Wednesday

June 28th, 2017

The Village Idiot

What's that funny smell?

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published June 2, 2015

The coupon said, "Fresh New Country Scent!" and there, floating over a background of tree-covered hills, was a giant can of room deodorizer. On the back of the coupon was a little scratch-and-sniff square. I scratched, I sniffed. It smelled for all the world like laundry soap mixed with pine needles. If they ever start making an underarm deodorant for trees, this is what it will smell like. But it's not what the country smells like.

When I hear people say they wish they lived in the country because the cities have become so dirty, I wonder -- do they know that the country has a dirt floor? It is filthy. It is full of mud, bugs, rotting pine needles, decomposing mushrooms, twigs, worms and slugs. It has dust bunnies the size of -- oh, never mind, those aren't dust bunnies, they are real bunnies. And those are real bunny droppings. And most of the other wild animals don't pick up after themselves, either. The country is where dirt comes from.

Someone over at Air Freshener Central is living in a fantasy universe where the country is taken out and dry cleaned twice a week. They are, however, right about one thing. If you want a lot of bang for your fragrance buck, you can't beat the country. It's wonderfully smelly. An ever-changing mixture of odors from septic systems, frightened skunks, mown hay, freshly spread manure, fermenting silage, stagnant water, damp leaves, compost heaps, dead fish, deer carcasses, pollen -- you name it, it's out there.

Does that sound like something you'd want to spray around your living room, even if it does remove the odor of cooking from your curtains? And what are you cooking that smells so horrible? Maybe it's time you got a new recipe book or stop cooking the chitlins indoors. Trust me, no one ever walks into a bakery and says, "Ugh, this place stinks!" And yet no one sells "Donut Shop" air freshener. It's always pine needles. What is it with pine needles? Why not coffee air freshener, or toast or bacon?

I do worry about household odors, not like I worry about nuclear war or tornadoes or Ebola. Still, we don't want visitors to our house saying things like, "Oh, they're nice enough, but that cat smell ..." Hey, it's not the cat -- it's her box. You'd think someone would make cat litter that smells better than what the cat does in it. Alas, cat litter science has been a miserable failure.

Sure, there are pleasant country odors, too -- burning wood in the fall, flowers in the spring, new-mown hay in the summer, crisp, clear, cold fresh snow in the winter, but when you hear advertisers romanticize the country, cover your eyes and ears. Every time you hear the words "fresh mountain stream water," ask yourself where frogs live and die before you start guzzling it.

Of course, the air freshener industry doesn't really care what the country smells like. All they know is that an air freshener called "Scent of the City" would sit on the store shelf from now until the end of time. The mental whiff of garbage piled up on street corners mixed with smog, bubble gum-covered sidewalks baking in the hot sun, rolling clouds of bus exhaust, gutters full of fast-food containers and unscooped dog poop would be a hard sell.

The funny thing is, they would make it smell exactly like "Fresh New Country Scent" -- a woodsy, pine-needle scent with a hint of a doorman's uniform and new-car plastic. The only thing different about it would be that instead of a picture of trees and mountains, the can of "Scent of the City" would feature a picture of a big city skyline.

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."

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