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The Smell of Clean

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As far as I’m concerned, clean doesn’t have a smell.  It is smelless. There is no odor, fragrance, or aroma.  Clean is air without scent. But thanks to TV, my wife thinks clean is the smells of lemon and mainly pine.  The only time I want to smell lemon is when I’m eating one or drinking lemonade. And I never want to smell pine.  And exactly what does “pine” mean? Pinetree? What part of the tree? Do they flower? Is it the cone? The bark? It’s probably the sap.  So who decided pine sap smells clean? Oh yeah, TV.

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When I was growing up, my mother used Pine-Sol and other such chemicals mainly on the tile floors, but she diluted them as per instructions. My wife, as far as I can smell, uses them straight out of the bottle.  For years I came home from work and my face and everything in it burned. I always protested, and she always countered with, “It smells clean!” Okay, okay, but I was having flashbacks to when I was in basic training and had to stand in a CS gas tent and take off my protective mask!  And she still does that, though not as often. But the flashbacks are just as vivid.

I do use scented body wash and shampoo, but those you scrub on and rinse off, and the only way I can detect the smell is to rub my forearm across my nose.  Do they make scentless soap? I think clean skin smells just fine.

And who invented aftershave?  I stopped using it when, down south, I was attacked three days in a row by some sort of biting flies in the parking lot.  It occurred to me that it was the scent from the bottle with the picture of a little ship on the front that attracted them, so I stopped using it, and the flies left me alone. Thirty-two years later I splashed some on again (from the same bottle, which was then as thick as olive oil, I’m not kidding) and I was immediately swarmed and bitten by what friends here in Florida identified as Deer Flies.  I don’t use aftershave anymore.

Makes me wonder what the ancients did to eliminate their odors. Oh, Romans built bathhouses to quell the stench of the city, which certainly wafted to neighboring villages and possibly alarmed the native Americans across the ocean now and then.  The baths were open to everyone, but I don’t think persons of poverty used them much—too busy working. I’m sure the place mostly stank all the time.

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Egyptians wore cones of beeswax, a sort of hat infused with other fragrances that melted down as the night progress and masked the odor of whatever it was they were doing.  Various containers have been identified from most ancient civilizations as having held perfumes, but no one has found a ceramic version of our stick deodorant.

Cavemen probably didn’t care.  The human nose can accustom itself to many things, on the beach, in the forest, in caves, I suppose.  But it takes a while. I know that during the short time I lived in New England, I never got used to the oily air of fish and seagulls along the beach and especially on the docks.  The memory of it still haunts my gag reflex. I know the movie “Jaws” did not provide a Disney World-like olfactory experience, but every time I watch it, I can smell that boat. And the same holds true for the many other places I lived.

My wife also likes to use cone-shaped air fresheners—reminiscent of ancient Egypt.  She sneaks one behind my leather-tooling kit on top of my left bookshelf now and then, and it takes me awhile before I realize where the “clean sheets” smell is coming from.  I don’t like it, but I leave it there to mummify, which doesn’t take long, and hope she doesn’t remember to check it.

Always eventually she does.

There is one smell I don’t mind, and that’s in the room where I watch the news in the morning while sipping coffee and later write.  That place, my office, has a hint (my wife would say it has a reek) of spilled beer and burned tobacco. I note that no one manufactures that fragrance in any form, which is fine.  I would rather have no smell at all, but I can tolerate the aromas I manufacture in situ.

However, I am fully doomed to my wife’s sense of clean, her liquids, sprays, soaps, candles, and oils heated in outlets.  All I ask of my beloved spouse is that she not buy any air freshener that smells like pumpkin pie or krumkake. They are special foods, and if I have to smell them all year long, I will never bake those deserts again.

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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