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  A Rainbow of Putrescence


My mom and dad take a natural supplement called Omega-3. They mix the flaky powder, which is mostly flax bran, into their morning glass of OJ. I was hoping this naturopathic energy booster would sleigh my lethargy replacing it with a brilliantly luminous smile and bestow upon me the the energy to treat my bed as a solely nocturnal companion. The only results I noted were entire mornings of noxious burps offered up along with a little bilious liquid. Realizing the road to well being is not all roses and baby powder I was undaunted and continued my daily doses.putrescence

a nose One afternoon about two weeks later, I was squatting before my typewriter (which I preferred to my Apple IIe at the time) with one leg folded underneath and the other drawn up to my chest My nose alerted me of a funk to rival that which had led me to a juicy gopher in the garage closet. It smelled like a wet dog perfumed with rotten onion and lemon juice with a dash of cumin. Stunned, I sniffed first over one shoulder, then the next, then with neck stretched and snout raised in the style of a bloodhound embarking on a new mission. I was soon horrified (and fascinated) to discover that the offending odor was wafting up from my groin area. Granted I had been ignoring the convenience of modern pluming for a few days, but this was something beyond mere unwashedness.

I thought perhaps I had inadvertently expelled the decomposing corpse of an undetected tapeworm. A quick check eradicated this and related possibilities, so more than a little distraught, I had a long and thorough loofa session with Dr. Bronner's.

That night, a Friday, I received a call from a temp service at about 7:30 - they needed someone to show up for a job that had been abandoned without warning earlier that day. Although the client was Honeywell, builder of heat seeking missiles and other products of questionable utility, I took the assignment - the urgency of the situation aided me in successful negotiation of a generous wage for a temp who types 25 WPM.

My job was on the eighth floor of a building in which all visitors are required to be escorted, so my responsibilities as a receptionist were pretty much limited to directing maintenance workers to burned out light bulbs a couple of times a week. I also took "zero diversion" calls for forty some lawyers, which totaled about a dozen calls a day. It wasn't uncommon for me to have stretches of an hour or more of absolutely uninterrupted reading and writing time. Each week I read a novel and several zines, and wrote up to five lengthy letters a day. It got so I felt put out when someone would ask me to do a small task, like address a few envelopes or put up the Christmas tree.

The stenches continued to visit me, despite two showers a day. On the job, I began to notice fleeting wisps of unpleasant smells - all of which could be under the heading of "Olfactory Signs of Bad Human Hygiene." Not underarm or foot smells, but less common ones like the greasy hair of someone who eats a lot of curry or a gangrene patient's fingernail dirt. They usually appeared to me immediately after I stood up. Although they were always different I thought they were being released from my scalp.

I changed shampoos. Nope. I told my Aunt Ann of my problem - she suggested discontinuing Omega-3. I was soon relieved of the fumes from down under, but the experience of standing up and discovering a new airborne malignancy continued for several weeks, always striking me when I least expected it, always different - I was swimming in a rainbow of putrescence.

One day a lawyer addressed me from across the room, at least ten feet away. My brain rattled with the smell of halitosis like a pair of sneakers full of rotten worms banging around in a clothes drier. Over the next few days I developed the ability to sense a person's unpleasant bodily excretions - gas, liquid and solid - at quite a distance. While walking down the hall I'd smell a different medley of bad breath and toe jam outside of each door.

I began carrying around cedar oil and dabbing a bit on my upper lip occasionally. After a while it seemed ridiculous, so I began sucking on mentholated cough drops, which seemed less kooky, until the sugary buildup on my tongue acted as a buffer between me and the world of taste, and of course this was no good.

Dude in a Gas Mask My entire existence was soon devoured by the unpleasantness which would pop up at the most unpredictable times and I began to fear others would soon smell the demonic halo of rotten air around me. I couldn't concentrate throughout a single task without thinking of my malady. I read an article about birth control implants and searched my body for lumps. I have been under general anesthesia three times and am paranoid enough to speculate at length upon the possibility of carrying in my body a surgically implanted time release balloon of dumpster juice. Kind of like an odious Everlasting Gobstopper. As of yet, I have not found any evidence to support this suspicion. I segments of my my self-examination required a significant amount of flexibility.

Each time the end of my Honeywell assignment grew near, I was asked to stay on longer. I enjoyed my co-worker's company. Each time my assignment was extended, I felt guilty about agreeing to continue to labor for a large military contractor, but when weighed against the positives - amiable co-workers, good pay and an inordinate amount of free time (dressed in jeans, sweaters and high-tops) I always said "Sure another month would be fine."

Ultimately, I quit to embark on a three month road trip. They had a party for me on my last day. From what I could gather, the long string of temps who held the position previously could not handle all the free time. I had found in the desk several drafts of a bitter letter of resignation, complaining "I am capable of a hundred times more the responsibility than you ask of this job. I am idle [sic] of this mindless work."

My mystery stink perception was left behind with the job. I never figured out what it was. If I had to guess, it was a penance my subconscious mind extracted for contributing to a cause that I deemed morally wrong.

Then again maybe those doctors are releasing their pestilent bouquet by remote control and are having a jolly laugh over my engineered affliction.