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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: July 19, 2017

The Great Stench Hunt

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

Recently I came home after running an errand and asked my husband, "What is that stench?" The house had a pronounced unpleasant odor, sort of like stagnant sewer water. "What smell?" he said. This is not an uncommon discussion at our house " while I don't think my sense of smell is unusually good, it's apparently ten times better than his is.

Since he had no idea for the source of what "I" could smell, I launched into my normal "stench detection and elimination" routine. I checked the normal culprits " emptied the kitchen garbage, checked the cat litter box, hunted in the cabinet for a rotten potato or onion, and put all the laundry into the wash machine in case there was a musty wet item in the hamper, ripening in the Oklahoma summer heat. I also gave a sniff to both our dogs, in case they'd found something dead to roll in, but they were innocent this time. The stench remained, if anything, even stronger.

So I escalated to "stage two." I dumped a box of baking soda into, and then ran the garbage disposal. I opened both of my vacuum cleaners and put the bags in the outdoor trash, sniffed around both refrigerators and checked all the individual room trash bins. I ran water in all the sinks, flushed all the toilets, and checked the shower stall. Nothing.

Stage two used to prioritize my kid's bedrooms where I might find some sort of decaying biological matter like a turtle shell, shoes with damp organic slime on them, or the remnants of an unauthorized snack rotting away under the bed and covered with ants. But no week-old wet bathing suits were piled up in the closets any more, as the kids are long gone and their rooms remain pristine and stench-free now.

I again quizzed my husband in frustration. I knew he'd been working on unplugging a sink in his workshop, but he was sure there was no connection between the piping for that sink and the house proper. It would seem he was right as the garage and workshop were not stinky. I lit some candles and continued my sniffing and prowling, because we were expecting company that afternoon and the thought of my reeking house with visitors was making me totally crazy.

The next time I went into the kitchen I looked in the sink and behold! Black crud had boiled up in the bottom of the sink, and I knew the workshop project was sure to be the source of the smell. (Husband came in to inspect my evidence, which he accepted, but still did not notice the odor.)

But with the mystery solved, and the workshop sink unplugged, the stink finally vacated the house and I was able to relax.

Researchers have documented that women's brains have more cells in the olfactory bulb (which helps us smell) than men do. They have measured the difference between men's and women's smelling "capability" as 43 to 50% better " with women having by far better noses. It is not clear why exactly women's sense of smell evolved to be so much more effective, but I can vouch for the difference in my house, at least.

One interesting theory I read somewhere years ago was that since women in most cultures do the food preparation chores, this heightened sense of smell was invaluable in detecting spoiled food. Getting food poisoning could cause small children to become dehydrated and die in the days before medical help was available, and a father or mother debilitated by food-borne sickness could put the safety and security of an entire early family at risk. So a woman's ability to keep her family's food supply safe was a life-saving skill.

That theory makes sense to me. Although my nose probably didn't prevent any fatalities in my family, it sure allowed me to locate some nasty-smelling items in my kid's backpacks and bedrooms over the years. In fact, I could probably do an entire column just on that topic alone!

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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