I don’t know if my sense of smell is more sensitive than the average person’s, but there are odours in this world that can cause my stomach to pitch and roll. And it has gotten worse over the years. I live in a high rise apartment that was built during the first big oil boom of the 1970’s, and though the building has had a lot of cosmetic reconstruction and looks quite nice, the infrastructure is old and creaky. At least twice a month our water is shut off for patchwork repairs, which I assume are done with a bit of bubble gum and duct tape, and the ventilation system is a cruel joke of sorts. We live in a corner suite, which means we have little noise, but it also means we get a fair bit of smells that are accrued from God knows where in the building.
It is not uncommon to be woken at 2 a.m. by a smell of garlic so strong I am practically choking on my dry heaves. Or on a Sunday at 10 a.m. we are assaulted with a smell of fish, garlic, and onions so pervasive and intense it causes a panic and I have a semblance of empathy for a G8 protester who has been tear gassed. At these times I regularly ask/yell the same ridiculous questions : What kind of demon would decide to eat that much garlic at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday? Why the fuck can’t they just have a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Why can’t they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast? How can you eat something so vomit-inducing first thing in the morning? Why is the ventilation such that it funnels the unfiltered smells of what I can only guess is the collective smell of evil right into our second bathroom?
This is usually how the exercise goes. My wife and I will be enjoying our day/evening. One of us will catch the first snatches. If it’s my wife she’ll say, “Am I smelling stink?”
I will pause the television and point my nose in the air, and swivel my head from side to side. “I don’t think so.” This is my denial. I am still prone to deny the horror even after ten years. I am desperate for my wife to be imagining things.
“Go check in the hall,” I am ordered, and though I am afraid to face what might be out there, I swallow my fear and do what must be done. And that is when I am hit with the full force of all that is corrupting to the nose. Sometimes it’s even mixed with cigarette smoke or pot but mostly it’s the same three smells: garlic, onions, and fish. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.
“OH MY GOD THAT STINKS!!” I will scream as I scurry frantically back inside. I run immediately to our massive supply of incense, and with the skill of a seasoned veteran, I place a stick in the holder and light it fast; sometimes the stink requires two sticks–and on especially bad days three–placed strategically throughout the apartment. As I do this my wife grabs a towel that is folded neatly on the top shelf of the coat closet. She unravels the towel and folds it neatly lengthwise along the bottom of the door. Next, she grabs the strips of packing tape that hang discreetly on the door jamb, and uses the tape to make an airtight seal around the door. This can all be done in 15 to 30 seconds.
“Oh my fucking lord that was nasty,” I will proclaim. “Jesus Chriiiiiiist. Oh my god. Jesus Mary and Joseph what the fuck is wrong with people? How can you even taste your food if you have that much spice and shit on it?” We catch our breath and sometimes laugh in relief at having survived another attack.
We stayed sealed in until we feel the danger has passed. If someone happens to come to the door, it’s a procedure to take down the tape; it takes a bit of time and some noise, and no doubt must give the impression that a couple of lunatics have possibly shut themselves away, fearing microwaves from aliens. But this is a small price to pay to avoid such an assault. And if ever a biological weapon or gas attack occurs, we’ll be more than ready. And who’ll be laughing then?