Monday, November 28, 2016

It’s Cyber Monday and I’ve put the Kindle version of What the Nose Knows on sale at a deep discount: only $2.99. Why not grab a copy?

Do you have a friends or relatives who are into scent? You can buy them a Kindle copy! Just hit the “Give as Gift” button on Amazon. You can have it delivered to them instantly or you can schedule it to arrive on their device at any time and date you choose. Great idea for Christmas or Hanukkah.

Plus: plenty of time to order a paperback copy for old-school types. It’s already priced as low as it can go!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years After 9/11

Fifteen years later and the emotions remain raw.

These are notes I made on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 when I still lived in Montclair, New Jersey.

September 11, 2006

Over morning coffee I read some blog essays remembering the attacks and where we stand five years later. S and I talked about our frustration with friends who don’t see the same threat we do; how we want to shake them by the shoulders and wake them up.

I couldn’t concentrate on my writing so I set off to do some mindless photocopying in town. Walking to the car I noticed the sky was a perfectly clear blue. Strange how the weather on the anniversary is almost always the same as the original.

I drove past K’s house [the 9/11 widow up the block] and noticed several pickup trucks parked outside. Her fireman friends keeping her company, as they do every year on this day.

I saw [my neighbor] D jogging down the street and pulled over to say hello.

“This is such a sad day,” he said.

“I know. It still gets to me too,” I said. (I had to look away.)

Then he blurted out, “It’s the same sky.” Now he was sobbing. “I’ve been crying almost my whole run.”

He walked off and I drove to the copy shop where I had to keep my shades on.

Thought I was back on an even keel. Then at four in the afternoon a Montclair Fire Department ladder truck came up the street with lights flashing, flying the Stars and Stripes. They paused a while in front of K’s house, blew their horn, and drove on.

I was a mess.

It’s dark out now. They’ve lit the two blue lights at Ground Zero. I still think it’s the best memorial.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Avery and the Cannabis Factory

I recently had the opportunity to tour a licensed, commercial cannabis grow operation in Denver. It was a mind-blowing experience, but not for the obvious reason—I haven’t tried marijuana since an unfortunate episode in graduate school. [A story, like that of the giant rat of Sumatra, for which the world is not yet prepared.—Ed.]

The operation is located in a nondescript, unlabeled building in the semi-industrial outskirts south of town. One step inside and there is no doubt where you are—the scent of cannabis bud hits you full in the face. That’s because the drying room is next to the entrance. Newly harvested and trimmed buds are spread on wire mesh frames, which are slotted into wall racks. The drying room is kept dark and air conditioned, while fans circulate the chilly air. This struck me as a counterintuitive way to dry the product, but Gary, the slim, thirty-something Willy Wonka who runs the site, tells me the aim is to suppress mold growth.*

As I sign in and get my visitor’s badge, I notice the wall of the entryway—it’s covered with a dozen or more framed certificates from the army of agencies that regulate every aspect of commercial cannabis in the state of Colorado: health, revenue, environmental, etc.

A couple of doors down is a small break room. With a refrigerator and cute sign reminding people to clean up after themselves, it could be the lunch area of a muffler shop or book store—except for the three HD screens on one wall. Each screen displays multiple views from security cameras mounted everywhere in the building, inside and out. Security is a major concern and private patrols visit the facility throughout the night.

The actual process of cultivation begins with small, two- or three-branch cuttings from mature plants. Like straws in soda cup lid, they are stuck into fittings atop a plastic tub. Inside the tub an “aquaponics” system periodically sprays the bottom of the clippings; the water contains carefully calibrated amounts of nutrients to encourage root growth. Once the sproutlings have developed enough of a root system, they are transferred to quart-size plastic bags of potting soil. Then they are given a unique, bar-coded, plastic ID tag purchased from a state-authorized provider. Individual plants are tracked this way until harvest—part of the minute oversight of inventory required by Colorado authorities.

In their quart bags, the new plants resemble the immature tomato plants for sale at Safeway. Arranged in neat rows on white platforms, they begin to bask under a glaring array of artificial lights that keeps the room as warm as the greenhouse it is. The room air is humid but odorless.

After a week or two, the now established plants are transferred to three- or five-gallon bags and moved to a “vegetative room” where they get 18 hours of light daily from high output T5 fluorescent bulbs. They are watered via an automated drip tube system. The room air is kept moving by wall-mounted oscillating fans. Here, again, the room is relatively nonodorous.

Once they are mature, the plants are transferred to a “bloom room.” Individual stalks are woven through a loose rope grid that separates the tops and insures that each newly forming flower bud gets maximal exposure to light. Beside the usual automatic lighting and watering system (now delivering a nutrient mix optimized to encourage bud growth), the bloom room is supplied with extra carbon dioxide. It is delivered (during “daytime” only) via an automated system that monitors the ambient concentration and keeps it at a specific parts per million level. On the bloom room door is posted a sign: “You are entering a possibly oxygen deficient atmosphere.” Should the CO2 level exceed the safety threshold, a warning light flashes and an alarm sounds. It’s an expensive system, but it’s required by the state. “Seems reasonable,” I say to Gary, who shrugs his shoulders. He operates under an OSHA rule that specifies one permissible level for CO2 and under a Colorado marijuana-specific rule that specifies a different, lower level.

In the bloom room, I notice for the first time a distinct background odor—it smells like ripe, even overripe, cantaloupe melon. Nothing at all like the funky herbal smell of dry bud. Yet in order to minimize the risk of complaints from neighbors, Gary has installed large, cylindrical carbon filter units in each bloom room. Harvest day, he says, produces the greatest amount of smell, presumably from the volatile and odorous terpenes that are released as the plants are cut.

The previous tenant of this building was a light-industrial operation. When the marijuana company took over the building it completely renovated the interior. The array of active technologies—lights, fans, watering systems, CO2 delivery, air filtration, HVAC—requires an enormous amount of power. Multiple electrical conduits and air conditioning ducts course along the ceiling and curve down to individual grow rooms—it’s like being inside a gigantic pipe organ. Gary is on personal terms with his Carrier air conditioner rep who makes weekly visits to keep the system tuned up.

Gary keeps 70 different cannabis strains in rotation. From a manufacturing and logistics point of view this is an insane number. But the dispensaries he supplies—and their retail customers—demand it. If he delivers only 10 varieties they complain. What drives this demand? Besides sheer THC potency there are real and/or perceived psychotropic differences between sativa and indica strains, as well as differences in bud aroma and smoke flavor. And thus separate calls for OG Kush, Girl Scout Cookies, Strawberry Cough, Alaskan Thunder Fuck, and all the rest.

Having lived for a year now in Colorado, I’m beginning to see the connection with another artisanal, sensory- and botanical-based industry: beer. There are a ton of microbreweries in the state, and each one produces a range from stouts to IPAs. A microbrewery that produced only two or three beers would soon fail. People revel in sensory choice. And if they are accustomed to getting it in one area, they expect it in others.

This leads me to propose Gilbert’s First Conjecture of Sensory Marketing:
For a given zip code, the number of microbrews on tap is positively correlated with the number of cannabis strains available in dispensaries.
Besides the usual burdens of running a business—hiring, scheduling, payroll, accounting—Gary has the responsibilities of a vintner. He decides when the plants are ready to harvest: too soon and they lack potency, too late and they become stale with oxidized THC. He has to plan the rotations of each strain, and stagger their growing cycles so he can harvest one of his eight bloom rooms each week. Then there is the matter of drying and curing. Gary does this the old school way, in two steps. From the racks in the drying room the buds go into large glass jars, equipped with humidity sensors, where they stay for another week or so, until they reach their optimum in terms of aroma and smokability. I suspect cigar makers and aficionados would agree. I sniff from several jars to get an idea of the range of strain-specific aromas. Some are not very smelly; in others I detect mint, a conifer note, and the vegetal scent of cooked artichoke. Elsewhere I’ve smelled buds that reeked of orange peel. There’s a lot of opportunity here for systematic olfactory evaluation.

With demand far outstripping supply, commercial cannabis growers are under enormous pressure to deliver mass quantities. To speed things up, some growers claim to use techniques that telescope drying and curing into a single step. Not Gary. However, he does make some concessions to efficiency. Instead of having employees trim buds by hand, he puts the buds into a tumbler-like device, an automated Edward Scissorhands. The broken leaf residue or “trim” doesn’t go to waste. (It can’t—the state requires that he account for every gram of it.) Gary’s operation, like others, sells the trim to extractors who transform it into oil, shatter, and the multitude of derivative products that are sold directly to consumers or that go into products such as edibles.

I have toured essential oil extraction operations in Grasse, fragrance compounding factories in New Jersey, a Budweiser brewery in Colorado, and numerous wineries and champagne makers in California. They all manage to bring industrial scale to what is, at its core, a process of subjective, sensory-based, aesthetic design. The Denver grow house, with its blend of technology, agronomy, and logistics, tells me that cannabis is on the road to similar scale.

*If Gary is the Willy Wonka, the Oompa-Loompas of the factory bear an uncanny resemblance (minus tattoos and piercings) to certain of my Berkeley Coop housemates of the 1970s.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Parlux vs. Jay Z: Why does a celebrity stop promoting his own fragrance?

 In January, Parlux Fragrances filed an $18 million lawsuit against Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and his company for allegedly failing to promote the Gold Jay Z fragrance as explicitly set out in the contract. Parlux also claims Carter refused to participate in the development and launch of flanker products, and that as a result sales of the stand-alone fragrance withered. The Parlux complaint asked for Carter to return 300,000 shares of Perfumania stock (Perfumania is the parent company of Parlux) and 800,000 Perfumania stock warrants that he received as part of the licensing agreement. Parlux also demanded $18 million for compensatory and punitive damages as well as legal fees.

Via my reporting on Twitter @scienceofscent, you can see the legal jousting took a while to get going.

Well, Jaz Z’s legal team made good on the extended deadline and filed an “Answer and Counterclaim” on May 6th. That same day I kicked off a long visit to California and a short one to Texas. Only now have I managed to wade through all twenty-two pages of Jay Z’s response.

Here’s the bottom line:

Jay Z denies most of the allegations in the Parlux complaint. In his own defense, he accuses Parlux of unreasonable delay in bringing its claims, of acting unethically or in bad faith, and contends that Parlux has not, in fact, suffered actual (as opposed to speculative) damages.

Besides denying the Parlux charges, Team Jay Z makes several counter-claims of its own, namely that Parlux: failed to make royalty payments to Jay Z as specified by the licensing agreement, failed to pay for advertising and promotion of the Gold Jay Z brand as specified by the licensing agreement, and failed to provide accounting reports as specified by the licensing agreement. Jay Z also has some demands for Parlux:
An award of damages to [Shawn Carter Enterprises] and Shawn Carter [personally] in an amount to be determined at trial, presently including past due royalty payments of at least $1,187,500, past due advertising shortfall of at least $1,528,425, and other damages including, but not limited to, future lost profits, lost goodwill, and lost business opportunities.
So basically, Jay Z is telling Parlux “no I didn’t” and “in fact, you owe ME $2.7 million.”

I think I detect, under this mass of tangled cross-dealings, what may have motivated Jay Z to cease promoting his celebrity fragrance.

Recall that Jay Z originally licensed the commercial use of his name to Shawn Carter Enterprises (SCE) which he owns 100%. SCE then licensed the perfume rights to Artistic Brands Development (ABD) on April 18, 2012 in return for stock, upfront payments, guaranteed future royalties, and guaranteed spend on brand advertising. That same day ABD sub-licensed the perfume rights to Jay Z’s name to Parlux, which assumed all the rights and obligations of ABD under the license agreement. This is the basis on which Jay Z now counterclaims payment from Parlux.

Here’s the weird wrinkle: 40% of ABD was owned by Marcy Fragrance Trading Co. LLC, a company 100% owned by none other than . . . Shawn Carter. So it looks to me like Carter wrote a nice, plump deal with himself, and convinced Parlux to agree to pay for it. Which they apparently did, to their eventual regret. If, as he now claims, Parlux failed to deliver on the minimum guaranteed quarterly royalties that Jay Z had negotiated with himself, the lack of an ongoing income stream could explain why he lost interest in making any active contributions to the promotion and brand extension of Gold Jay Z.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for either side in this dispute.

The lawsuit discussed here is Parlux Fragrances, LLC et al. - v. - S. Carter Enterprises, LLC et al., Case 650403/2016 - New York County Supreme Court.

Video: AIX Scent Fair Panel at the Hammer Museum

If you couldn’t be there to sniff and see it in person, you still have the chance to watch the May 6, 2016 panel that kicked off the AIX Scent Fair at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

It begins with a welcome by the Hammer’s Darin Klein.

Lizzie “Odette Toilette” Ostrum’s keynote talk begins at 00:07:00.

My presentation begins at 00:29:00

Jacquelyn Ford Morie’s presentation starts at 00:43:00

The presentation by TFFCOTNYT starts at 1:10:00

The panel discussion moderated by the Institute for Art and Olfaction’s Saskia Wilson-Brown begins at 1:25:00.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Vertical Chord: Nabokov's Multisensory Evocation of Scent

Vladimir Nabokov is one of those writers I return to again and again. I love his taste, his elegance, and his wry humor. His style, especially in his early stories, uses sights, sounds, and yes, even smells, to give a spontaneous immediacy to scenes from the past that are full of soft sadness, even nostalgia. One could make the case that he is a synesthetic writer; there is no doubt that he is one of the best olfactory writers of all time.

The story Sounds, written in Russian in 1923, was translated into English and published in The New Yorker in 1995 by his son, Dimitri Nabokov, who noted that “the story is, among other things, a transmuted evocation of a youthful love affair” that his father had with a married cousin.

This is one of many olfactory passages in the story. It is a perfect literary example of how to set up and deliver an olfactory image.
I was watching your back, the silk checks of your blouse. From somewhere downstairs, probably the courtyard, came a resonant peasant-woman voice, “Gerosim! Hey, Gerosim!” And suddenly it was supremely clear to me that, for centuries, the world had been blooming, withering, spinning, changing solely in order that now, at this instant, it might combine and fuse into a vertical chord the voice that had resounded downstairs, the motion of your silken shoulder blades, and the scent of pine boards.
in The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jay Z Gets Served

The wheels of justice turn slowly.

According to a new filing in the Parlux Fragrances case against Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, plaintiffs attorneys have finally managed to serve their summons and complaint on a lawyer representing Mr. Carter and his company S. Carter Enterprises, LLC. The firm of Cummings & Lockwood in Stamford, Connecticut will represent Mr. Carter and agreed to accept delivery of the complaint via FedEx on March 21st.

The original complaint was filed in New York Supreme Court on January 25th.


Legal eagles tell FirstNerve that there may well have been extensive contact between the two sides before this formal action. The early take is that Parlux may have a good chance at recovering payments and stock given to Mr. Carter, but that claims of commercial loss due to his alleged non-participation in promoting the Gold (Jay Z) fragrance remain a long-shot.

The lawsuit discussed here is Parlux Fragrances, LLC et al. - v. - S. Carter Enterprises, LLC et al., Case 650403/2016 - New York County Supreme Court.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Going for the Gold (Jay Z)

However, in the fragrance industry, it is virtually impossible to sustain the success of a celebrity fragrance brand without: (i) promotional support from the celebrity in the form of public appearances; and (ii) regularly updating and refreshing the brand with “flanker” launches and new line extensions, which are fragrance launches using new packaging, often new fragrance scents and some variation on the name of the originally launched brand.
[Claim #22 in the complaint filed by Parlux Fragrances, LLC and Perfumania Holdings, Inc. against S. Carter Enterprises, LLC and Shawn Carter, filed January 25, 2016, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.]
Good morning, class. Let’s review the players:

Jay Z is actually Shawn Carter.

S. Carter Enterprises, LLC belongs 100% to Jay Z. It “owns and controls the rights to market the name and any related trademarks of Jay Z.”

Artistic Brands Development, LLC is a Delaware corporation with offices in Miami.

Marcy Fragrance Trading Co. LLC is a Delaware corporation with offices in New York City.

Shawn Carter is “the Manager and 100% member” of Marcy Fragrance.

Marcy Fragrance “owns a 40% membership interest in Artistic Brands.”

Okay. Now let’s review the relationships:

In April, 2012, Carter Enterprises and Shawn “Jay Z” Carter himself granted Artistic Brands the rights to use Jay Z’s likeness “in the manufacture, distribution, promotion, and sale of fragrances and certain related beauty products.”

Around the same time Parlux Fragrances obtained an exclusive sub-license from Artistic Brands for “the sole and exclusive, worldwide right to manufacture, promote, and distribute Jay Z branded fragrances.”

So, Jay Z and a company fully owned by Jay Z grant perfume licensing rights to a company that is 40% owned by Jay Z through yet another company which is fully owned by Jay Z. Everybody clear?

The Jay Z perfume rights are then sub-licensed to another company in which Jay Z has substantial stock and/or warrants.

If you think sounds complicated, take a look at the dense web of relationships between Parlux Fragrances and Perfumania Holdings, Inc. I wrote about them here.

Parlux has done a lot of celebrity fragrances. They thought, not unreasonably, that a Jay Z line would do big business. In fact, they were counting on projected sales of $15 million in year one, and $35 million in year two. As part of the inducements to Jay Z, they agreed to minimum guaranteed royalties, i.e., they would pay him a pile of money whether or not they sold any Jay Z perfume. This is typical of celebrity name deals and is intended as an incentive to make sure the licensee doesn’t sit on the rights but instead gets a product promptly to market.

Parlux did indeed launch Gold Jay Z in October of 2013 and it sold well initially.

Another part of the deal was that Jay Z would provide promotional support to the brand. This is also a standard part of celebrity licensing deals (for obvious reasons) and the Parlux contract was quite specific about Jay Z’s obligations.

And yet, for reasons known only to himself, Shawn Carter apparently refused to do any of the promotional events arranged for him by Parlux. These included any of the required three public appearances per year (at least one in New York City), as well as an appearance on Good Morning America and in the Sephora store in the same building as the TV studio. He also declined to take part in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily editor Pete Born. He declined to appear at Macy’s, to participate in social media promotions, or to provide a quote for Parlux’s press release about the Gold Jay Z launch. (These are all claims made in the Parlux complaint; we haven’t yet heard Jay Z’s response as to their validity.)

If we take the Parlux account at face value, Shawn Carter has done an impressive job of stiff-arming the company behind his fragrance brand. His actions would appear to work against his own financial self-interest. What on earth could be his motivation?

Jay Z would not be the first celebrity to get cold feet after agreeing to a perfume deal. I covered the bizarre saga of the Prince fragrance a few years back. The Purple One had signed a deal with the rather infamous guy behind the Designer Imposters® line of knockoff fragrances. He then didn’t lift a finger to promote the scent. He also failed to offer a defense when sued for losses by the fragrance company, which led to a $3.9 million judgement against him. Prince finally got his legal act together, appealed the verdict, and eventually settled out of court.

Prince being Prince, we can chalk up his non-compliance to his being a talented musician but a temperamental diva. I can’t speak to Jay Z’s merits as an artist, but he is well known as a mogul with vast business interests. It would seem doubtful that he entered into these highly detailed contracts on impulse, or without benefit of beady-eyed legal advice. So what happened? Did he not like the final product? Did he take a dislike to the people at Parlux? Was there something about the incentives of the deal that gave him a bad feeling? Did he change his mind and figure that perfume promotion was not compatible with his desired media persona? Did he simply lose interest? Or is he just an asshole?

Right now we know nothing and can only wait for his attorneys to respond in their own filings with the court. Stay tuned. This should be good.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Sensory Analysis of Marijuana Volatiles: Not Such Great S***

The chemistry behind the scent of marijuana is a compelling topic for a number of reasons. First off, it’s a big technical challenge. Pot consists of an extraordinarily complex mixture of volatile compounds and sorting them out is a big job. (Paradoxically, the main psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol is odorless.) Secondly, it is of forensic interest: law enforcement seeks to detect the scent while smugglers try to cover it up. Finally, legalization has spurred increased interest in the aromatic qualities of pot as a consumer product. Here in Colorado, it has been fascinating to observe the industry grapple with branding and struggle to formulate edibles that consumers find acceptable.

So I was psyched to find a new paper in PLoS ONE titled “Characterizing the smell of marijuana by odor impact of volatile compounds: an application of simultaneous chemical and sensory analysis.” It is written by a pair of researchers at Iowa State, who use the latest methods of sampling (solid phase micro-extraction) and chemical analysis (multidimensional GC-MS) to characterize the concentration of various volatile molecules in samples of fresh marijuana. They also bring a sensory element to their analysis: they compare chemical concentrations to odor threshold data available in the literature, and have someone sniff and evaluate the various molecules as they emerge from the gas chromatograph. So far, so good.

Based on their results, authors Somchai Rice and Jacek Koziel conclude that when it comes to characterizing the smell of marijuana, “more attention should be focused on highly odorous compounds typically present in low concentrations.” (They mention nonanal, decanol, o-cymene, and benzaldehyde.) This, in principle, is a reasonable and potentially useful conclusion. Unfortunately, it is limited by the paper’s shortcomings in exposition and experimental design.

Rice and Koziel claim to add 200 new molecules to the list of previously known marijuana volatiles. But take a closer look at how they phrase their claim:
Over 200 compounds are being added to the list of what is currently known to be emitted from illicitly packaged marijuana.
They refer to “illicitly packaged marijuana” because they based their analysis on three samples of pot (of unidentified strain), all obtained from the evidence room of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. One of the samples was a gram of pot analyzed along with the plastic baggie it was zipped up in. Another consisted of approximately 50 kilos of pot stuffed into a “US military-style duffel bag.” Thus the chemicals analyzed by Rice and Koziel are not exclusively marijuana-based—they include molecules off-gassing from the packaging.
In this research, the authors are not differentiating between VOC emitted from marijuana samples and VOC emitted from packaging.
Indeed. So Rice and Koziel have now muddied the scientific literature on pot volatiles with who knows how many irrelevant chemicals. It will be up to future researchers to sort through the mess they have created.

What about Rice and Koziel’s conclusion that certain chemicals found in low concentration may have a major impact on the smell of pot? It’s a reasonable idea. Perfume chemists have long known that the most common molecule in a mixture is not necessarily the smelliest. A highly potent odor molecule can impact the overall scent if present even in trace quantities. Despite Rice and Koziel repeatedly patting themselves on the back for being the first to apply the concept to marijuana, one might say that it is the first rule of chemosensory analysis.

The authors use the concept of Odor Activity Value (OAV) to make their point. OAV is an attempt to relate a chemical’s concentration to its sensory impact. One calculates OAV by dividing the chemical’s concentration in the sample by its olfactory threshold concentration (i.e., the lowest limit of detectability to the human nose). If a chemical is present at less than its threshold concentration (OAV < 1.00) it is unlikely to contribute to a mixture’s smell. Rice and Koziel use OAVs to identify potentially important odor components of pot. This is fine as a first pass through the data, but when the authors use OAVs in statistical analyses, they stretch the concept almost beyond its limits.

Why? Because every smell molecule has its own concentration-intensity curve. For every step increase in concentration of molecule A, for example, its odor intensity might increase dramatically. For molecule B, in contrast, it might take many step increases in concentration before its odor intensity is noticeably stronger. Therefore, samples of A and B, set at the same OAV, could have very different odor intensities. This makes OAVs useful as a first pass to identify the smelly ingredients in a mixture, but it is perilous to use OAVs as a measure of comparative odor impact.

Finally, this paper is poorly written and would have benefited from closer editorial attention (yes, I’m talking to you, John Glendinning). The introduction wanders all over the map. It begins by mentioning odor as probable cause for search and seizure, but the ridiculous S1-Table is a random grab-bag of U.S. legal cases which completely omits the fact that at least nineteen states have search and seizure rules for marijuana based on the “in plain smell” doctrine. The intro then discusses analytical techniques, veers into a consideration of drug dogs and scent training, and then into the subject of human olfactory abilities. Like wow, man, everything is connected to everything else, you know?

The chemical and sensory analysis of marijuana scent is an increasingly important topic, and while Rice and Koziel have made a preliminary effort I expect that much better work will be done in the near future.

The study discussed here is “Characterizing the smell of marijuana by odor impact of volatile compounds: an application of simultaneous chemical and sensory analysis,” by Somchai Rice & Jacek A. Koziel, published in PLoS ONE 10(12):e0144160, 2015.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

ISDP: It’s a Wrap and On to New Projects

Today’s earlier ISDP post was dedicated entirely to the 6th Annual Norman Bates Award™. That doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten our “normal” ISDP report. Our enthusiastic fans know that December/January is a slow time for bacterial decomposition in general, and for the olfactory-based discovery of human remains in particular. Nevertheless, we did dredge up one item and it turns out to have great symbolic significance for us. Here it is:

Police were called after reports of a foul odor coming from an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Inside they found the body of a 36-year-old woman who had been stabbed to death.

This item resonates because it takes us back to the starting point of our insanely popular I Smell Dead People feature. In a section of that name in What the Nose Knows, we quoted Billy Crystal’s line in When Harry Met Sally:
Suppose nothing happens to you. Suppose you live there your whole life and nothing happens. You never meet anybody, you never become anything, and finally you die one of those New York deaths where nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway.
We did some research and found that the “New York death” is, in fact, remarkably common. So December’s incident at 69 West 225th Street in New York is a closing-of-the-circle moment for us. We’ve been doing ISDP on a monthly basis since February, 2009. We’ve documented scores (if not hundreds) of incidents, and established entirely new genres of the phenomenon: the body in the chimney, the body in the car (with special subcategory: Walmart parking lot). And of course, we’ve given unprecedented attention to people who, out of anosmia, psychopathology, or criminality (or a combo) have lived in close quarters with the stench of decaying human remains. The annual Norman Bates Awards will continue, but this is the last of the monthly ISDP installments.

Having established a body of work [Phrasing!—Ed.] we feel it is now time to move along. The monthly compilations are time-consuming and we’d rather devote those hours to a new project that we’ve been incubating for a while now. It is a fictional olfacto-literary endeavor unlike any the world has seen. Is it the long-rumored AChemS novel? The steamy page-turner that pulls back the curtain on the annual orgy of smell and taste science in Florida? It might be. But as G.R.R. Martin says, “Sod off, you’ll just have to wait for it.”

Thanks, ISDP fans, and see you soon.

The 6th Annual Norman Bates Award: The Biggest & Best Field Ever

Hooray! It’s awards season. And right on the heels of Sunday’s Golden Globes comes the widely anticipated 2015 Norman Bates Award™. This year we have sixteen highly qualified nominees, all culled from the past 12 months of I Smell Dead People posts here at FirstNerve. And what a group of nominees they are. Among them are two couples, five people living with the corpse of someone they are thought to have murdered, and six people who lived with the body of a family member (four mothers, a grandfather, and a father + sister).

In the spirit of award ceremonies everywhere, we begin with a lesser category. The Norman Bates Award—Mobile Division has only a single nominee:

Tonya Slaton

Tonya Slaton, 44, of Richmond, Virginia, who kept the body of her young son in a plastic bag in the trunk of her car while driving around in it since 2004.

By acclamation, therefore, the Roaming Norman goes to Tonya Slayton. Congratulations!

And now for the main prize. Here are the nominees:

Tammy Conner

Tammy Conner of Jacksonville, Florida, who allegedly shot and killed her married boyfriend, then left his body in the enclosed porch of her home which she sealed with plastic sheets and supplied with air fresheners.

Leon Edward Collier, 45, of Little River, South Carolina, who is alleged to have killed his girlfriend and stuffed her body into a closet in the house.

Charles Cole

Charles Cole, 48, and his wife Ronalda, from upstate New York, who lived in a motel room with his mother’s body for seven weeks before driving to South Carolina and dumping it near I-95.

Alfred Guerrero of Ontario, California, who lived briefly with a body in his long-term rental motel room.

Brandon Griswold

Whitney Gray

Brandon Griswold, 20, and his girlfriend Whitney Gray, 21, of Nashville, Tennessee, who bludgeoned their roommates to death and stashed their bodies in the apartment’s utility closet while continuing to live there.

Mary Kersting

Mary Kersting, 60, of Gloversville, New York, who kept her dead mother’s body in the apartment below hers for about a year while collecting the old lady’s benefit checks.

Cheyanne Jessie

Cheyanne Jessie, 25, of Lakeland, Florida, who allegedly killed her father and 6-year-old daughter so that she could be with her boyfriend, then lived with the bodies in her house a few days before moving them to a storage shed because of the smell.

Michael Eugene Sticken

Michael Eugene Sticken, 60, of Pace, Florida, who hid the body of his 81-year-old mother under blankets on a couch in their house for four months while withdrawing her Social Security payments from their joint bank account.

Partha De of Kolkata, India, who lived for about six months in his apartment along with the bodies of his father, sister, and the sister’s two dogs, while burning candles, playing eerie background music, and pretending to feed them.

The adult grandson of ninety-two-year-old Robert L. Sufana of Portage, Indiana, who for over a week failed to look in on the old man who was confined to a bedroom in the house even as the smell of decay became noticeable from the street outside.

Barbara Ann Helton

Barbara Ann Helton, 58, a parolee from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who apparently lived for weeks with the body of her dead landlord stuffed in an upstairs closet.

“Carolyn” from San Francisco, California, who lived in a Richmond District “hoarder” house with the mummified remains of her mother for at least a year if not more.

The unnamed woman from Lakeside, California, who was discovered by deputies serving an eviction notice to have been living for six months to a year with a body placed in a container sealed with duct tape.

At FirstNerve we are big believers in procedural transparency. So we freely admit to giving greater weight to nominees who lived up close and personal with the decaying remains. Also, we think that long-term Batesian co-habitation counts for more than a couple of days spent around the smell of initial decomp. Based on these criteria, we can whittle the field down to finalists Charles and Ronalda Cole, Michael Eugene Sticken, Parthe De, and “Carolyn” from San Francisco.

It’s still a tough call, but we think that Mr. and Mrs. Cole take the cake. Imagine spending seven weeks in a motel room with your spouse. Then imagine the same conditions but with a decomposing body on the scene. Then imagine the conversation:
“Honey, I think it’s time we drove Mom to South Carolina and dumped her.”
“If you say so, sweetheart.”
“Give me hand carrying her to the car, will you?”
So congratulations to Charles and Ronalda Cole, co-winners of the 2015 Norman Bates Award, and thanks for bringing the prize back to the U.S.A. after two years abroad.

List of previous winners:

2014 Anonymous 55-year-old lady from Munich, Germany
2013 Madame H. of Brussels, Belgium
2012 Kit Darrant
2011 Twin brothers Edwin Larry Berndt & Edward Christian Berndt
2010 Alan Derrick