA:
Thelma Jones was washing dishes one night in late August when she heard gunshots in the woods outside her Wilkinsburg home. 
“It was so close it sounded like it hit my back door,” said Ms. Jones, 76, who “dropped everything I was doing and left the water on.” 
She called police. But days passed before neighbors, alarmed by a foul odor, discovered the decomposing body of George Anthony Cox Jr., 22, of Homewood, the 10th homicide victim of the year in Wilkinsburg, a borough that saw just two killings in all of 2011. 
Wilkinsburg was among the communities hardest hit by a spate of violence throughout Allegheny County this summer.
And finally, back to Vineland, New Jersey for another puzzling find.
Police discovered a dead body in a vacant home on Sixth Street Friday night and are attempting to determine a cause of death, officials announced over the weekend. 
Authorities were alerted Friday to a foul odor emanating from 602 S. Sixth St., an abandoned house with a boarded up first floor. 
Upon investigating, police discovered the body on the second floor.
Well, that’s it for this time. Until next time, stay alert and keep your nostrils open.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Is Lassie the Answer?

In Los Angeles, KABC’s Denise Dador supplies another heartwarming story about olfactory service dogs: “Type 1 diabetes patients get help with blood sugar from scent-detection dogs.”

Let’s stipulate that there are odor cues associated with diabetes (and skin and lung and prostate cancer). Let’s also stipulate that dogs can be trained to recognize these odors. For me, the question remains: Is this a practical and cost-effective way of dealing with the problem?

Dador quotes the anxious mother of a diabetic child: “She could die of a low blood sugar during the night.” So . . . the alert dog never sleeps?

According to Dador, fully trained diabetic alert dogs cost about $20,000. She also notes that about 3 million Americans take insulin for their diabetes. What Dador doesn’t do is the math: a fully implemented diabetic dog solution would cost $60 billion dollars.

Meanwhile, a pair of Italian researchers has just published a mini-review titled “Canine olfactory detection of cancer versus laboratory testing: myth or opportunity?” Giuseppe Lippi and Gianfranco Cervellin reviewed the scientific studies in which dogs were used to detect the scent of bladder, ovary, breast, prostate and skin cancer. While the sensitivity and specificity of disease detection were impressive in some studies, they were less so in others.

In fact, Lippi and Cervellin find that “the most problematic issue” in these studies is “the large heterogeneity of performance” by the canine sniffers. They attribute this variability to differences in dog breeds, training methods, tissue sample preparation, as well as intrinsic smellability of different cancers. Of course, these are hurdles that can be cleared with further research and refinement of methods.

Lippi and Cervellin raise another, more substantial issue: confounding comorbidities.
Another important drawback is that the animals were tested to distinguish between normal and cancer samples (either being cancer tissue, blood or urine), but they have not been tested so far to differentiate cancer patients from those suffering from other comorbidities. A variety of non-cancerous diseases (e.g., those characterized by inflammation, infection, or necrosis) might produce confounding or even overlapping biochemical signals that might confuse the animal, decreasing its detecting performance. At best, additional and more specific training might be required for the animals to distinguish between confounding diseases and cancers.
To me, this fair-minded analysis shows there is still a long way to go before scent detection dogs become a routine part of medical diagnosis and care.

The study discussed here is “Canine olfactory detection of cancer versus laboratory testing: myth or opportunity?” by Giuseppe Lippi and Gianfranco Cervellin, published in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 50:435-439, 2012.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Coty Exec on Gaga Fragrance: “I Know Nothing”

So I’m clearing out the browser cache and guess what pops up?
July 15, 2010 
Coty Denies Lady Gaga Scent Deal . . . 
Executives at Coty Inc. denied a report circulating online that the company has signed a fragrance deal with Lady Gaga. “I know nothing of this project,” said Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing for the firm’s Coty Beauty division. “It is a totally false rumor.”
People picked up WWD’s story the same day.

And here’s Mormoris, exactly two years later, gibbering on about Lady Gaga’s new perfume.

[The facial resemblance is striking.—Ed.]

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sissel Tolaas is Baack

From Alice Thorson in The Kansas City Star:
Grand Arts adds an olfactory dimension to September First Fridays with “SmellScape KCK/KCMO (2007-2012),” a new project by Norwegian-born smell artist Sissel Tolaas. Tolaas spent five years collecting smells in the metro area, extracting some from physical objects and capturing ambient scents by means of the same technology used in the perfume industry.
From the movie script for “The Wizard of Osmics.”

Dissolve to Dorothy and Toto walking on a dirt road. They come to a camp with a wagon. There is lettering on the wagon:
Let Her Read Your Smell In Her Crystal Head Space Sampler
Also Juggling and Sleight of Hand
MLS—Professor steps down out of wagon—sees Dorothy—speaks to her while moving towards the gas chromatograph.

Well, well, well, gallery guests, huh? And who might you be? No, no—now don’t tell me.

MCS—Professor sits by the GC—Dorothy comes forward—they speak.

Let’s see—you’re—you’re travelling in disguise. No, that’s not right. I—you’re —you’re going on a visit. No, I’m wrong. That’s...You’re – looking for the smells of Kansas.

How did you guess?

The Professor never guesses—she knows! Now, why are you looking for your own local smells to be captured, reconstituted, and returned to you in microencapsulated form?


No, no—now don’t tell me. They—they don’t understand you at home. They don’t appreciate you. They want to smell other lands —big cities—big mountains—big oceans—

Why, it’s just like you could read what was inside of me.


Please, Professor, can’t you reduce Kansas City to twenty scratch-and-sniff samples?

Well, we—uh,

MCS – Toto pees on a wheel of the wagon

Oh, Toto, that’s not polite!

MLS—Professor and Dorothy—Toto looking at them— Professor laughs and collects some of the urine in a GC sampling tube.

He’s perfectly welcome. It’s his contribution to the fine arts. Here now—let’s see, where were we?

MCS—Professor and Dorothy speak—Professor puts down the urine sample—

Oh, yes—you—you wanted to encapsulate Kansas City, huh?

Nobody cares about olfactory art at home. They wouldn’t even miss it if they all went anosmic.

Aw, come, come, come —

No, they won’t — honestly.


Auntie Em even told Bandler Churr to get lost yesterday when he asked for a donation to his perfume exhibit. Please, Professor, why can’t we go with you and put our home town smells in all the Art Journals of Europe?

—Yes, well, I—I never do anything without consulting my gas chromatograph first. Let’s . . .

MLS—Professor rises—CAMERA PANS as he and Dorothy cross to right to wagon—

PROFESSOR . . . go inside here—we’ll—Just come along. I’ll show you. There you are—right in there.

MLS—Int. Wagon—Dorothy and Professor come in—CAMERA TRUCKS forward—Professor moves chair up for Dorothy—then lights candles—sits down—puts on turban—speaks to Dorothy who closes her eyes—she takes her basket—looks thru it—takes out a bottle of Eternity by Calvin Klein

That’s right. Here—sit right down here.That’s it. Ha ha! This—this is the same genuine, magic, authentic gas chromatograph used by the fragrance chemists of IFF in the days of Estée Lauder—in which I first analyzed the sweat of fearful men—and so on—and so on. Now, you—you’d better close your eyes, my child, for a moment—in order to be better in tune with the infinite. We—we can’t do these things without . . .

INSERT—CU – bottle of Eternity perfume --

. . . reaching out into the . . .

MCU—Professor sniffs at the bottle—

. . . eternal. Yes.

MCS—Dorothy and Professor—he puts the perfume bottle on chair—Dorothy opens her eyes —CAMERA TRUCKS forward as Professor leans over the sniff port of the GC—

That’s—that’s all right. Now you can open them. We’ll sniff deeply from the GC. Ahh—what’s this I smell? A house—with a Glade® PlugIn ... and Cashmere Woods refill.

CU—Dorothy—Camera shooting past Professor at right f.g.—Dorothy reacts—

. . . and a barn—with a weather vane and —and the smell of a—of a pooping horse.

MCU - Professor - Camera shooting past Professor at left f.g. - she leans into GC - speaks -

No—it’s—it’s—a pooping pig.

CU—Dorothy—Camera shooting past Professor—

That’s our farm!


MCS—Dorothy and Professor –They inhale again from the GC—

PROFESSOR Yes, there’s—there’s a woman—she’s . . . she’s wearing Eternity . . .

MCU—Professor—Camera shooting past Dorothy—

. . . her face is careworn, but she recently had her eyelids done.

Yes . . . That’s Aunt Em.

Her—her name is Emily.

Professor, you’re amazing. How can I help you artistically bring the smells of Kansas City back to the people of Kansas City?

Well, I—I can think of something.


Run back to the farm and tell Aunt Em to donate a bundle of money to the Kansas City Arts Fund. Make sure she tells them it’s for me . . . er, for the Professor of Invisible Communications and her cutting edge explorations of urban ecology and olfactory ambiance.

Oh, I will, I will.

MCS—Dorothy and Professor—Dorothy jumps up—picks up her basket—goes to b.g.—

I have to get back to the farm right now . . .

MCS—Dorothy picks up Toto—CAMERA PANS as she comes forward down steps—she speaks to Toto—reacts—CAMERA PANS left as she runs to b.g.—picks up suitcase—puts Toto to ground—both run up hill in b.g.—wind blowing leaves around—

Come on, Toto! Goodbye, Professor—and thanks a lot!

MLS—Professor comes out of wagon—CAMERA PANS him left to horse— wind blowing—Professor looks around—starts out left with horse—

Better get under cover, Sylvester, there’s a storm blowing up—a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry. Poor little kid—I hope she gets home all right.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

True Love Smells

In cleaning out the attic of FirstNerve Manor, I recently came across a box of letters to the editor of the National Geographic magazine. They were written in response to the Sense of Smell Survey which I co-authored back in the last century. A number of letters were from ladies who described the bodily scent that had initially attracted each to her husband. The accounts were quite graphic in a matter-of-fact, Middle America sort of way. Having heard many such stories in person since then, I’m convinced that B.O. can be a game changer in the relationship department.

By coincidence there’s an article on this topic in the new Australian edition* of Marie Claire. It’s written by one E.J. Balloch and it’s a brutally frank account of the body odor mismatch that sank her first marriage and led to a happier second one. There have been plenty of he-smells-so-sexy pieces in women’s magazines, but I don’t recall one as remarkable as this. It may even be the launch of a new literary genre—the first-person B.O. confessional.

Ms. Balloch was married to a great guy. But there was one little problem:
The truth is, I was never drawn to my ex’s smell. My first scent memory of him, as we tipsily leaned into each other after a holiday party, was of expensive, tasteful cologne, like the men’s section at Saks. His clothes, when they came off, smelled of Tide and Downy. He was too pristine, too sanitized. There was no man smell undergirding the perfume. I craved masculine sweat, heat, and tuber-like earthiness. There was none there. But I ignored my desire to love my mate’s scent because he was, in every other way, an amazing guy: a natural leader, an intellect, and a killer poker player.
Her husband was lacking in natural manly scent. Fair enough. But how does that square with her statement a paragraph later?
. . . when I was choosing a husband, hot sex was hardly on my list of requirements. Stability, kindness, and protection were. Blood, sweat, and prurient connections to other sundry bodily fluids? No, thanks. I pretended that sex wasn’t important to a marriage, and in doing so, I ignored the fact that I couldn’t stand the smell of the only person I’d vowed to sleep with for the rest of my life.
This sounds as if she actively disliked his scent. So which was it? Did he lack a personal scent or was his personal scent disagreeable? Also: if Tide and Downy were too pristine and sanitized, why not ask him to switch brands? Maybe butch him up with some Arm & Hammer®.

It turns out that Mr. Pristine-Sanitized also had his own issues.
He was a bit more vocal about his disdain for my scent. When we first got together, he’d wrinkle his nose after kissing me first thing in the morning. As time went by, he asked me to switch from my brand of antiperspirant to something with more “muscle,” perhaps to disguise my natural odor. Eventually, he suggested that we wash our laundry separately. (Was my unappetizing scent rubbing off on his clothes?) In the end, he flat out told me that I literally stunk like hell to him.

Not surprisingly given the extent of their mutual olfactory incompatibility Ms. Balloch and Mr. Pristine-Sanitized eventually went their separate ways. That’s when she decides to hoist the “Love me, love my B.O.” banner, although she phrases it oddly:
After my divorce, my olfactory sensitivity was on fire. [Huh?—Ed.] If a man didn’t like my scent, screw it. I let loose and wore a non-scented hippie brand of antiperspirant. I just didn’t care anymore. 
Then, a guy I liked a lot texted me after our first night together to say that he had tucked his shirt into a Ziploc bag to preserve my smell embedded in it. I fully appreciate that many women might have run from such a person, suspecting lurking fetishes of a most delinquent order. Me? I actually cried when I got that message: He loved me—he wanted me! Best of all, the feeling was mutual. I felt at home in his warmth and aroma of salt and grassiness. A few years later, I married him.
Ms. Balloch and Mr. Lurking Fetish are now living happily ever after, i.e., having hot monkey sex on a daily basis:
we’re so intoxicated by each other’s smell, we’ve also had sex every day for the four years we’ve been together. As a 42-year-old mother of three, this is no small thing. Every day. I’m not joking.
Here Ms. Balloch throws perfume on the violet and takes her story to ridiculous excess. It’s almost enough to make one suspicious of the rest of the tale, which was too neat to begin with. The fact that E.J. Balloch doesn’t Google well and is probably a pseudonym doesn’t help.

Then again, perhaps true love is your nose’s recognition of its counterpoint in another’s B.O.
Sometimes we’ll sniff,
Sometimes we’ll whiff,
And we’ll know why,
Just you and I
Know true love smells.

*I now realize the piece was posted originally in the American edition in May, 2012.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More Surströmming, Please!

The WSJ’s Sven Grundberg reports on the opening of the annual fermented herring festivities in Sweden. Sounds deelish. But to each his own.

Unless, of course, you are an unelected EU bureaucrat—they tried to ban surströmming. [Shhh! Don’t give Nanny Bloomberg any more ideas.—Ed.]